Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Woman Sings a Song for a Soldier Come Home (a poem by Wallace Stevens)

The wound kills that does not bleed.
It has no nurse to kin to know
Nor kin to care.

And the man dies that does not fall.
He walks and dies. Nothing survives
Except what was,

Under the white clouds piled and piled
Like gathered up forgetfulness,
In sleeping air.

The clouds are over the village, the town,
To which the walker speaks
And tells of his wound,

Without a word to the people, unless
One person should come by chance,
This man or that,

So much a part of the place, so little
A person he knows, with whom he might
Talk of the weather-

And let it go, with nothing lost,
Just out of the village, at its edge,
In the quient there.

Wallace Stevens was a poet born in Reading, PA in 1879 and who died in Hartford, CT in 1955.  This poem is taken from the book, The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play by Wallace Stevens (Vintage Books, 1972).  Robert Coles turned me on to Wallace Stevens.  This poem, which I found yesterday in a Western Mass. bookstore, was published in 1946.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Collaborating Across the System to End Homelessness

Dr. Jim O'Connell is founding physician and president of the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program.  He has long been a practitioner serving homeless people in Boston and a local and national advocate, writer and speaker advancing our thinking in how the nation addresses homelessness.  I recently came across this quote by Jim:

"The painfully obvious lesson for me has been the futility of solving this complex social problem solely with new approaches to medical or mental health care…I dream of writing a prescription for an apartment, a studio, an SRO, or any safe housing program, good for one month, with 12 refills.”

The quote because it rings true.  It immediately implies the interconnection of housing, mental health care and physical health care--in short, a systems view--in understanding homelessness.  If we think more about interconnections we also start seeing links to employment, to education, to food access.

It's all connected.  Our challenge is to see the interconnections, understand their interplay, and determine where best to intervene.

One way to do that is by applying "systems thinking."  That means mapping the interconnections (and interdependencies) to understand the structures of the "eco-system" that produces homelessness.  It means focusing not on blame of certain people/organizations but understating and addressing those structural forces.  ("Laziness," "choosing to be homeless," etc. doesn't explain epidemic homelessness.)  Systems thinking means looking for unintended consequences of our actions and continually testing ideas and assumptions.

And as much as anything, systems thinking (and the systems acting it leads to) requires collaboration, that is, practicing radical inclusion in the process, collecting different perspectives, listening (!), and reaching out across sectors, departments, and other boundaries.  As systems thinker, Paul Plotczyk, said to me, "Systems thinking is a team sport."  He's right.

The Dr. Jim O'Connell quote is taken from a paper he wrote titled, "The Need for Homelessness Prevention: A Doctor’s View of Life and Death on the Streets," (2007)

Most of my thoughts on systems comes from (stolen from?) a variety of systems thinkers I've met or read, chief among them is David Peter Stroh whom I regularly work with and learn from.  Poor systems thinking or articulation though is all me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Different Face of Homelessness – Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco (Part II of II) by Craig Wiesner

We hired a fantastic illustrator named Brian Bowes to bring Ivy and her story to life in pictures and he did a great job with black and white sketches and a beautiful color cover. We released the book in June 2011 and it has received two awards, the Moonbeam Book Award and the Children’s Literary Classics Award. We’ve been working since then to get the word out about the book. Unlike The Invention of Hugo Cabret or the latest Wimpy Kid book, this one’s been a bit harder to sell, actually quite a bit. When kids do read it, they love it. Adults too. Even my mother-in-law loved the book and she’s a pretty tough critic at 82!

Now we’re hoping to get teachers to use the book in their classrooms. We’ve just completed a chapter-by-chapter study guide where we map each chapter into standards, with a chapter summary, vocabulary preview, comprehension questions, active reading strategies, author’s craft/writing prompts, curriculum connections and awareness building promptings. The study guide was developed by Carol Beaumont, a teacher in the Palo Alto Unified School District. The study guide is being edited and readied for layout this month, though we’ll make it available in draft form to teachers who want to start using it right away.

Why should Ivy be in classrooms across the country? First, it is a darned good read! There’s drama, humor, adventure, and mystery wrapped in writing that keeps you turning the pages. Plus, there’s a girl or a boy like Ivy in most schools. Teachers, administrators, parents, and other children can’t make their schools truly inclusive if they have no idea of who is being left out. There are laws in place across the country to help provide homeless children with an equal education plus get them access to critical services to help them and their families transition from homelessness to a more stable life. Today there’s legislation before Congress, HR32, which would make it easier for homeless children and their families to register for and receive these services.

One of our dreams for Ivy was that she could become an advocate for children all around the country. To bring that dream to life we have Ivy blogging about homelessness through Summer Brenner’s writing. Check out Ivy’s most recent blog post about HR32:

We’ve also created a web page with a huge set of resources for learning about and taking action on the issue of homeless families and children.

We’re excited that Give US Your Poor has added Ivy Homeless in San Francisco to its web site’s bibliography. We will do whatever it takes to get her story, which represents the stories of millions of children and their families, out into the mainstream of American thinking. When Justin Bieber learned about the plight of the children at Whitney Elementary School in Las Vegas, a school with the highest homeless population in the state, he was so moved that he gave them $100,000 and put on a special holiday concert. Ellen DeGeneres, her viewers, and Target have been incredibly generous with that school. It will take much more than the wonderful generosity of people like Ellen and Justin for there to be fewer children like Ivy across America. It will take systemic change. We’re hopeful that Ivy will be one more spark for making that change real.

To read Part I of this post click here.

Craig Wiesner is the co-founder of Reach And Teach, a peace and social justice learning company.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Different Face of Homelessness – Ivy, Homeless in San Francisco (Part I of II) by Craig Wiesner

People think they know the face of homelessness… the person from whom some avert their eyes as they walk along the street. I know that face. It is grizzled, gnarled, battered, and weary. It could be a man or a woman, black, white or brown, but the destructive force of life on the streets, in vehicles and in shelters leaves marks that are easy to spot. Many look away, to avoid the outstretched hand or escape having to share someone else’s suffering. Yet few walking down the street would avert their eyes from a cute little girl, a scruffy young boy, or a typical teen. Walking into any of America’s classrooms most of us can’t imagine that the boy sitting next to the class clown or the girl sitting near the teacher’s pet could be homeless. But they may very well be.

One out of 50 children in the United States will spend part of this year homeless. Whether they are in shelters, temporarily living with friends or relatives, living in cars, or at worst truly out on the streets, homeless children and families are more hidden. Another mostly invisible face of homelessness is LGBTQ youth. According to The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), up to 40% of homeless youth are gay.

At Reach And Teach our mission is to “transform the world through teachable moments.” With 1.5 million children experiencing homelessness in the United States, what could we do to make an impact on this issue? In 2010 our friends at PM Press sent us a note about a book they thought we should consider publishing about a homeless San Francisco girl named Ivy. Author Summer Brenner had done some volunteer work at a shelter for women and children and their stories touched her and prompted her to create Ivy Homeless in San Francisco.

I read the new manuscript and fell in love with Ivy, her father Poppy, and an eccentric pair of siblings named Eugenia and Oscar Orr. Ivy and her father had been evicted from their artist loft apartment when Poppy fell on hard times and couldn’t pay the rent. As someone who lived through the dot-com bubble, where San Francisco rents went through the roof, and average folks and small businesses were being tossed out onto the streets left and right, I could relate to this story! Ivy and Poppy ended up sleeping in Golden Gate Park and eating their rare meals at a soup kitchen. When Ivy took a tumble and got hurt, the police stepped in and it looked like Ivy would be taken away from her father. But then the Orr’s stepped in and an amazing adventure ensued.

(Part II of this blog entry will be posted shortly.)

Craig Wiesner is the co-founder of Reach And Teach, a peace and social justice learning company.

Photo found at Orlando Sentinel here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Creating love out of the broken pieces" - Quote from Bruce Springsteen

"Now, I always thought that in our fall from Eden, besides the strains of physicality and the bearing of earthly burdens, our real earthly task was that an unbridgeable gap or a black hole was opened up in our ability to truly love one another. And so our job here on earth and the way we regain our divinity, our sacredness and our general good standing is by reconstructing love and creating love out of the broken pieces that we’ve been given. That’s all we have of human promise. That’s the way we prove ourselves in the eyes of God and facilitate our own redemption.”

Bruce Springsteen (Induction of Jackson Browne, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2004)

Photo from Time Life website.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What the Horatio Alger Scholarship Meant to Me by Nicholas Timm

The Horatio Alger Association has one of the nation's largest college financial aid programs in the country, the Horatio Alger National Scholarship Program. It is the only major scholarship effort that specifically assists high school students who have faced and overcome great obstacles [including homelessness] in their young lives. While many aid programs are directed primarily to recognizing academic achievement or leadership potential, the Horatio Alger program also seeks students who have a commitment to use their college degrees in service to others.

The National Scholarship Program is awarded to eligible students in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. National Scholars receive an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. during the spring of their senior year to participate in the National Scholars Conference.

To receive the Horatio Alger Scholarship is a great honor to me. Out of thousands of applicants, I was 1 of 104 young people chosen to receive the award. Receiving it was a blessing. I am truly thankful for all the opportunities that the association has presented to me.

Growing up, I didn’t have the motivation and dedication I have today. I was abandoned by my parents and grew up with a crazy woman. Some people say I should thank God for my hardships. I agree, because these experiences made me stronger as an individual.

At the conference in Washington, D.C, I had life-changing experiences. Some of which are hard to explain. However, to meet all 103 other people with similar stories as mine, was disappointing (in that they had to go through such hardships) but also satisfying. I knew if they got through their hardships, then I can get through mine. We all motivate each other to succeed. We still talk to each other through social networking when we are feeling down or stressed.

Winning this scholarship gave me another family. Another group of people I can count on to support me, to guide me, and to motivate me through difficult times. It is with great honor that I accept the title “Horatio Alger National Scholar”.

Nicholas Timm is a Horatio Alger National Scholar and currently attends Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.  In 2010 and 2011 Give US Your Poor partnered with the Horatio Alger Association to reach out nationally to high school students that had experienced homelessness to apply for college scholarships.  Nicholas now volunteers for Give US Your Poor; this essay first appeared on the Horatio Alger blog in a similar form.