Reba: a survivor, chalked full of motherly wisdom

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

Talented at reaching out to the women who suffer the most isolation around her, Reba has experienced homelessness for almost a year. 

 “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.”

 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 assistant 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

Doug Winter captured this portrait of Friendship Park guest, Andre. 

Doug Winter captured this portrait of Friendship Park guest, Andre. 

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: 

Ryan captured by Doug Winter

Ryan captured by Doug Winter

Robert as photographed by Doug Winter. 

Robert as photographed by Doug Winter. 

John captured by Doug Winter.

John captured by Doug Winter.

Manny photographed by Theodore Goodwin

Manny photographed by Theodore Goodwin

Michael photographed by Gale Filter

Michael photographed by Gale Filter

Anthony captured by Theodore Goodwin

Anthony captured by Theodore Goodwin

Calvin photographed by Doug Winter

Calvin photographed by Doug Winter

Kenneth photographed by Theodore Goodwin

Kenneth photographed by Theodore Goodwin

Herb captured by Doug Winter

Herb captured by Doug Winter

Gustavus captured by Theodore Goodwin

Gustavus captured by Theodore Goodwin

Cesar as captured by Doug Winter. 

Cesar as captured by Doug Winter. 

Felipe photographed by Theodore Goodwin

Felipe photographed by Theodore Goodwin

Felix photographed by Doug Winter. 

Felix photographed by Doug Winter. 

Gerald captured by Theodore Goodwin. 

Gerald captured by Theodore Goodwin. 

Floyd captured by Doug Winter. 

Floyd captured by Doug Winter. 

 

 

Maryhouse's Mother's Day Celebration

On May 20th. Maryhouse celebrated mother's day.

The hospitality shelter's Mother's Day brunch was hosted by the National Charity League, a national philanthropic organization which aims to cultivate mother-daughter relationships through community service, leadership development and cultural experiences. 

The celebration which took place in the garden behind Maryhouse was especially sweet for the guests of Maryhouse who often exist in spaces that are traumatic and full of crisis. At the brunch, guests had the opportunity to slowdown and savor the simple indulgence of a celebration -- a toast to their roles as mothers, sisters, daughters and friends. They were greeted with corsages and treated to a delectable feast composed of french toast casserole, egg casserole, buttery croissants, bacon, muffins, cupcakes and fresh sliced fruit. 

They were waited on by staff and volunteers. 

"At our mother's day celebration, our guests are just generally treated like the wonderful women that they are," Shannon Stevens, the director of Maryhouse said. "It is nice to have a day where our only job is to be present in a celebratory manner. We wait on guests, laugh and tell stories. Unlike routine days, when we are doing more intervention, the brunch is a real chance to slow down and enjoy everyone around us. It's also incredible to have the opportunity to recognize the worthiness and radiance of our guests."

The guests' portraits were taken and they received gift bags with sunglasses, body spray, make up and a gift card.  

"This is amazing! I've never been treated like a princess before," one guest said. 

Volunteers from the National Charity League provided a wonderful Mother's Day feast for the guests of Maryhouse. 

Volunteers from the National Charity League provided a wonderful Mother's Day feast for the guests of Maryhouse. 

Stark Contrast - Which city is better served by its columnist?

I am so saddened by the lack of compassion in Marcos Breton's Sunday column: The price downtown Sacramento is paying for Mayor Steinberg’s homeless crusade

Contrast it with Steve Lopez's column in the Los Angeles Times a day later: A true L.A. hero: For people dying on L.A. streets, he offers help, and he won't take no for an answer

Los Angeles has approved a $1.2 million dollar housing bond to help homeless people and is about to vote on a $.25 cent sales tax for homeless services. Businesses and developers strongly support the measure: Developers join the campaign for quarter-cent sales tax to fund homeless services

Here in Sacramento, Mayor Steinberg is fighting to win approval for an allocation of housing choice vouchers and crafting an ambitious mix of government (federal, state and local) and private (Sutter Health and others) funding to provide supportive services for homeless and at risk people.

Breton offers no constructive suggestions; Steve Lopez captures the humanity and suffering of the destitute on the streets and supports Los Angeles bond and sales tax. Which city is better served by its columnist?

Sacramento deserves better.

Joan Burke
Director of Advocacy
Loaves & Fishes

Photography and the Looking-Glass Self

Collectively, we know them as "the homeless." Most of us never speak to them and avoid making eye contact. -Cynthia Hubert, Sacramento Bee

The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept that states a person's self grows out of society's interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. In other words, how we see ourselves does not come from who we really are, but rather from how we believe others see us.

For me, photography is an instrument of change. For example, I firmly believe that images have the power to alter the viewer’s perception of those who are homeless. More recently, I have reached the conclusion that strong images can also change how the homeless see themselves.

On the second Saturday of the month you will find me at Loaves and Fishes shooting homeless people and their pets. This is when the University of California Davis Mercer Veterinary Clinic provides the pets of homeless individuals with basic veterinary care.

I try to capture in “family portraits”, the comfort and joy that dogs bring to their homeless owners. After processing the images, the pet owners are provided with the pictures I have taken. For many owners one picture is a more than a thousand words. A single picture is also a looking-glass for owners to see the bonds of love and companionship that exist between themselves and their pets.

-Gale

Second Saturday Puppy Love

 

Puppy love. That’s what this story is about.

Puppy love, the kind that I speak of, is pretty simple: it is the intense bonds that exist between dogs and their homeless owners. For many homeless, dogs provide the unconditional love, support and even therapy needed to cope with the hardships of life on the streets. 

Woman in Tent.jpg

On the second Saturday of every month, no matter the weather, you will find Sacramento’s homeless and their dogs queued up at the University of California Davis’ Mercer Veterinary Clinic next to Loaves and Fishes’ new Friendship Park. Lines can can be long, but for the homeless the wait is well worth it.

The Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Homeless is a program operated by student volunteers of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Since 1992, the Clinic has provided the pets of homeless individuals with basic veterinary care, access to emergency care, and pet food — all free of charge. Dogs are the primary patients far outnumbering cats. Dogs with medical problems requiring surgery, radiology or other advanced care, are referred to Clinic approved veterinarians in the community.

In My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals (2013), Sociology professor Leslie Irvine provides crucial insight to the central role that dogs play in the lives of some of the homeless community. “For many homeless their dog is more than a companion. In many cases the dog is their only family.” Dogs give many homeless something to live for. Those who work at the Mercer homeless animal clinic and Loaves and Fishes know this.

Over a period of three months, I was at the Clinic on second Saturdays photographing the interaction that occurs among UC Davis veterinarians, student clinic volunteers, the homeless and their dogs. In these images, you can see, and perhaps feel, the healing power, comfort, joy and companionship that dogs bring to their homeless owners.

Gale