I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ups and downs of a rocky week

A grape hyacinth peeking out of last winter's leaves
Just a week ago when I sat here in bed with my laptop, I was in a very different space. I hadn't yet visited my new doctor, which I did last Monday. I wrote about it here. I thought my previous doctor was young, but this guy is even more so. I wonder how long it will be before he, too, moves on. I had my last doctor for five years. It was pleasant to chat with the new one, and he spent more than a half hour with me, which surprised me. It's one thing when your doctor is young enough to be your son, but Patrick is actually young enough to be my grandson!

I talked with my sister Norma Jean on Wednesday, and she wondered why my posts have been getting shorter and shorter. I felt a pang of guilt when she said that, because I know I haven't been giving these Sunday posts my full attention. I've been in a hurry to get to the next part of the day at the coffee shop. Sometimes it takes a reminder for me to realize that my penchant for staying busy and engaged in my life can make me miss the moment. I'll try to slow down a little today.

There's a new friend I look forward to seeing at the coffee shop, a man named Lorenzo. He's been coming in daily for the last couple of months, and I recently learned that he's homeless. He comes in to get coffee and find a warm place to stay for awhile, as well as a place to hook up his laptop for wifi. I would never have guessed he's homeless, because he's well dressed and only carries a backpack with his meds and electronics.

The other day he came in with his face streaked with tears. He's never asked me for money or even given any hint that life is so difficult for him, but someone had found the place where he stashes his sleeping bag and clothes and taken the clothes and strewn his sleeping bags out into the rain. My friend John and I both really felt bad for him, but what can you do? Lorenzo is a tall black man in his sixties who seems to be pretty good health, but he told us that he's got a heart condition and although he has a case worker who is helping him as much as possible, he's unable to work in construction any more and is on a very small disability pension. Not enough to pay rent anywhere, it seems.

Lorenzo is a good-hearted person with a great sense of humor. When my friend Gene is there, the four of us will sometimes sit and tell stories and laugh for hours. John has offered Lorenzo his barn as a place out of the rain, but John lives in the country with a very long driveway, and Lorenzo has no way to get there from town. He did spend one very wet night there and John drove him there and back. We discussed an article that appeared in the local paper about the number of homeless children in Whatcom County. I was appalled to learn that this year, 854 students in K-12 are counted as homeless. That means they sleep under bridges and under tarps with other family members, according to that article. Lorenzo confirmed that they are indeed out there.

I am accosted for money from people on the street almost daily. You can tell most of the homeless who wander around because of their inevitable grocery cart filled with all their worldly goods. Until I met Lorenzo, I didn't realize that there are also vast numbers of invisible homeless people that I don't see. The children and their parents: where are they? My heart breaks for the conditions that allow such poverty to exist in the richest country in the world.

I went to see Michael Moore's latest movie, which he calls Where to Invade Next? He goes to different countries ostensibly to steal ideas that other countries have that he wants to bring back to America. Although the movie is long and occasionally very funny, it made me wonder why we have no social system to care for the homeless that is evident in almost every other country. Now this doesn't mean I'd like to live anywhere other than America (other than maybe Canada), but it did make me ponder the differences in our countries. Chris Knight is a reviewer who wrote a piece that pretty much says everything I thought about the movie:
At each location, Moore “steals” the best ideas he can find, leaving behind an American flag and a series of flabbergasted Finns, incredulous Italians, flummoxed French, etc. It’s both amusing and educational, but it tends to drift in the second hour, to the point where only the most diehard Moore fans won’t be starting to shift in their seats.
 Yes, even I was beginning to shift in my seat towards the end of the movie, and I've enjoyed every Michael Moore movie I've seen. I heard he was in the hospital with pneumonia right at the time this one was released. He is from Flint, Michigan, after all, and probably drinking the water. Plus he really doesn't take very good care of himself in any event. But he did create a thought-provoking movie. Apparently it's possible to download it and watch it free of charge. I would recommend seeing it that way rather than in a theater.

And then a couple of days ago, I had my own reality check, so to speak. Usually I really enjoy our 26-unit apartment complex, but I got a real shock in the mail: our landlord has increased our rent by 13%! I gasped when I saw the number and immediately contacted other tenants to see if they also had been ambushed (they had), or whether he is just trying to force us out. We've been here for more than eight years, very happy until now.

I called and talked with the landlord and he told me that the new number is slightly below market value, and if I wanted to pay another $50/month I could start paying month to month and not sign the lease. In fact, I did go and check some of the other places I've looked at as possible places to move, and he's right: everything has become more expensive. Everything has increased except our fixed income. But this place is NOT top of the line in anybody's book, trust me.

We decided to go ahead and sign the lease for another year, but we will be actively looking for some options. If they did it this year, they can do it again next year when the lease comes due again. That's the renter's dilemma and until now, I thought I had a decent landlord; in previous years the increase has been reasonable, but something has changed. It threw me for a loop, but I've recovered. This year, we can still make ends meet. But I fear for our future, not only personally, but everywhere within my own world.

And don't get me started on the election. I won't go there right now, but doesn't it make you wonder just what the heck is going on? I've got no power other than my own tiny vote and the ability to give money to the candidate of my choice, but even that's changed, now that I'll be paying more of my monthly income to the landlord.

Sorry that this post is such a litany of sad news. That picture at the top of the post was taken this week on a sunny day in an old orchard on my Senior Trailblazer hike. I need to remember that spring is on the way, when the grape hyacinth is beginning to pop out from under the winter's dry leaves, and it's only going to get warmer and sunnier from here on out. That's the wonderful thing about seasons: you don't need to stay in one place in life because it will change to something different. I'm looking forward to better days ahead.

I hope you will also have better days ahead, and that those of you in freezing temperatures will remember that nothing stays the same, it all changes. Those dear friends who are leaving summertime behind and moving towards fall, well I have to remember that even here on our blue marble, we have opposite seasons going on at the same time. I get so focused on my own little life that I forget to look up at the sky and be thankful. That's the best part of these posts: I get to remember to expand my horizons. Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.


The Furry Gnome said...

DJan, I share your frustration with where life seems to be headed, but I admire your Sunday morning thought ful post. Taking the time once a week seems like a good idea. Actually been under the weather here for nearly a week, and it does get me down compared to staying active. We've been thinking about how long we want to stay here too. We love our home out in the country, but while it was a wonderful break when we were working, now that we're here full-time it's a bit restricting. Just not enough of those social and learning opportunities. Who knows when or whether we'll change, but I think Imust have that 'restlessness' gene that always makes me want to move on to new things. But I really struggle with what we can do about things like poverty here in such a rich country, just like you. As for your upcoming election, well it just seems like the world has gone crazy sometimes!

Linda Myers said...

Quite an experience you've had with your friend Lorenzo. Makes you think about the homelessness issue in a more personal way. Kind of like my experience in Salzburg with the refugees.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Hungry Children who only get fed at school seems to be our local challenge with some teachers sending home a special backpack for the weekend. It is a sad situation to see anyone homeless. We see a few homeless in the summer, it is too cold in the winter. I sometimes recognize a few in the library in the Spring and Fall warming up. In the summer they would come to the green area outside the museum and nap on the benches:)
13 % seems like a large increase in rent. I am not sure what your rent is but in this area one place is advertised with heat, water and garbage two bedroom for 650 a month....other places it is based on your income we have lots of those in town because the next county is a poverty area.
I cannot see where things have gotten better in the last eight years, health insurance premiums rose to $1,700 a month for my brother with a 10,000 deductable...the only thing that is good for is big medical problems.
I hope you have a good week:)

Linda Reeder said...

Where to start.
Homelessness is becoming a huge problem in the Seattle area. 400 people are living under the 1-5 freeway in just one location. when we look at it as a problem, we see garbage and piles of human waste and crime. When we look at is as individual people and their hardship, we feel sad. But with either perspective, we don't really know what to do. But certainly we need to put more money into mental health services, and increase safety nets for families.

While your rent goes up, so do our property taxes. We are fortunate to have amble retirement income to handle such expenses, but not everyone does. But what do my taxes pay for? Schools and mental health services and safety nets. Yes, I'll pay.

Politics. We watched the movie Trumbo last night. What an important movie in this time of fear mongering and hate filled political statements. We must hold fast to the ideals of this nation and not let them be cast asunder. I just made another donation to my candidate and plan to attend the caucuses in March. I try to stay informed and share a bit of this information with others. but there isn't much that one person can do in any of these situations.

It's raining this morning. We plan to venture out anyway and take some mail to our son and stop by the Fremont Street Market. Later today I'll watch the Academy Awards and see who "wins". I don't know that I have many favorites this year. I like many movies for different reasons.

There will b e lots of news this week. I hope some of it is good.

Marie Smith said...

Rent on this island is controlled by the provincial government. Rent went up about two percent last year. We have a family member living in Toronto and her rent is controlled by the government as well. A landlord who does work on a building can apply for a larger increase but there is a board which controls the increases and tenants can appeal any unreasonable increase.

The homeless are not visible in this community. They couch surf among friends and family as an example. We have some housing for low income people but we really need more. There is a huge problem in our large cities. It is one area I would like our federal government to tackle. There would be solutions if the right people worked on the problem. I always struggle with what I can do to help.

Have a great week.

Elephant's Child said...

This is such a thoughtful, and thought provoking post.
Homelessness is an issue here too. It is too often invisible. People couch surf, live in their cars... Just as in mental illness (and the two are too often connected) there is a shame about it. A misplaced shame.
I hope this week brings you more flowers and less election news. Hugs.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

You give Lorenzo something truly important: genuine human respect and friendship. I suspect those go a long way in helping him cope with the invasion and destruction of his belongings. I hope you take a moment to acknowledge this one more piece of evidence that you are a really good person.

Red said...

Not many people sit down with a homeless person and gain knowledge of what the experience is like. There are many reasons for being homeless but a major shift in the distribution of wealth would make a big difference. The dice is stacked in favor of the high income and leaves less and less for middle and low income. Sooner or later this has to change. I hope it changes peacefully.

peppylady (Dora) said...

I see spring has came. No flowers blooming in North Idaho. But a robin did show up a few days ago.

Coffee is on

Anonymous said...

Our mayor is making progress giving the homeless here apartments to live in, so I will definitely vote for him again.

As for the increase in rent, that is a dilemma. I hope it doesn't mean you have to move out of your city to somewhere less expensive. Good luck.

Rita said...

If I hadn't gotten into low income housing eleven years ago I wouldn't have been able to have a decent place of my own. Maybe a room or, shall we say, a real dump. That's why I have been so very thrilled to be here in the new apartment! I would likely not be able to afford internet if I wanted to eat. It would have been really, really difficult, that's for sure. Rents keep going up, too, like you said. What's sad is the number of homeless people who are working--but don't get paid enough to rent a place.

Lorenzo sounds like an honorable man. I'm glad you guys are good company for each other. He needs that more than anything--to be treated like an equal. :) :)

Have a good week and it won't hurt to look around at other rental places. At least you would know what's out there.

Marty said...

This was a good start to my week, taking me out of myself and my own small world.
I can't help but think about the amount of money wasted that could help with homelessness in this country. How about the millions (and it horrifies me that's no exaggeration) spent on this foolish campaign season? Obscene.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

When you think of the massive amounts of money being spent in the presidential campaign, you have to wonder how that money could be better spent!

Arkansas Patti said...

When I was in banking a study proved it was cheaper in the long run to rent than to own. However, the total lack of control in renting has to be the biggest drawback. You are at the mercy of the landlord. Sure hope you don't have to face this again next year.
The plight of the homeless is a blight on our country. I wasn't aware of the invisible homeless but I bet if I dug,I would find them right here in tiny town Arkansas. As the richest country in the world, we can do so much better--we have to. We need to write our congressmen and let them know this is a priority. We can do a lot with our one little vote if we get noisy. You have inspired me to try.

Sally Wessely said...

You have struck many notes with this post. So often, I worry about living on a fixed income as my husband and I age. We are greatly blessed with an abundant pension, but at a late time in life, we did take on a mortgage that we can afford, but would love to do without. Then, one worries about the economy. What happens if it all crashes? What would we do? What would our children do? Would we all be living together? Would be fortunate enough to even do that?

I have a dear, dear friend with a son who is homeless. It breaks our hearts. Her heart is continually broken. It has given me an entirely new heart for the homeless. I see the many sides to the problem through her. She mostly knows where he is, but for five years she did not know. There is nothing that she can do but pray for him and hope for the kindness of others. She walks the downtown streets every week once a week hoping for a connection. Sometimes she has one. Mostly, she doesn't. On cold nights, I find myself praying for him. Many do reach out. Many have helped him, but he remain homeless. It is so very sad.

I guess most of us could be a very short step away from being homeless ourselves.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, As you often do, you have given us a lot to think about in this post. And that is one of the main reasons I enjoy Eye so much. I am just sitting here thinking about Lorenzo. I definitely share your wonder as to how this strongest economy in the world can just look the other way about so many homeless people. This also reminded me of a tie in with all the election stuff ... we are, again, in agreement about how crazy this race has been so far. I can't imagine Trump as our President, but did you notice in a recent debate, when he, running as a Republican, said, he will not allow people to die on the street? Did you notice how the room became so quiet? I am not advocating that anyone vote for him, but I will give him credit for that one thing ... but the question is, can, or could he, really accomplish that? On other items: I enjoyed your story about your visit with your new Doctor ... read the post on DJanity. I need to read more like that post as it restores my faith in the younger generations! :-) Lastly, I could go on and on about your rent increase. You may recall that I had to move out of a building in downtown Seattle because the owner wanted to remodel ... 179 tenants were forced to move out for 18+ months. If, and when, we wish to return, we have heard that the rents will be almost double what we were paying there. We don't know anyone who plans to return. Thank you, as always, for writing an excellent post ... Looking forward to the next installment! :-) Hope you and Smart Guy have a fine weekend!