Veteran’s Day Salute

“In the aftermath, we are because they were”. R.J. Heller

Gale Filter, a volunteer at Loaves & Fishes is an air force veteran and a retired environmental prosecutor and educator. He believes that photography provides a powerful means to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and that in the eyes of many who experience homelessness, one finds the “homes of silent prayers” to quote Alfred Tennyson.  

November 10, 2017. I am at Loaves & Fishes to photograph and honor those veterans who served our country. I can’t help but think of those veterans who served honorably and have had a significant impact on my life.

To Glen, my high school football teammate. He served in Vietnam, and died of a drug overdose several years after he was discharged.

To my good friend Dan who I served with in Italy (1968-1970). Prior to his assignment in Italy Dan had served a tour in Vietnam and was in a communications trailer that was hit by a rocket. Dan was the only one who survived. He married Caroline, had two daughters and committed suicide in the early 1980s.

To Tommy (Army) and Malcolm (Marine) who were my Criminology and Political Science students at Joliet State Prison in the late 1970s. Both men were serving life sentences: Malcolm for killing a police officer during the anti-war demonstrations at the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968; and, Tommy for murdering another pimp.

To Robert, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran, who I prosecuted for killing his girlfriend. Robert is currently serving his time in a California prison.

To all of those homeless veterans who I regularly encounter as a Mercy Pedaler on Sacramento streets. You deserve better. There should be no homeless veterans.

To my good friends and photographer buddies Tom (Army) and Robert (Navy), who still stand tall and remain true coffee warriors.

To three generations of Filters (my dad, daughter and myself) who served in the Air Force. I did not learn that my father was awarded the Silver Star in WW II until after he died.

Thank you. I am because you were.

Gale Filter, USAF (1966-1970)

Dia de los Muertos

Gale Filter, a volunteer at Loaves & Fishes is an air force veteran and a retired environmental prosecutor and educator. He believes that photography provides a powerful means to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and that in the eyes of many who experience homelessness, one finds the “homes of silent prayers” to quote Alfred Tennyson.  

November 3, 2017.  I’m at Friendship Park to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

On Dia de los Muertos, Loaves & Fishes honors the homeless guests who have departed over the past year.  The community recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience.  The departed are a part of the community, present to share the celebration with their loved ones and friends.  At Loaves and Fishes Dia de los Muertos is a day not only of celebration, but also one of reflection, joy and spirituality.

My mind keeps wandering to “Truth” who died in 2017.  I shot these images of Truth at the old Friendship Park in 2016.  Truth loved his music and the day I shot these photos he was strumming his guitar, singing the blues on a warm peaceful day in the park.  As far as I’m concerned Truth was too young to be dead.

So this is a photo tribute to Truth and the homeless who departed in 2017.  Here are some other truths to think about:

In 2016, 79 homeless people died in Sacramento County.  This is a significant increase over the  32 homeless people who died in 2002.  For homeless men, the average age of death is 49.9 years; for women, it is 47.4 years.   That’s decades younger than the 78.8-year life span for Americans.

Below are my photos from Dia de los Muertos.  I believe the presence of the departed can be felt in some of these images.

Friendship Park’s Peace Day Celebration

The only true guardian of peace lies within: a sense of concern and responsibility for your own future and an altruistic concern for the well-being of others. 

Dalai Lama

World Peace Day-September 21, 2017.

I am at Loaves & Fishes to photograph the dedication of Friendship Park’s new Peace Pole. Peace Poles are recognized throughout the world as the most prominent international symbol and monument to peace. Peace Poles bear the message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in all the languages of the world. It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 Peace Poles that have been dedicated in nearly every country on Earth.

Friendship Park is a safe haven for Sacramento’s homeless, a sanctuary where a little piece of peace can be found and shared. May you find some peace in these images.

The Kindness Cantina

The Kindness Cantina

In the emergency room of Dignity Health’s Methodist Hospital, in South Sacramento, ordinary snacks serve a noble cause. Caz Sliwa, a registered nurse, operates Kindness Cantina, which provides hospital staff with soda, coffee, chips and the opportunity to give back to their homeless neighbors for just a dollar. He has volunteered at Loaves & Fishes for the past three years.

Sliwa stocks and maintains the venue that buys a monthly nutritious breakfast served by him and fellow emergency room employees to the guests of Friendship Park. Sliwa’s manager came up with the idea for Kindness Cantina after the hospital did away with all of its vending machines, leaving the staff without an outlet for snacking pleasures.

The Kindness Cantina, stationed in the staff break room, operates through the honor system: patrons fork over a buck for each snack purchased.

“We supply potato chips, Doritos, candy and cans of soda, and it is great for our staff and especially our nighttime staff to have the opportunity to buy snacks because in the middle of the night, they can’t go anywhere to get food,” Sliwa said.

The proceeds afford a nutritious breakfast for guests of Friendship Park, including hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and homemade oatmeal topped with brown sugar, raisins and milk. The morning meal serves about 300 and costs about $550 to put together.

Sliwa and his co-workers also bring survival supplies from the hospital to Friendship Park, such blankets, inflatable mattresses and socks.

A Loaves & Fishes sock donation bag stationed in the hopsital.

The best part about volunteering, Sliwa says, is being able to make a difference in the lives of those who are experiencing homelessness. “Many of us are nurses; and that’s why we became nurses, because we like to help people,” he said.

“We set our breakfast up so that everything that we do is portable – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a baggie is going to last a long time and we make hardboiled eggs so that they can eat those anytime of the day,” Sliwa said. “I’ve heard people say that this is great that we have dinner for tonight.”

Though the group only serves the breakfast once a month, the Kindness Cantina provides Methodist Hospital staff the opportunity to give back 365 days a year.

“For us, the breakfast program is really a daily thing at Methodist Hopsital to draw people to support Loaves & Fishes,” Sliwa said. “I have one guy who told me that he never thought that he would pay $50 a month for peanut M&Ms, but because he knows where the money is going; he drops a $20 bill in the money bucket for Kindness Cantina and will take out several packages of peanut M&Ms over the course of a week.”

The Friendship Park Kiosk as experienced by a former newspaper editor

Randy Rodda who volunteers in the Friendship Park kiosk and the dining room shares what it is like to work in Friendship Park, where many who are experiencing homelessness find comfort, community and a safe place to rest their eyes.  

Loaves & Fishes staffers and volunteers put on their game face — humility, empathy and elbow grease — while dispensing some of the comforts of home to those who have none.

This scene plays out in kind daily from a kiosk in Friendship Park, where guests form a queue outside two service windows to obtain lunch tickets, crucial information and the bare necessities for confronting the rigors and uncertainties of life without hearth or home.

By way of introduction, I’m a novice volunteer in the kiosk, stationed here on Thursdays, mostly behind a computer screen and keyboard, signing up the hundreds who depend heavily on a hearty lunch to fill the void of diets that too often are fed by slim pickings.

This task is not far-flung from my career as an editor for the daily newspaper in Buffalo, N.Y., from where I retired recently before moving closer to my daughter in Sacramento. Both tasks are filled with uncertainties, deadline pressures and a never-ending learning curve — all hinged on the hopes that you’re doing right by folks who really, really depend on you.

Some guests arriving at Friendship Park are newly homeless, in need of just about everything, including survival gear and encouraging advice on how to navigate and survive in an affluent community that talks the talk about solutions for housing the homeless but, as yet, can’t seem to walk the walk.

Others guests are veterans of the dilemma, and rely on Friendship Park as a daily lifeline, way station and social circle, beginning with coffee at 7 a.m.  to last call about mid-afternoon. From here, they branch out to take advantage of myriad services, from the simple luxury of taking a shower to exchanging clothing and shoes weathered by life on the streets.

Carol Brown, my co-volunteer in the park kiosk on Thursdays, is a veteran Loaves & Fishes volunteer of many years.  She is a role model of composure and a comfort to both staffers and guests — unflappable in the face of the unexpected and a constant reminder that the job is always a learning experience. No experts need apply.

Carol, captured in a fleeting moment in between dispensing vitamins, Chapstick and tums to the guests of Friendship Park.

Our kiosk domain features drawers, shelves, nooks and crannies containing articles of great importance to the guests, who spend much time outdoors.

There are safety pins and sewing kits that extend the life of clothing, backpacks and sleeping bags. There are shoelaces.

Sunscreen, lip balm and bug repellent are essentials, especially for the extremes of the Sacramento summer. Hygiene kits distributed toward the end of the Friendship Park day include shampoo, conditioner, soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste.  Also available are mouthwash, sanitizer, tissue packs, wet wipes, dental floss, combs and nail clippers.

The kiosk is an over-the-counter source for painkillers, including aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen — a welcome comfort for those who log miles of harsh life on sore feet. There are vitamins, antacids and Band-aids and antiseptics.

Though the promise of sundries and articles for the guests is consistent, availability is not always guaranteed. Sometimes there are shortages and other times things just run out. Candy is always in demand, especially before lunch,  but the sweet treats are largely dependent on what is donated.

This modest kiosk also serves as nerve central for Friendship Park and services, including day storage for guests, bicycle sign-up and cellphone charging.

Park administrator Hannah Ozanian works aside a determined crew of staffers who mingle with guests, make sure resources are available and ensure order and the well-being for all.

Just outside the front window of the kiosk, guests can sign up for health insurance options. Nearby, housing counseling and veterans outreach services are available.

But for many of the guests, the Friendship Park experience is down time — relaxation on benches, with some even managing to catch a few winks.  Others play cards or catch up on shared interests.

And, on special days, community musicians provide the familiar tunes and backbeat for some good-natured karaoke — typically, a post-lunch coda to another day at Friendship Park.

From this volunteer’s outlook from the kiosk, very little is ever routine and every day serves up a unique set of challenges.

This nothing-new, nothing-ventured analogy is one explanation for why the dedication of volunteers like Carol Brown is counted in the years. Making a difference in the lives of others is a rich reward, indeed.

“I simply like being in the park”

Say “Hello” to Shon!

When Shon first came to Loaves & Fishes, he was simply looking to get a TB test. Instead, he left with a TB test, two sleeping bags, and a newfound community.

Shon’s first experience with Loaves & Fishes caused him to feel safe, secure, and loved by the staff, the volunteers, and the other guests. And this has caused him to return to Loaves & Fishes whenever his life needs it, most recently since June.

Therefore, on most days you can find Shon sitting on a bench under the new mist-ers, facing towards the entrance of Friendship Park. He arrives at Loaves & Fishes a little after 7am, but not before making a quick stop at a shelter to check-in and see where he stands on their waiting list. Each week he has moved up, closer and closer to getting a bed. And each week he provides a mountain of knowledge to all who enter Friendship Park.

Shon gains this knowledge both from his personal experiences and through his time spent in the park. Throughout the day you will find him wandering the park as he catches up with both guests and staff.

Shon is always making connections with others, learning from their knowledge and experiences before he passes that knowledge onto someone else.

When asked what advice he could offer, he simply put: “If I don’t have the information that you need, then always talk to a green hat”. And that definitely is true. Shon is the person that always has the answer, anywhere from CalFresh options to shelter requirements to the safest places to rest. He almost always has the answer. Or at least knows who to talk with to get the answer. And it is all due to his interactions within the park each day.

Lastly, I asked Shon what is his favorite part of Friendship Park and his immediate response was, “I simply like being in the park”. To him, you cannot separate out each aspect of the park and say that it stands alone. Rather, Friendship Park is a safe place because of all the programs it provides: from the washroom to the service center, it all comes together be a space of peace.

So, the next time you visit Friendship Park, make sure to say “hello” to Shon.

A meditation on Friendship Park from the Sacramento County Jail

Robert, a guest at Loaves & Fishes, has been in the Sacramento County Jail for the past year and two months. He is a poet and an artist. He wrote and dedicated this poem to Friendship Park on June 22nd, 2016:

A Place to Be, To Meet a Friend,

Broken Hearts, That Need to Mend.

An Empty Stomach and a Lonely Heart

There’s Always a Friend at Friendship Park.

A Place to Feel Like You’re at Home

At Loaves & Fishes, You’re Never Alone.

Lend a Hand and Offer Cheer

For Loaves & Fishes, is Always Here.

Friendship Park Breakfast Recipe

Each weekday at 7:00 am, coffee is served to the about 300 guests in Friendship Park.

Everyday, Friendship park powers through 60 gallons of Folgers coffee, 10 lbs of sugar and 10 lbs of powdered cream.

At 7:30 am, volunteers start serving breakfast to the guests.

Over the past year and a half, more than 40 different volunteer groups have come together to serve over 45,000 meals. The groups prepare bagged breakfasts before coming to Friendship park which often include oatmeal, sandwiches, fruit, bagels and breakfast rolls. Today about 270 hard boiled eggs were distributed in less than an hour.

It is a smooth and efficient operation thanks to the Loaves & Fishes staff who distribute breakfast tickets and keep the line moving. A special thanks to Elk Grove Resistance and Mercy Hospital Emergency Room volunteers who allowed me to shoot behind the lines. Great folks doing a great thing.

Samuel’s new home inspires hope

Samuel Sneed, a Friendship Park guest, just moved into a six bedroom apartment on March 21 in North Sacramento which he shares with roommates. The apartment is operated by Sacramento Self Help Housing.

Samuel speaks elegantly about God, love and the inhumanity of homelessness. His dream is to use his words to preach.

Originally from Chicago, he moved to Sacramento when his son started school as a photography major at Sacramento State. Samuel became homeless after he and his wife separated.

“My family is back in Chicago so I ended up at the Mission because I’m not one to be leaning on anyone and that’s where it started,” he said. “I did want to run back to home, but God has a way of putting everything in order.”

Samuel says that he survived the inhumanity of homelessness because he had a mission — to show those experiencing homelessness that he could do the seemingly impossible — acquire permanent housing.

“I took it upon me and my heart that someone could make it into housing,” he said. “It’s hard to get inspired waking up every day out of a sleeping bag and a tent, but I did it”

People who are homeless feel like they don’t belong to the community, Samuel said.

“They are all hurting inside from not feeling loved and being rejected from their family and society,” he said. “Because society gave up on them, they are giving up on life.”

Samuel doesn’t believe that the word homeless should be used.

“Housing is just a shelter to keep your roof over your head and home is here,” he explained as he gestured to his heart.

“Being without shelter should not mean that you are without a home,” Samuel said. “I belong to America and this is the land of milk and honey. I’m home.”

“God tells us to love each other unconditionally and I don’t think that is promoted enough in churches,” he said. “Human beings are one of god’s greatest creations and we should all love each other unconditionally. I think that people can’t learn to love until they love themselves. That’s how we were taught to survive as babies.”

“Loaves & Fishes is God,” Samuel said. “It is Jesus Christ. This is God’s way of saying this is what I want in life – to love unconditionally. I’ve been to all kinds of churches, but I notice that right here, this is straight from heaven.”

Wally’s 74th birthday heralds a reunion

On March 21st, 2017, Wally Stoves, a regular at Friendship Park, turned 74 years old. His former coworkers, Andy Smillick and Bob Taylor came to the park to celebrate his birthday with a cake in tow.

Wally has been experiencing homelessness for the past 25 years and this was the first time they connected since he started living on the streets. The three men worked together for the city before Wally had a tragic motorcycle accident that resulted in a brain injury.

Wally was brought to the window of the coffee shack  and Andy and Bob surprised him with cake. The sweet confection went quickly on the rainy day as the old friends reminisced in the coffee shack.

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s refreshing,” Wally said of the surprise. “I like seeing the old friends. We go back to some crazy times.”

Wally likes to come to Friendship Park to people watch. The best lesson that he’s gleaned from life is learning how take everything one day at time.

Lots of laughter was shared by the old acquaintances who will reunite in a few days for a work reunion in El Dorado Hills.