Category Archives: Homeless in California

A Prayer for Jessica

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I saw her on my way to work this morning. Jessica was her name… Jessica is her name. Walking past the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, as I have each morning for nearly eight years, I saw her. A petite young woman—tomboyish presence and a somewhat gruff demeanor—she was likely in her late teens or early twenties. She was crying. I walked a few more steps past as I processed the scene, and then I turned back. She was standing before one of the three heavy doors that front the Cathedral, her upturned face gazing skyward with tears running freely down her soiled face, creating narrow rivulets of lighter colored flesh as her tears progressed down her cheeks.

thre doors

I ascended the Cathedral steps and cautiously approached. She wore dirty tennis shoes, thin cotton pants and a grimy sweatshirt. A large duffel bag and a paper coffee cup lay at her feet. “Hey, are you OK?” I asked, knowing that I would probably not get an honest answer. It was apparent that something was going terribly wrong in her young life at that moment, but I had to ask.

“I’m OK… really.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“I’m Jessica,” she said, wiping away tears with the heel of her hand, and offering me the other.

“Jeff,” I replied, gently shaking her hand.   “I’ve been where you are, Jessica. It’s scary, I know.

“You have?  Really? I’m OK. I just need to quit drinking, that’s all.” She said.

It was rather presumptuous of me to assume that I had in fact been where she was at that moment, in her moment of utter despair. I couldn’t possibly have known what was going on in this girl’s life, what had brought her to tears on the steps of the church with a duffel bag and soiled clothing—not really anyway. But this sad, troubled scene somehow looked very familiar. Felt familiar.  I saw myself in this distraught soul.

I offered to buy her breakfast, but she emphatically declined.

Cross Reflection5

“I have money. I’ll be going home soon. Thank you, though,” she said, wiping away a fresh flow of tears from her cheek with the sleeve of her soiled sweatshirt. “It’s just so fucked up, ya know?” she said, and started to cry again.

“Please believe me when I tell you, Jessica that it will get better.   You’re in the right place.” I told her. “This door will be opening soon. Never lose faith that things will get better for you.” She thanked me and I went on to work.  I had to.  I was already late.

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While hanging up my coat at work, I glanced across the entryway to my cubicle where, several months earlier I had pinned up a business card given to me by a man who runs a residential recovery center in the area. Koinonia Homes for Teens, it’s called. They did a presentation at our office for the United Way charitable campaign last year, and for some reason, Instead of shoving it into a drawer, or tossing it, I pinned it up, along with their facilities brochure at eye level on my cubicle wall. I’m still not sure why I felt compelled to do that at the time, but that’s what I did.

I took the business card down and went back to the Cathedral in hope that Jessica would still be there… She was.

I ascended the steps again. She greeted me with a smile and took a few steps toward me. I handed her the card.

“When this door opens later this morning, ask someone inside if you can use the phone in the rectory. Call these people. They do wonderful work with kids and young adults in your same situation. I’ve met and heard the testimony from of a pair of young people who were once where you are now, whose lives were spared. Through this organization they were led from the pathway of despair that they were on. They can help you. Keep the faith, Jessica. Keep praying,” I told her, and went back to my office.

Koinonia

Once back in the office and in the privacy of the gray fabric walls that make up my 8-5 existence, I took a moment and said a prayer for this young woman… a prayer for Jessica.

I know now why I didn’t stuff the United Way and Koinonia Homes information into a drawer several months earlier, to be forgotten… Jessica needed it today.

8x10 Mary's Hands

Book Launch

If Walls Could Write Cover - Jeffrey Johnston

Greetings friends, family, Web-based acquaintances and classmates of scholastic endeavors recent and yesteryear alike.  At long last my fevered writing pace has decelerated if only momentarily, but with it comes the product of my efforts.  I am pleased to announce that my debut fiction short story collection is finally complete and has been released.  If Walls Could Write and Other Stories is a collection of fifteen stories related to the human condition.

To my fellow Willow Glen High School alumni, it may interest you to learn that some of these stories are set in the Willow Glen neighborhood where I grew up.  One story in particular Driver’s Training, revolves around a W.G.H.S. Driver’s Training class that went horribly wrong.  A synopsis of the stories and a link to purchase both print and Kindle editions can be found by clicking on the “Books” page tab of my blog above and is also located on my Amazon Author Page.

My blog: www.jeffreyjohnston.net/books

Purchase from my Amazon author page (HERE).

To those of you who endured my MIA status from social events and my sporadic lack of attention to your needs, I offer my most sincere request for forgiveness.  I hope that you understand… I am a writer.  While a very gratifying existence, it is also a very solitary one.

Cheers

Jeffrey L. Johnston

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Live. Love. Write.

Live.  Love.  Write.

Ah, yes… finally, the twisting, turning road of my scholastic endeavors that I have been meandering down has at long last delivered me to a mile stone in life, a point from which I must map my next journey, navigating once again to new and exciting destinations.

Live.

Love.

Write.

This is my mantra. A saying first seen on a decal somewhere… out there. An adage that now adorns the lid of my circa 2010 laptop, displayed proudly for all to see each time the mood strikes me, lifting her top in one public space or another to caress her keys, breathing life into the minion that inhabit my fictional stories, my beloved characters, living breathing things with lives that I create in the theatrical productions of my mind.

Imaginary worlds with illusory lives born of a distorted observation made through a raindrop streaked café window nestled in a tiny mountain town somewhere… out there.

Story lines imagined from scenes casually witnessed strolling along downtown streets, thwarting the unvarying, yet humble requests “can you spare some change.”

Requests made from soiled, weathered faces… familiar faces that have regularly infiltrated my peripheral vision over the years, only diversity being the depth of their creases—lines etched of years of hopelessness and despair.

Each day I escape. I must. I have for years; a compulsory break, if you will, from the monotony of the gray fabric walls that desire to restrain me, to hold me captive eight hours a day—five days a week. My escape is not so much an escape from as it is an escape to. A quest for the solitude of my own creative mind and to, if only momentarily satisfy my insatiable desire to rendezvous, to quench my thirst for the very intimate relationship I have with my laptop, her keys worn shiny and smooth from our incessant love-making…

Ah, yes, The Writing Life… Infinitely solitary… Intimately gratifying… If I do nothing else on this earth, I will continue my pursuit of my passions and…

Live.

Love.

  Write.

oops I did it again…

Oops, I did it again. OK, I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m kinda a softy when it comes to some things. Homeless families with young children rank pretty high on this list. If you recall, I posted a bit of a rant a year or so ago about a bad experience when trying to help out a homeless man who asked me for money on my way to the bus stop after work one day. Unlike the masses of homeless people that I encounter day in and day out over the past six years, I had never seen him before and gauging by the look in his eyes, he appeared to be sincerely in need. So, after some trepidation, I turned around and gave him a dollar, only to hear out of his formerly need stricken countenance in a sarcastic tone, “Wow, a dollar… Thanks.”

That was the basis for that posting of long ago, and the experience left such a bad taste in my mouth, that I swore that I would never again fall victim to the deceptive Chameleon like transformations of con artist posing as a member of the downtrodden, needy populous in this city, and in the process, I would likely miss an opportunity to help someone that really needed it and miss making a difference in someone’s life. Well, I’ve done it again. Not the falling victim part of that charitable endeavor but I did, after some apprehension and after declining the donation request by the same pair of young people twice earlier, I lent financial assistance to the needy. This time it was different. I saw this young couple with a sleeping infant child in a stroller for the first time on Tuesday. They were not among the population that frequents the area asking for hand outs. They appeared to be genuinely in need, the young man’s expression on his face was all-telling. He was truely ashamed to be asking for help for his family, but he did it none-the-less.

I passed them for the third time on my afternoon break, and seeing that they would likely be there when I returned, I went to the ATM and withdrew some cash. On my way back I stood nearby, reading my Kindle and casually watched them as they approached the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament’s rectory door in an effort to gain some assistance with their current situation. When the woman returned to her mate and child after another failed attempt at raising anyone at the rectory, I approached them and asked about their situation. I could see, and hear from their story that they were sincerely down and out and were taking action to get them a place to stay before the rain came. The pair had already accumulated some funding for a room for the night, and the woman had recently qualified for section 8 housing and had been added to the housing list with a tentative placement date of next Tuesday.

I apologized to them both for my two previous denials of their request to help them explaining that working in the downtown area, I get asked for money every day and typically by people whose motivation is not as pure as theirs. I went on to share with them of my own experience with homelessness twenty years earlier, recalling to them how scary it was for me as a single man to be living on the street, let alone a young couple with a child. I handed the woman $60 and encouraged them both to surround themselves with the right people, keep knocking on the door of the rectory and to never lose hope. “Keep faith, things will get better for you,” I told them. They thanked me enthusiastically and I went back to work. When I left at the end of the day, they were still in front of the Cathedral. I gave them each a bag of caramel corn that I purchased from our office fund raiser snack selection and reiterated my message of keeping hope that things will get better for them.

Sometimes a little kindness is all it takes to bring hope back to a seemingly hopeless situation. I hope that I made a difference in the lives of this young trio. Kind people helped me when I was in a similar situation so many years ago. I take comfort in knowing that, if even only on a small scale, I am able to pay it forward. This young family will be in my prayers tonight. Please put them in yours if you are so inclined.

I broke a Cardinal rule today

 I broke a cardinal rule today.  I gave a homeless man a dollar.  OK, I know, that sounds a bit insensitive, but there is a good reason why I don’t give homeless people money.  Well, actually, there are several reasons, good ones as far as I am concerned, not by some people’s standards perhaps, but my reasons none-the-less.  I work in the heart of downtown Sacramento.  One doesn’t have to dig too far back in news story archives to discover that Sacramento has a homeless problem and its a biggie.  The population of homeless nearly doubled with the mortgage meltdown started a chain reaction that sent property values plummeting close to 33% forcing countless families out on the street.  The point that I am trying to make is that I have seen the same homeless people every day for the past four years when I go to lunch, take a break and walk to the State Capitol to stroll in the park.  If I were to succumb to each and every request for money I would be right there next to them in just a few months time.  So, my cardinal rule is to not honor 3 to 5 requests for cash that I get five days a week.

I would just as soon take them into a deli and buy them a meal, and I have done just that on occasion.

Today, while leaving my office to catch my bus, I spied a guy whom I have never seen before sitting on a large duffel bag with various personal belongings scattered around his immediate vicinity.  As I passed he said “excuse me, but could you possibly spare some change?”  I went into automatic mode and gave my customary response: “Sorry, I have no cash” and continued walking.  I got a few feet away and, as I have been known to do on very few occasions if I feel that the person has a genuine need and won’t make a bee-line for the liquor store before the coinage has settled into his palm, I turned around, pulled out my wallet and handed him a dollar.  I thought, hey, I have never seen this guy before and he looks to be really down on his luck.  Just as he closed his fingers around the bill, he said in a sarcastic tone: “wow, a dollar.  Thanks man.” and turned his head away from me as I stood before him.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  That ungrateful bastard  I thought to myself as I walked away, feeling like my compassion had just been stomped on.  “That settles it, that’s the last time I do that.” I said out-loud as I continued my journey to my bus stop, hoping that my audible proclamations were not misinterpreted as the mindless ranting babble of the street population that had just lowered my compassion level.
Don’t get me wrong.  I am very compassionate for the homeless population in Sacramento and everywhere in this country.  No one, I mean NO ONE should be without a safe place to sleep and have enough food to eat.  But if you’re putting yourself in the position to ask people to help you out with a donation of cash, food, clothing, or whatever, be genuinely grateful, because when you’re not, you’re taking food out of the mouths of those who are truly appreciative of any help that they can get.   
 
Which reminds me of another similar instance in which a few people in my office commented one day about a homeless man who they have seen rummaging in trash cans near the office looking for recyclable.  He asked the same thing as he passed: “can you spare a quarter?”  I don’t know what he thought he could get for a quarter, but he was probably trying to sound as though he wasn’t asking for much, prompting compassionate folks on the street to give him more.  After all, all he’s asking for is a quarter, right.  why not give him a  buck, or even five?  
So, these few employees also commented that this guy was walking around in a pair of corduroy pants that were torn from his feet all the way up the back of each thigh, the rip disappearing underneath the back of a ragged flannel shirt that he always wore.  Taking note of this, the three of us gathered up some clothing to give to him the next time that we saw him so that he could at least have some real pants to wear and some shoes on his feet as it was winter time when the topic of him came up.  When all was said and done we had gathered up socks, pants, shoes, and a nice warm jacket.  We stored some of this stuff under a chair in my cubicle and the larger items in my car with the plan to pull him aside and give him this gift of compassion the next time we saw him  
A few weeks went by and while on a break I finally saw him again.  He was going through a trash can in front of the Cathedral, pants ripped even ruther up his legs, bare feet black from walking for months without shoes.  I approached him and he gave his customary spiel:  “Can you help me out with a quarter?” he said.  I returned with my automatic response: “sorry, I have no cash, but some co-workers put in a collection of some clothes for you.  we have pants, shoes, socks and a nice warm coat.” I said.  His response was brief, and to the point.  “No, that’s OK. I’m alright.”  He then turned and walked to K street to the next trash can, raising his head briefly to mouth his perpetual query to the next person who would listen: “can you help me out with a quarter?” 
On my way home from work that day I stopped at the local Goodwill store and donated all of the clothing that I had gathered up specifically for this man.  A donation of shoes and socks still sit in a bag under a side chair in my cubicle.