Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “homelessness”

Spirit of the Street

Coming from 20 years on a kibbutz (an intentional community), it was a shock to see so many homeless people on the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley. There are over 14,000 people without a home in the City and I think this is a black mark on an, otherwise, amazing urban area.

images-1Compounding this is the alarming amount of war veterans who swell these ranks. The idea that a man or woman was willing to sacrifice their life for their country and to then be thrown onto the street and forgotten makes my blood boil.

I served in the Israeli army, a national service that most Israeli youngsters must do. Afterwards, men serve for up to a month a year as the country and army are so small. If a soldier is wounded, inside or out, they receive the best medical attention possible, the best counseling, and whatever else is needed. It isn’t perfect, and there are a few who slip between the cracks, but there is a national consensus because everyone serves.

It was an incident with a war veteran outside the San Francisco Zoo that served as the kernel for Unwanted Heroes, a fictional account of a war veteran still battling on his own personal front in San Francisco.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

The real incident involved a proud war vet selling small American flags for $1 each. Seeing his two rows of medals, I gave my sons $5 but told them to only take one each and leave him the change.

The man began yelling at them and then at me. I had offended him. He did not want charity: he was doing a business. I felt terrible that I had insulted him. I took the change back from him apologizing and took my sons into the zoo where we bought ice cream and I explained to them, as best I could, what had happened.

I am never comfortable giving money to homeless people on street corners for all the stereotypes that prevail: will they spend it on drugs, alcohol, fast food etc. I know it is wrong to feel this way, but I do.

But I never hesitate to buy a copy of Street Spirit, a newspaper sold for a dollar by homeless people. 

From the Street Spirit website:

“Street Spirit is a publication of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)  that reports extensively on homelessness, poverty, economic inequality, welfare issues, human rights issues and the struggle for social justice. For the past 17 years, Street Spirit has been dedicated to empowering poor and homeless people and giving a voice to the voiceless, at a time when the voices of the poor are virtually locked out of the mainstream media.

American Friends Service Committee shoulders the entire printing costs of more than $3,000 per month to give more than 100 homeless vendors a positive alternative to panhandling, and to give our readers a progressive alternative to the corporate-controlled mainstream media. Help us remain an independent voice for justice! Please donate or subscribe to Street Spirit.”

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In addition to offering homeless people a chance to earn money, it also offers them a voice as the homeless themselves write many of the articles. One man who sold us a newspaper told us proudly that he wrote a poem that was in this issue.

My youngest (then 9 years old) opened the paper to where the poem is and asked him to autograph it. You could see the pride in both the poet and my son, who then told him that I was also an author and we shook hands – two writers.

So next time you pass a homeless person selling Street Spirit, see if you can spare a dollar bill.  It will help buy a man some food and some dignity.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

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Castles of Glass – Linkin Park

There are many mediums to promote causes. When I recently spoke to a group about Unwanted Heroes – a novel that highlights the plight of war veterans and homelessness – a gray-haired man came up to me, patted my arm and said: “It is a story that must be told.”

He doesn’t read fiction, only non-fiction, but I appreciated his support. He probably isn’t a fan of Linkin Park – a rock band that incorporates a fair amount of rap – but I hope he would appreciate this beautiful song and video.

If you are not into loud music, turn the volume down so you can just hear it while it accompanies the video.

Not the happiest way to enter the weekend, but as the old man said about Unwanted Heroes: It is a story that must be told.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Unwanted Heroes Created After Insulting A War Veteran

In our humble defense, we were new to America. My family was not used to dealing with homeless people and war veterans. There are no homeless on a kibbutz (small intentional community) and, if a soldier is wounded physically or mentally in Israel, s/he receives the best possible help. It is a given, no one questions it. 

So you can understand that my then 7 and 3 year olds and I noticed every homeless person, especially those who were war veterans.

As we approached the entrance to the San Francisco Zoo, we saw a homeless man, clearly a war veteran, selling small American flags for a dollar each. He was smiling and greeting everyone, including those who did not purchase flags from him.

I impulsively gave my eldest son a $5 dollar bill but told him and his little brother to only take one flag each. After cheerfully chatting with my boys, the man took the bank note and went to give them change.

When my eldest said he didn’t want change, the man looked at me to confirm and I nodded. He then tried to give us three more flags and when we declined, he got upset. We had insulted him.

This proud veteran was not asking for charity. He was selling flags as a business. We have offended his self-respect.

It was an unfortunate incident and I was very sad for hurting him. That night, I sat pouring over the Internet, reading issues of war vets, homelessness, and P.T.S.D.

Sometime after midnight, my wife having given up on getting me to come sleep, I typed the following words: Unwanted Heroes, Chapter One.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

 

Apple, $700 per Share – Roger Ingalls

This week Apple Inc. hit $700 for a single share of common stock and, as a whole, the company is now valued at $656 billion which places them at the top of the market valuation list. These dollar figures are incomprehensible.

The company has been very successful over the past fifteen years and the employees should be proud of their accomplishments but I wonder what the success of Apple says about our society. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but for all intent and purposes, Apple supplies entertainment products. If all the company’s products were to suddenly disappear, the human population would not go extinct and other companies could supply similar gadgets.

As a species, we need food, water, shelter, care (love, nurturing and healthcare) and external energy. These five needs are essential to our existence yet the most valued company in our society is one that provides a luxury product. To be fair, ExxonMobil is an external energy company and very similar to Apple in market valuation. As much as I hate fossil fuel based companies, it is much more justifiable, in my mind, for an oil company to have a higher market value than a company providing a non-essential product such as Apple.

It agitates me that a company selling luxury products sits at the top of the value list when a significant portion of our nation does not have access to healthy food, are an event away from homelessness and can’t get adequate healthcare.

I know connecting Apple with the basics for human existence is not a legitimate discussion but it would make more sense if companies that helped us with essential survival were at the top of the valuation list.

Ironic observation: The Occupy Movement protested against corporate greed while having Apple earbuds stuffed in their ears.

Forgot my Birthday?

Last year, my birthday fell during the once-every-four-years World Cup (soccer). I thought I could slow the aging process down by deciding that, like the World Cup, I would have a birthday once-every-four-years.

A great tribute to the peaceful South African revolution

So what do I want for my birthday? Something between my own house, world peace, and one of my books becoming a New York Times Bestseller. If you can arrange any of those three, please do. If you feel you have to prioritize (really, how long have we been friends?) then I suppose world peace comes first,

Otherwise, I am going to list 10 organizations that I have highlighted over the past year. Instead of buying me a fine bottle of wine or a box of chocolates that will have me working out for hours at the gym (after thoroughly enjoying them), why not consider donating the exorbitant amount of money you were going to splash on me to one of these great organizations. Please click on the link to the organization that catches your fancy.

1. The Lower Ninth Ward Village – a community center that will provide the only way to keep children in a safe environment over the summer.

2. Save A Child’s Heart – a hospital in Israel that gives free medical heart procedures to children from any country or religion in the Middle East and beyond.

3. One Voice – helping Israeli and Palestinian youth demand a non violent and just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

4. Jewish Funds for Justice – sending students to work in disaster-struck areas of the world and teaching the value of social justice.

5. World Reader – providing sustainable e-book solutions to children in Africa and other poor regions, allowing them to grow through reading and education.

6. Habitat for Humanity – a community helping to provide people with homes.

7. Jewish Heart for Africa – leveraging sustainable Israeli environmental technology to help the poorest rural African communities.

8. Darfur & The Berkeley Stove – providing stoves for women in Darfur, thereby avoiding the need to put themselves in violent situations.

9. Project Homeless Connect – offering bi-monthly services to the homeless of San Francisco.

10. Kiva Loans – a micro-loan organization that helps people create businesses to lift themselves out of poverty.

They are all good causes and I know there are many more. But it is amazing how just a small gift can save or change a person’s life. What a way to celebrate your birthday!

Thank you. Wanna slice of birthday cake?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Project Homeless Connect™

Volunteering at Project Homeless Connect™ is always challenging. Every two months, dozens of support agencies gather under one roof to provide a broad array of services and counseling to the homeless of San Francisco. I love the fact that the auditorium is next to the Civic Center, right within view of the city legislators. I also deeply appreciate the commitment of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was one of the initiators of the project. He has come every time that I’ve volunteered to thank the volunteers and talk to some of the homeless.

I once told him how much I appreciate his support and commitment. He didn’t bat an eyelid as he reached for my hand and said: “Oh no. I appreciate your commitment.” Yes I know he is a politician, but I really believe he meant it, that he is genuinely passionate about Project Homeless Connect.

For those volunteers who are not part of an agency, our jobs involve interviewing, data tracking and accompanying homeless people to the different agency areas. I usually do the latter where an important element is to just listen to their stories. I rarely leave at the end of the day without hearing something that is deeply moving. I return to my warm home, my loving wife and sons, knowing that tomorrow because I am healthy, I will hit the gym before heading to a job that I love. I am not rich or famous, have not realized my dream of becoming an author of social commentary, but the experience reminds me that I am a darn lucky man.


“The mission of Project Homeless Connect™ (PHC) is to connect San Francisco’s homeless with the system of care that will help them move off the streets and into housing.” (From the PNC website).

Just over five years ago, the mayor and about 300 volunteers surveyed the homeless in the Tenderloin, one of SF’s poorest neighborhoods. From their responses, Project Homeless Connect™ was born.

Again from the website: “Widespread foreclosures, the demands of returning veterans, and the reduction of federal funding for affordable housing create constant challenges in a declining economy. Dealing with the vexing problem requires intervention not only by government but also the community at large.

Today, over 1,000 community volunteers partner with government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector every two months to provide a one-stop shop of health and human services for homeless San Franciscans. During PHC’s events, participants are able to accomplish in one day what might normally take eight months.

Hundreds of corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies provide PHC and its clients with services such as dental care, eyeglasses, family support, food, HIV testing, housing, hygiene products, medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, SSI benefits, legal advice, California identification cards, voice mail, employment counseling and job placement, wheelchair repair, methadone, needle exchange, and more.
As of February 2010, 20,292 volunteers have provided services to more than 30,844 homeless and poor San Franciscans.”

Finally, the federal government’s Interagency Council has declared Project Homeless Connect™ a National Best Practice Model on Homelessness. If this isn’t validation enough, PHC is being replicated in over 200 cities across the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia.

I’m proud to be a San Francisco-ite.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Help for Homeless War Vets Day 2

Swords to Plowshares is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1974. It provides “counseling and case management, employment and training, housing and legal assistance to veterans in the San Francisco Bay Area.” In addition, they work to promote and protect the rights of war vets through advocacy, public education and partnerships with local, state and national entities.

From their mission statement: War causes wounds and suffering that last beyond the battlefield. Swords to Plowshares’ mission is to heal the wounds, to restore dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency to all veterans in need, and to significantly reduce homelessness and poverty among veterans.

This exciting announcement came from their website.

Homeless Veterans May Get A Place Of Their Own

In what looks to be a win-win proposition for San Francisco, the Planning Commission has cleared the way for conversion of a surplus city building into a permanent living space for homeless veterans.

If all goes as planned, the historic-but-underused property will be used to get 76 older veterans off the streets and into a home where, as one project backer said, “they can age in place.”

The nine-story building at 150 Otis St. was the city’s first Juvenile Hall and Detention Center when it was built in 1916. From the 1950s through the 1980s it was used as office space for the Department of Human Services. Since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it’s been little more than a storage space and temporary seasonal homeless shelter.

Plans by the Chinatown Community Development Center and Swords to Plowshares, a veterans’ support group, will convert the building into permanently affordable studio apartments, with space for a resident manager and a variety of on-site veterans’ services.

Swords to Plowshares runs a similar property at the Presidio.

The commission unanimously agreed to allow the affordable housing in an area previously zoned for public use and recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the plan.

Plans call for renovation of the building to begin this November, with the first tenants arriving in summer 2012.

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The concept of men and women who fought for their country  struggling for their own basic needs is hard for me to understand. I lived in Israel for two decades, a country in which every man and woman serves in the country’s defense forces. Citizens wounded in service to their country receive the best medical and psychological help available, as well as an array of social services. Perhaps this is one of the few advantages of national service. When everyone serves, it is inconceivable that your country’s heroes are left by the roadside begging for a dollar.

Hopefully, thanks to organizations like Swords to Plowshares, this shame will become a thing of the past.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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