Saturday, November 20, 2010

A long line and loot

Nov 20
Winter Coat Giveaway at the Salvation Army

  Willow Clinic
  Winter Coat Drive
Time: 9:00am-2:00pm
1200 North B Street

Willow Clinic is a UC Davis School of Medicine student-run health clinic.
After a fine cornflakes and Starbuck’s day-old-pastry breakfast at the mission, I made a beeline to Salvation Army [aka, Sallies] to get a coat.

The coat I have is in one sense terrible: it’s worn out, thin, and two-sizes too small for me. And in another sense excellent: in its day it can have been magnificent. In any case, I needed a good coat. Overnight temperatures on either side of Thanksgiving Day are forecast to drop to freezing. And very possibly I won’t have a bed on one or both of those nights.

The coat giveaway at Sallies was organized by UC Davis Medical School students involved with Willow Clinic, an organization dedicated to volunteering time to improve others’ lives. When I got to Sallies, it was before 8am for an event advertised as starting at 9. I was Number 2 in a line on the street, fully convinced my mission for the day would be successful.

A little after 8, a group of about a dozen homeless men were pushed outside Sallie’s reception area and ‘formed’ to be the new beginning of the line. The ‘street’ line that I was in, then collapsed, and those of us who’d been in it joined at the tail-end of the new line. In this new (and official!) line, I was, then about Number 15 and still convinced my mission of getting a good coat would be successful.

As we waited, new people joined the queue, with it being very evident that more folks were merging in with those near the front than joining the back. People were spotting a friend up near the front and starting a chat and then, with false subtlety staying where they were. Dexter, a homeless man I knew very well, was one who put himself in the fifth spot. Other, more-solitary men, were sitting on the wall or standing near the front of the line snacking and smoking.

Soon, the “line” that had been in front of me was a wide column of people, yakking and teasing one another, coughing and playing around. Some women with children determined that they should be first and staged an effort to move en mass to the front. Solo women joined them, claiming in all seeming-seriousness that they had a righteous first claim — by gender, by gum! — to get a coat. Now, from what I saw, everybody in the line, front or back, was wearing a coat, and few — very few — had a coat on that didn’t fit or wasn’t fully excellent and practically new. And that included the kids I saw, who were, without exception, in line, wearing a nicely fitting coat of some distinction.

A black-haired man [whom I would later learn was with Willow Clinic] came out to tell us that tickets would soon be given out. He was met with a stream of complaint from the folks in the line, who had by this time learned that those staying at the Salvation Army shelter were receiving coats in advance of those of us in the outdoors line. The black-haired man yelled out, “We have 600 coats; everybody’s going to get a coat. Don’t push! Don’t fret!”

The primary complaint from the crowd had some merit: The men and women in the shelter didn’t need a coat as much as those of us outside who were subject to the cold and rain of wintry night. Still the griping did not ring fully true: Most in the line were staying at other long-term shelters, or were poor people with housing who heard about the giveaway.

A man, probably a Salvation Army administrator, came out and threatened to break up the line or not let anybody in to get a coat. But he relented and tried to make the line one of single-file by pushing people back. Take two steps back, he told us. Then, take more steps back. As the line narrowed and became longer, the solo men at the sides of the line merged in, making the single-file line double file. By this time, I was probably Number 100 in line, but still mostly hopeful of getting a nice, warm coat that wasn’t goofy looking.

By 8:45 it started to rain a bit and Sallies administrators determined that women and children -- and, what the hell: solo women, too -- should come forward and be let inside. So with their strollers and tots and swinging purses they pushed to the front and went in the door, looking smug and justified.

At minutes before 9:00 a man and woman walked from the front to the back of the line handing out tickets and bags. The bags were for other clothes that would be available, and hygiene items and food that would also be given out. And then, slowly, in groups of seven or ten, we men outside were let in.

Ten minutes after the first group went in, I saw Dexter leave the event, a big black trash bag full of clothes carried over his shoulder as if he were an inappropriate Santa Claus. It looked like quite a haul.

At 9:40, when I got inside, nine-out-of-ten of the coats available were cloth coats, and the rest were thin, not the most helpful for staving off wintry weather. But a nice Davis student found a fine jacket that fit me. The “other clothes” in an adjacent room looked fully picked over. I could have used a beenie or something else for my head, but there was nothing left like that, I was told.

The “hygiene kit” we were all given was good and useful: socks; a “Viral Pak” of tissues, hand sanitizer and green tea; toothpaste; toothbrush; mouthwash; floss; soaps; shampoo; lotion. And the food was good for a bountiful bag lunch.

It was nice to have gotten the stuff that I got, but what Homeless World Sacramento needs most and sees very little of is AN EFFORT TO FIGHT OFF THE NARCISSISM AND PSYCHOPATHY in the homeless community.

It was sad to see some of the woman with children that I saw this morning and see most days. Many of those kids are brutalized; they need more-loving mothers and the attention of their fathers.

And it would not be that hard to help most those homeless people who most need it. Instead, the looters push themselves forward and take what’s best. This happens all the time, everywhere, in Homeless World. Often, it’s the addicts who take the most, using what they take to further their habit.

Btw, the narcissism and psychopathy can be “fought” with wisdom [wise policies!] and compassion, and not with idiot policies, like those of Unfriendly Park [i.e. Collective Punishment]. If getting things to those who most need them is not possible, then a lottery [or pulling numbers from a hat] can, at least, give those in the most need a chance and end the incentive for subtle and unsubtle aggression, pushing and shoving and cheating and bullying. [Yep. Like a bunch of ornery elementary-school children.]



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