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.

731 K Street

Our volunteer photographer, Gale Filter, reflects on the history of homelessness along K St. 

The door above has memories for me. I see it nearly every week on my early morning K Street walks. From 1999 to 2007 it was the door I entered to start my work day at the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA).

I was usually the first person at work. Nearly every morning I would find the same homeless man, “Bill,” asleep in the employee entrance blocking the doorway. Most of the time I had to wake him and ask that he move so I could get inside. Bill would give me a gruff “good morning” and then move so I could enter the building. I in turn would give Bill some coffee money. For several years this was our morning routine. Then Bill disappeared and I never saw him again.

CDAA moved to a new location in 2007. The building at 731 K Street still stands but has been vacant for eight years. Whenever I walk K Street I often think of Bill, especially when I see other homeless people sleeping in what was once Bill’s place.

There are definitely more homeless on K Street today than there were in 1999. At the Sacramento Convention Center where I start my K Street walks there is statue with the inscription, “What have we wrought?” Good question.

Sowing Seeds

Joquel Hunt is a writer, mother and author of this blog post. She trusts Mustard Seed to take good care of her son and daughter while she runs errands, tries to secure housing and carves out some time for herself to cope with the stress of the family’s life. 

I am sure you have heard of Mustard Seed. And no, I am not referring to a seed we sow to produce a plant, although the seeds that are sown at this school will reap a harvest that will indefinitely carry them throughout their entire lives. It’s the little ole school that does “BIG THINGS” everyday.

Everyday parents such as myself sign our kids into this school with the knowledge that our most prized possessions are well cared for. And they are! Seeing is believing with me. The love, the care, the patience, the respect our children receive is unmatched. No wonder my 2 kids love it here!

I am the mother of 6 but only have 1 child in my care currently. This summer I had the privilege of having my 12 year old son Ante’ with me too. You see,  Ante has behavior problems that stems from my past drug addiction, parental neglect, and a mixture of other things. And since I am the only one who understands him, because I also dealt with these same issues as a child, to Mom he came.


Being homeless is extremely difficult especially when there are children we have to provide for along with ourselves. We live it “one day at a time” literally! Some days we win. Some days we feel defeated. But we do not dare give up!

Our children count on us to provide for their needs and they expect us to be there for them. We do it everyday the best way we can. And we leave the rest up to God. His ways are much higher than ours anyhow.  

We sleep in our vans. Our cars. Outside in a tent. In motels. We sleep wherever we can. Sometimes we even sleep on the couches or floors of family members. We bear the load of caring for our children in circumstances such as these while trying hard not to burden them with our  “adult stuff.”

On a day to day basis, we encounter many things on different levels.

Sometimes we parents have difficult mornings and lack the coping skills we need to be able to push beyond the hurt.

We deal with our own children’s whines, tempers, as well as trying to stay strong for ourselves.

We encounter drivers with road rage. We make calls to different agencies asking for help only to hear a no!

We are pushed to deal with a housing program that has funding for us, but puts us through a bunch of unnecessary changes just to say, ‘no you are not approved.’ And the reason most of do not get approved for housing is because the rule of the program is this: either you sleep outside, in your car, or wait to get into a shelter and that’s it. Who wants to continue to sleep outside or in a car? We can’t even rent a motel room and still be qualified for the housing program at the same time.

It takes so much strength, so much courage and an extremely strong will to endure seasons such as the one we homeless families currently find ourselves in. We swallow our pride everyday while trying to hold onto our dignity.

So, when we can go about our day in confidence knowing that our babies are ok, it is a sigh of relief. One less thing we have to stress over.

I am so grateful for these wonderful ladies who pour themselves into the lives of our children effortlessly.

Casey, the Coordinator, who meets and greets us with a smile everyday. She is sweet, patient, caring, and exemplifies love for every single child every single moment she is present. She oversees the care of the School. The children. The volunteers, the donations, as well as the staff, with dignity and honor and trust. Thank you Casey! Every seed you’ve sown shall reap a harvest!

Let us consider for a moment the daily demands of every child with their delicate needs. And still each child is treated equal and fair. There are no favorites here. This is what every staff at this school exemplifies and I am honored to have my children among such a wonderful group of people.

Lucia, she gives herself to those kids freely.  And no one else can take her place. The kids see her first before going into the classroom and see her last before leaving the school. She is strict but patient, tough but loving. She is the one who handles all the intakes when we first enroll our children into Mustard Seed. She assesses each family/child for needs and makes sure they are taken care of.  Upon entry each child receives a pack of underwear, socks, along with a backpack full of supplies. If they need more, just let her know and she will make it happen. Such a rare gift! God bless you!

And let’s not forget about Liana, she does all the paperwork with a smile.

This type of service is needed throughout the world, but as homeless families we are blessed that we get it right where we are. It’s like God’s hands are working through these ladies to make sure our kids are ok so that we parents can be ok.

It takes a special type of person to impact the lives of children through empowerment, enrichment, and care. And that is exactly what our children receive every single day.

Ms. Annabelle and the few others you guys rock too! Good luck on your new journey. And thank you to for caring for our children unconditionally with restrictions or biases. We love you!

Let us recognize Mustard Seed school for all their hard work, dedication to our children, exemplary service and unconditional love. They are truly a Godsend and we are truly blessed and thankful to have them among us.


                                       YOU GUYS ARE THE BOMB.COM!

Written by Joquel Hunt

The struggle to find a public bathroom

Each day, guests at Loaves & Fishes must walk miles to access public restroom — and sometimes are forced to surrender to nature’s call outdoors.

This daily struggle for the homeless is dehumanizing, and also a public health issue, with tuberculosis, meningitis and diarrheal diseases running rampant.

In 2011, a United Nations expert on safe drinking water and sanitation who visited a homeless encampment along the Sacramento River was outraged by the lack of sanitation facilities, noting, “The criminalization of public urination and defecation combined with a lack of public toilets leaves homeless people in desperate situations without alternatives.”

According to U.N. Standards every refugee camp should have one bathroom per twenty people. But, homeless encampments and public spaces are bathroom desserts. In Los Angeles, Skid Row’s population rests at just over 1000, but there are only nine restrooms that provide relief to the homeless community.

Sacramento’s recent point in time count concluded that there are nearly 4,000 people sleeping outside. But, many argue that the count under-represents Sacramento’s homeless population by not taking into account homeless families who often sleep on friends’ couches or in hotels rather than under the night sky where the count is held. As well, the count pales in comparison to 13,245 people who are documented as homeless and participate in a CalFresh program which allows them to use their food-assistance at participating restaurants.

Each day, nearly 600 guests rely on the toilets of Loaves & Fishes., which are maintained by staffers.

Key to this success of any restroom is toilet paper, which has been donated in generous abundance by the community over the years.

Loaves & Fishes’ annual toilet paper drive this month envisions the donation of 100,000 rolls of toilet paper, which will sustain the campus throughout the year, thus fulfilling our mission to “provide an oasis of welcome, safety, and cleanliness for homeless men, women and children seeking survival services.” Too, the rolls will help supply other Sacramento nonprofits.

To learn more about the struggle for public restrooms Check out these articles:

A SNR story profiling Loaves & Fishes guests who struggle each day to find bathrooms:

Joan Burke, Loaves & Fishes’ advocacy director, believes the city could save money on repairs to its public toilets by hiring a staff person to oversee the operation and maintain order. Last year, as part of a Bathroom coalition, Burke leaned on Councilman Jeff Harris to provide a public bathroom in the River District, – where much of Sacramento’s homeless population lives. The bathrooms featured receptacles for pet waste and used needles, air-conditioning and were staffed by an attendant who helped improve public safety.  But the facilities — planned as a temporary installation — are no longer there.

On Los Angeles’ skid row, there are nine bathrooms that service 1,000 people. As a result defecation and urination in the streets increase the risk that people who live along skid row will contract tuberculous, meningitis and diarrheal disease. Public restrooms should be a human right.

Check out this great design for a public bathroom created and piloted in Portland, Ore.

The Decisive Moment

The “decisive moment” is a concept introduced by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of street photography. As Cartier-Bresson explains it the decisive moment “is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event is a proper expression.”

For me the image above captures the decisive moment of a homeless man in a wheel chair with his own decisive moment of determining whether it is safe to cross K Street in downtown Sacramento. Needless to say, the white “Safe-to-walk” sign above his head doesn’t apply. He is handicapped further by those red numbers that tick down the walking time that he has left to cross the street. Something so simple as crossing the street is an additional burden for the homeless man. And today, it will reach 105 degrees.

The decisive moment is fleeting, i.e., once you miss that half of a second to capture an image, it is gone forever. You can never recreate the same circumstances in terms of locations and people. Here are some of my recent decisive moment images.

Photos and text by Gale Filter

Reba: a survivor, chocked-full of motherly wisdom

Many Maryhouse guests go to Reba when they are in need of someone to talk to.

“They call me Mama Reba,” Reba said. “They come to me to talk and I listen. If they ask for advice, I give suggestions. I’m very spiritual. I have the spirit of God in me and I take that seriously and so do they. Sometimes I look into their eyes and hold their hands and let them know that they are beautiful and to smile because God loves them.”

Reba has experienced homelessness for almost a year.

To Reba, Maryhouse is a beacon of safety. Here, she is able to access a warm shower, hygiene products and clothing.

“I love being able to talk to all of the staff – Miss Debbie, Shannon, Judy, Hailey, Marlena, Ella and Kaylee,” she said. “I love talking to all of the ladies and having them watch out for me.”

“People don’t respect a woman who is homeless in any capacity,” Reba said. “Society expects women to know how to do everything, but being on the streets is really hard. It’s hard to find a place to sleep, to find a place to eat and to find a bathroom to use. The simple things are hard.”

She said that women experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault and often go about their days in a state of constant vigilance. They sleep with one eye open —  steeped in fear.

“I’ve been fortunate and I have been blessed because I have warriors and angels who protect me,” Reba said.

According to Reba, women experiencing homelessness who are physically or mentally disabled are extremely vulnerable on the streets. Their small assortment of personal belongings including their money, ids, clothes, cell phones, food stamps and mementos are often stolen from them.

“I see a lot of things that make my heart bleed,” she said. “People don’t have to be mean to us, but they are. They are mean to us because of the way we dress and sometimes the way we speak. It’s hard to see people get spit on or cussed out. They don’t know what we go through to get from point A to point B. If you don’t have money to get on the bus or take a taxi, then you have to jump on the train to get where you need to go and if you don’t have your ticket, you get a ticket. If people would be generous enough to pay for a packet of bus passes and drop them off at Maryhouse that would help a lot. It would help us go to doctors appointments, go to the grocery store or see our kids.”

At Loaves, Reba can get breakfast and lunch as well as new clothes each week.

“I don’t have to ask for food,” she said. “I don’t have to ask for clothes and during the day, I don’t have to ask for protection and I can lay my head down at night and know I am very protected by God and good street people.”

“Loaves & Fishes is a blessing,” Reba said. “It’s how Jesus started – feeding the people — and for Loaves & Fishes to be named after that is a beacon of light to me. It is so important for people who are hungry to spend the day here and to get whatever supplies they need and help as far as housing advocacy, food and mental health services.”

Before she started to experience homelessness, Reba worked as an executive assistant in Dallas, Texas and lived with her daughter and two grandchildren. Her dream is to live with them again.

“You can’t take what you have for granted because you can be one paycheck away from being out here and if you are not the kind of person who can adjust to change, you won’t make it,” she said. “You have to be able to adjust to change.”

Fathers are homeless too

In honor of Father’s Day, Loaves & Fishes celebrated its guests who are fathers.

Gail Filter, Doug Winter and Theodore Goodwin captured stunning pictures of Loves & Fishes guests and provided them with two copies of their likeness — one to keep and one to send to their loved ones. (Keep scrolling to see their beautiful portraits).

Joe Walker livened up Friendship park with his piano playing and singing. And, staff and volunteers provided guests with cards to send to their dads and children.

“It is such a privilege to be able to recognize these men who perhaps haven’t been in contact with their family for years,” Hannah Ozanian, the Director of Friendship Park said. “You see it in their eyes when you elevate them and ask them to get their picture taken professionally. It is such an honor for them to realize that they deserve to have their picture taken as much as any other father.”

Many guests at Loaves & Fishes are estranged from their children because they’ve been surviving on the streets for so long. And many serve as fathers to those who are young and vulnerable and also experiencing homelessness.

“Father’s Day is an opportunity is to be with our guests who cannot reach out to their family and to make them feel as if they are family,” Goerge Kohrummel, the assistant director of Friendship Park said. “Our guests get to share their day and their thoughts with each other.”

Check out these pictures of our guests who we are so lucky to say belong to our family at Loaves & Fishes:

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