Monday, December 28, 2009

A Letter From A Struggling Soul

I received this email from someone who looked at the dehumanization section of the Anawim website:

He writes as follows:

Good afternoon,

My name is Wesley Flowers, and I have been homeless for the better part of the last 7 years. I have been completely dehumanised. I don't know where to go or what to do. I was in Portland for a little while in 2008, and I came across your website after reading the comments to an article that was written about me in the Mercury last year. I never got any of my stuff back or any kind of restitution. Go figure.

I am homeless in Toledo Ohio now, crashing on the couch of a community centre in downtown that I have been helping with, but the dehumanisation process continues on a daily basis. Classism is more embedded in our society than white privilege. I have been off the streets (not sleeping outside) for almost a year, but feel more homeless than I did when I was sleeping under a bridge. I have no homeless friends now, and the people who are around me are economically privileged, and noncognizant of it and unwilling to look in that mirror. Depression is crippling at this point.

I don't know how to get the people who are around me on a regular basis to stop dehumanising me. I've lived here since March, and I can't even get anyone to want to go "out on the town" with me. I've been basically confined by circumstance to one room, and I feel just like I felt when I was homeless. I am best kept out of sight and mind. I don't know what to do or think or feel anymore. I spend all my time giving up now. It doesn't seem like there is anything left to hope for.

I stay away from the Christian places because I am gay and quite happy not expressing my faith within a Christian context, as I have experienced quite a bit of psychological abuse from Christians throughout my life. I do believe in God, but these days it feels like God doesn't believe in me. Those places around here aren't really Christian anyway, they're Monetarian.

I've lived an extremely hard life. I have had everything taken from me in the worst way possible, and in some cases multiple times. I can't take any more. I need a break. Maybe this letter is a kind of prayer. I believe prayer comes in all different forms, and I am certainly pleading my bleeding heart here. I don't know what to do. Please help me.

I just want people to recognise that I am a human being. I want people to want to spend time with me, and I want them to want me to spend time with them. But I haven't been able to remain in one place for more than 10 or 11 months at most since 2003. Every place I've been to, as soon as the newness of "the cool combat vet intelligence officer who knows everything" wears off, I'm just some depressed bum who nobody wants to be around unless it is to answer a question. Keep me in the closet and use me as a human google. But by no means ever acknowledge that I have human needs or emotions as well. My existence is not strictly intellectual, I have a body and a soul too. No one wants to look at that. Everyone changes the subject immediately.

I haven't even had enough of a moments peace in my life to even begin dealing with the shit I went through in the military, much less the emotional stuff I went through that led me to homelessness in the first place, and the things that have happened subsequently which have exacerbated that cycle.

I am completely unemployable as a result of an untreated hand injury which requires specialty care (orthopaeidic reconstructive surgery) and I have no insurance. That was the reason I came to Portland in the first place. None of the hospitals there would treat me. The thumb of my right hand is dislocated and deformed and the tendons are snapped. I am right handed. Now, my middle, ring and pinky finger are the only ones working on my right hand and I am an insurance liability for employers. I don't even know why I'm telling all this to you all. You can't really *do* anything either. I guess I just need to vent, but I've vented and vented and vented and nothing gets done ever.

I am at the point now where I feel like there is nothing for me here in Toledo either and the best I can hope for is more of the same distant tolerance dressed up as friendship that I have received all my life. I don't feel that there is anywhere left TO go for me. I've been almost everywhere in the US and am prohibited from crossing any international borders by Homeland Security as a result of my veteran/economic/political status. I dohn't know what to do anymore. I feel like I'm out of options.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Mike Bighus has severe schizophrenia. He takes he medication on a regular basis—a shot of haldol every few weeks. After his shot, he sleeps for a few days and then is as normal as he can. A few days before his next shot is scheduled, he begins to decompensate and have emotional problems. Occasionally, he would threaten someone for an imagined fault, but his friends would ignore it, knowing that he’ll be better after he takes his medication. If he took oral medication every day, he could avoid these highs and lows, but he is just too unstable to take oral meds every day.

Mike is homeless, because he’s never been stable enough to remain in any home. He stays in Gresham, to be in an urban setting, but remaining close to his parents who lives in Sandy. The street community helped him when they could, but he never really made friends with them. It was too difficult to make sense of him, to track his moods. The street community often accepts those who are unstable, so they just worked around it.

This last holiday season, Mike was unable to get his medication on time. He was a little unstable, but he was still determined to stay with his parents over Christmas, because he doesn’t get much opportunity to spend time with them in their home. His mother is a nurse practitioner, so she understands some of what he’s going through.

We don’t know exactly what happened, but somehow Mike got a hold of the rifle that they kept in storage and he shot and killed his mother. On Christmas day. After this deed, Mike strolled around Sandy with the rifle, and then he wandered back home, where the police had blocked off roads and searched all over the town for him. Mike peacefully surrendered the rifle to the officers and he was arrested for the murder of his mother.

Why did this tragedy happen? Well, it happened because Mike had become too unstable. But this answer just encourages the wrong fear that many people have of the mentally ill. Most of the mentally ill are not dangerous, even the severely mentally ill and schizophrenic. The mentally ill, for the most part, do not deserve to be locked up or kept on such strong drugs that they no longer are able to think for themselves. Most of the severely mentally ill can work, can function in society and can live a decent, if alternative, lifestyle.

The real question that should be asked is: How could this tragedy have been averted? Perhaps if Mike had been living in a house he wouldn’t have had the extra stress that would have sent him over the edge. But we can’t really point our fingers at the parents—they had probably helped Mike for years and was at the edge of their patience and knowledge of how to help him.

Perhaps if Mike had been able to take oral medications every day, he would have been more stable, especially if regularly monitored by a doctor. That would mean that Mike would have to be in a group home. But would any group home have taken Mike in? Probably not, because he was too unstable to begin with.

The fact is, there is no place in our society to help people like Mike. Some think that the homeless should be more responsible for themselves, but there are certain people who need to be helped because they cannot help themselves. It is a positive thing that in our society we give people freedom, but when that freedom leads to tragedies like this, is the cost worth it? Wouldn’t it be better to have money in our society to help the severely mentally ill, to make sure that they all have housing and regular medication if they need it?

In the end, wouldn’t it be less expensive. Mike will either be imprisoned or hospitalized for the rest of his life, after a trial. Wouldn’t it have been less expensive to place him in a group home that assists those with severe needs like Mike? Certainly it would have been less costly than losing a nurse. Less costly than a man who has to live the rest of his life without his wife, knowing that she was taken at the hands of their son.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Sabbatical Rest

God is really sneaky. But I knew that for along time already.

So my plan for my sabbatical-- three months long, a miracle in itself!-- was to write my book, maybe two, and to set up a day shelter for the folks in Gresham.

First thing, these plans were fulfilled. I'm still working on cleaning up my book, and we still need to get at least one more church to get the day shelter going, but the tough work is done.

But the other thing about my sabbatical is to get rest so I'd be rejuvenated to get back to work. To not be so overwhelmed with weariness. That was a trickier project, because other than rest-- a very difficult thing for me to do-- I had no idea. Maybe a week long retreat away from everything.

The beginning of my sabbatical didn't go well on that last part. The day shelter was requiring some connecting-with-people work (my most tiring work) and the book was starting slowly. I was just so tired.

And then money ran out. That was awful. Bills were piling up and I had no way of paying them. And we couldn't pay for my medicine, due to my lack of testosterone. And I didn't have it for two months in the midst of my sabbatical. That meant my muscles started atrophying, I had to take naps in the afternoon, I had to watch what I ate because diabetes kicked in and other exciting prospects. And I had high anxiety, which was only increased by not having money to pay bills! My phone switched off, and all was not good.

Some folks helped us out in our need-- thank you David and Duncan! Just to keep electrcity on and food handy.

But, a week into December, we got our tax refund. It was less than we thought, but still, our bills were paid and we got my medicine and Diane's (who was on the edge of being out). After I got my testosterone shot, it takes about a week of adjustment. I get funny pains all over my body and my temper goes wacky and stuff. Then I took the time to get to a retreat center-- a Trappist Monastery, actually.

I just got back. Wow. I mean, wow. I feel so much better. My eyes are bright and my mind is back and I am reading again and I feel compelled to write again. I feel like myself.

I guess it was God's plan to not have me have my medicine. I've often said the only way I rest is if I'm sick, so God conveniently planned for me to be sick for a couple months. Then the money came just as things were coming to a head. Then I took the retreat which the final item snapped into place to give me my mind back.

Well, it's nice to be back. Can't say how it's permanent. That's up to God. But He is always faithful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Homeless Now or In Eternity-- Ron Rohman

This is a response from Ron Rohman, a minister in Portland for many decades, both on the street and off to my open letter to church in East Multnomah County:


We do indeed live in a fallen world. All of these things do occur between those who have houses and those who do not.

And for those who are captives of such behavior there is the cross -- the death burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there is the power of the Holy Spirit.

So there are those who are homeless in eternity and those who are not.

So for those who are houseless in this present life but not homeless in eternity there is the community of believers called the church which is on the earth.

May we each keep our eyes and ears open for our brother and sister in these difficult times. May we each be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and not be in such a hurry in this culture that we miss out on an opportunity to minister to Jesus as we remember His words in Matthew 25.

Mercy, grace, and peace be with us all during these dark and difficult days.

~ Ron R.

An Open Letter To Churches in East Multnomah County

I am sure that many of you, in your congregations prayed for the homeless this last weekend. As I sit here, writing this, it is 24 degrees in Gresham and the wind cuts the chill onto one’s skin to 9 degrees. Often, as we step out of our houses or offices we consider the homeless and their plight and wonder what they do in such weather.

I can tell you what they do. Some of them sit in coffee shops or the library during the day. Some sit in their cars with the engine running. Many of them stay in tents, just barely keeping the wind out, reserving energy for when they really need it. Some of these folks will go to the local soup kitchens to sit for an hour and get a hot meal and coffee. Others would rather not eat for the day because it is too difficult to get ready to face the cold to get the meal.

So we are right to pray for the homeless. But we would be more right to do something about it.

Right now, in Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village, and Troutdale there are no emergency warming shelters open for the majority of the homeless. There is no place for them to go even during the day that they might not get kicked out of. Just this last week, a few of Gresham’s homeless were kicked out of their camp, and in this weather they had to find and create a new camp.

Some folks would say that the homeless are somebody else’s problem. That they did this to themselves, and so they deserve what they get. Although the causes of homelessness are complex and can’t be determined by a simple sentence, or by a single finger pointing blame, the solution to the worst of this dilemma is easy: churches can open their doors. The homeless are our children, our brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, our fellow believers, fellow church members and most of all, they are people in need. Now. In this cold.

To house the homeless in Gresham—perhaps some 100 whose needs are not currently met by the current system—would be too much for one congregation. But if we worked together, the project would not be too difficult. If some churches opened their doors once or twice a week to allow 50 people to have a place inside during the day, then other churches could provided volunteers to staff that place, and other churches could provide coffee and blankets and socks. If a few churches would be willing to open their doors in the worst weather to allow the homeless to bring sleeping bags in and sleep overnight, then other churches could provide volunteers to watch over the facilities and to provide some blankets and a little bit of food.

If you or some of your church think you might be interested in helping in this project, then I would like to help us work together. I am Steve Kimes, pastor of Anawim Christian Community, a community church for the homeless and mentally ill in Gresham and Portland for 10 years. I have been working with the KEY Conversation on Poverty to try to provide temporary shelter for the homeless, while other groups have been working on more permanent solutions.

We’d like to ask you to be part of the answer to your own prayers.

Anawim will provide the training for volunteers and will provide some organization. Anawim has already provided a model for a day shelter in churches in Gresham for 10 years. But we are now asking all of us to participate. Let us be a model of church cooperation and networking to help a vulnerable part of our community.

If you are interested in helping, please contact me at or call me at 503-888-4453.

Please feel free to send this email on to anyone else who you think might be interested in helping or supporting.

Steve Kimes
Pastor of Anawim Christian Community