The first volume of Other People’s Children arrived at our house today. If you live locally, you want to save on shipping, and you want an autographed copy, drop on by before next Wednesday to pick up one of these full color beauties. On June 8, I go in for open heart surgery, so there won’t be anyone to mind the store or sign autographs for a while. Until then, I’ll keep the teapot warm and would be delighted for the company!
I just published the first in what will hopefully be a series of books with my paintings and stories of our friends from the street, along with a few ringers, to remind us to be welcoming to strangers.
This little book is an invitation to YOU to step into a new comfort zone with your sisters and brothers in this world. We are all frightened children trying to find the silk edge of the blanket at times. Let us be kind.
Order today to share the joy and beauty in quiet moments.
I have recently started to paint portraits. I never knew I could do this. I don’t think I could before. Every attempt at art, other than on a computer, or with a blade of some sort to steady my hand and smooth the curves always seemed to look like my kindergarten work. That never even made it onto the refrigerator; it was so bad. This is therapy for me. It is good for my heart. It lowers my blood pressure. I started with a self-portrait. Now I have completed three portraits of two brothers and one sister from the parkway in Philadelphia: Rosalie, Alex and Oscar. Only Alex is still among the living, and he was the only one I had a photograph of. My paintings are cartoonish, not realistic. I am trying to capture something of the emotional and spiritual impact these people made on me, a touch of their beauty, if you will.
I shared Oscar’s story more than 20 years ago in a newsletter shortly after he had died. Oscar was in his early 50s. It was 1992. I was 37. We were serving on the sidewalk on the City Hall side of JFK Plaza at that time, more commonly called the Love Park because of the world famous LOVE art in front of the fountain there. We would see Oscar on occasion. Every time he came, he made it a point to seek me out after to say how thankful he was for what we did. He would say how special that I am for doing this. I always deflected by saying something like, “I’m just doing what Jesus compels me to do. I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t do it. It is Jesus who loves you.” He would reply, “I don’t believe in any of that god stuff. I just know that you are really special and I am truly grateful. Thank you!”
At times, we would talk about history or philosophy or the arts. He was well educated. He had had a good paying job at one point. I don’t know if I ever learned how he ended up on the street. He had used cocaine and had suffered a couple of heart attacks as a result. He is among the most civilized people I have ever known, with a twinkle in the eye and a Bohemian side.
Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, FL, in August of 1992. Church groups were sending clothing and supplies down to the more than 100,000 families whose homes had been destroyed. Word got out that people were having a hard time surviving because it was it slow process to get any cash to buy necessities. So people started tucking cash into the pockets of clothing to short circuit that process, and get money into people’s hands quickly. Several bags of men’s clothing did not fit onto a truck bound for Homestead, so they got re-directed to The King’s Jubilee. They told me about the potential money in the pockets. Between working full-time, leading a Bible study at Graterford prison that afternoon while Bethann made the soup, coordinating with the Pottstown and SC serving sites, somehow searching pockets got missed.
When we gave away the clothing that night, it was a free for all, like always. There was one garment no one seemed to want. It was a corduroy sportcoat with suede elbow patches. Oscar grabbed it and put it on. It fit. It was warm. He said, “I’m not proud. It’s warm. It’s clean.” The others laughed and called him professor. Who knows? Perhaps, that’s what he had been. He disappeared for a couple weeks. When he came back, he told me what happened. Later that night, he checked the pockets of the sportcoat and found a $50 bill. He told me that he wished he could say he did something productive or constructive with it. Alas, he said, he had a good meal at a fancy restaurant and went on a week long bender. He said, “I’m sorry. But it’s been a long time since I had such a good time and could forget about all of this. Thank you. Can you forgive me?”
I told him there was nothing to forgive. He found the money. It was his to do with what he wanted. If he got some relief, well, who am I to judge? (I am weeping as I type this.) His eyes welled up and he thanked me again with a hug. The next time he thanked me for serving all the guys on the street. He said, “I thank God for you, Cranford.” My eyes welled up with tears.
I don’t know if he had found faith, or if he was just being gracious and kind to please me. It was the last time I saw Oscar. He died of a heart attack at 53. I attempted to paint this from memory. It is a poor likeness. The beret and the neck scarf are there. The beard, long, full hair, and brown eyes are there. I tried to convey both his thoughtfulness and the mischief, with the intent stare, the tilt of the head, and the slight smile.
This article should just about write itself. It has all the elements to tug at the heartstrings like classic poverty porn. However, this is what has made it so hard for me to write. After more than 30 years writing newsletters and blog posts about the shocking way the poor, the disabled and the aged are treated in our country, it has gotten old. It has only gotten worse, with the government cuts to every kind of assistance and the general hardness of hearts in our society. It is just downright depressing.
Last Friday evening, Tony found a woman, about my age, lying on the Cathedral steps and invited her over to see what we had to offer. She was very timid. We had to invite her to accept each thing, some soup, pumpkin rice, hard boiled eggs, pie, etc. It was apparent that she could hardly speak due to stroke damage. She needed a better hat and a blanket. Susan found these for her. She had tears of gratitude as the hat was placed on her head and the thick blanket was wrapped round her shoulders. She shuffled as she walked and didn’t have full function of her hands. What a picture! She sleeps outside the Basilica. St. Basil founded a city for the poor with free hospitals and shelters funded by taxation on the rich! She sleeps in the cold on the steps of the Basilica! In one of the richest countries in the world, where we pay three times more per capita for healthcare than all but one other country, yet, somehow, we can’t afford to take care of the lady sleeping on the Basilica steps.
Perhaps she can qualify for Medicaid or public housing, or SSI. I don’t know. I do know that the process to get these benefits is anything but easy. I am a fully vocal person, with a place to store my records and a phone. It took months of back and forth and filling out forms to get Medicaid. It took years to get SSI after having six strokes, kidney failure, cPTSD, a summer of disabling migraines, my business failing, and almost losing my house to foreclosure. We are almost certainly going to lose it to foreclosure because they still have not paid the back benefit that they owe. So how does one who lacks speech, lacks confidence and sleeps on the steps of the Basilica with no phone and no safe place to keep her records follow through with that process? IMPOSSIBLE! The govt. made it this hard for two reasons: to keep out the riff-raff; and to necessitate lawyers to navigate the system. The problem is, the lawyers are the riff-raff, and it keeps out the most deserving of help.
Then there are so many who say, this is not the government’s job. It is the church’s job to help the poor. Did I mention that she is sleeping on the steps of the Basilica? These are the same steps that Tony McNeal, Director of The King’s Jubilee, used to sleep on at times, when he was homeless. Back then, there was a sexton (that’s the church word for janitor) who used to secretly let some homeless sleep on the pews inside. Tony would then assist in keeping the peace, and cleaning up afterward. This all had to be done on the down low. If the priest were to find out, the sexton would have lost his job and possibly been charged with criminal trespass. Then there’s the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in North Phila. who put razor wire around their vegetable and flower garden rather than trust God for how its fruits were distributed. That’s so welcoming to their church, now that it looks like a prison. So much for relying on the church.
In fact, as government assistance has gone down in recent years, so has church’ and non-profit orgs’ assistance to the needy gone down. It seems people’s politics spills over into their religion in America, not so much the other way around.
We are not some big agency. We are basically a couple of families and a rag tag band of poor people with hearts breaking for the poor and oppressed. We love to give other people’s stuff away for them, and cook wonderful, nutritious meals for people who need them, with dignity and respect. Everything you give will help us continue to do this. Please give until it stops hurting. You’ll feel better for it!
The King’s Jubilee resumed serving on the street last night. Tony and I made soup and hot chocolate. We picked up a case of bottled water and cups. Our best driver, Will Toy, drove the newly, half-painted orange, yellow and green TKJ-mobile to Philadelphia. We made three stops to find people and serve the hot soup and hot chocolate and water. Tony went down into Suburban Station giving out water and inviting people up. Several people expressed their love for us and their joy at seeing us again after so many weeks absent. We also met a couple of young men from Minneapolis, who were so grateful for so many hospitable groups in Philadelphia.
It felt good to be on the road again. We had good, honest conversations on the way there and on the way home. Tony shared some of his vision for the future of The King’s Jubilee. He said that we will rebuild it from the ground up to be bigger and better than before. He sees it being more integrated with other agencies and thus, better equipped to help with various needs of our homeless clientele to help them move off of the street. He also works at Tindley Temple UMC’s Soup Kitchen, so there is already another connection, with our people. Most of the staff there are senior citizens, so he sees additional services involving seniors and for seniors. He is hoping to widen our base of volunteers so we can truly help men and women break out of the homeless culture and reintegrate into neighborhoods.
Of course, we cannot do any of this without support. We desperately need monthly pledges. It can be done easily and painlessly using Paypal, utilizing any of your credit or debit cards. Make a $25/month pledge today, so we continue to serve the poor and homeless. We operate on a frayed shoestring and give everything to the poor.
It is so difficult for me to speak of Fred Benjamin in the past tense. I was speaking to him last Wednesday. His presence was always a little more than one could contain. One never knew quite what to expect, except that he would be high energy, assertive, and want to be involved.
Fred lived on the streets for over twenty years. On three occasions in 2010, he helped lead teams of volunteers on tours of the center city homeless experience for The King’s Jubilee, which included the refrigerator box he had lived in for many months. He had a desire to give back and to volunteer. He made friends with the Haverford College women, some of whom wrote to him from Sweden and Germany when they were on semesters abroad. He gave Esther McGraw her street name of “Trooper”, because of all nine of the McGraw children, she came down the most faithfully in all kinds of weather and truly enjoyed serving. She started as a tiny girl. Now she is in her twenties and is helping coordinate Thursday night meals for Twelve Baskets Full.
Fred had a temper and could be ornery, but he was loyal and with his charm and smile, one could not stay angry at him for very long if he got out of hand. He kept fights away from volunteers more than once or twice.
It was about 6 years ago that Fred moved off the street into an apartment. We helped him find furniture and a VCR and computers, etc. He still came out to help serve, and we’d give him rides home, many times. About a year ago, we didn’t see him so much. He said it was because he was taking care of his mom. I’ve met his mom. She seems fine. I have since learned that’s when his health took a turn for the worse. He says it was diabetes, but it was some kind of aggressive kind of wasting disease. He lost 120 pounds in 2 months according to his mom, after he had come down to 240. So in the end his blood sugar spiked and his blood pressure spiked and there was not enough of Fred left to fight it. He passed away at 7:08 am, July 18, 2015, in his apartment, with his cat, L.B. His mom had the police and fire break down the door to find him shortly thereafter.
Fred Benjamin had no insurance and his family has little money, so they are relying on the mercy of Fred’s friends to defray the cost of Fred’s funeral. They chose a modest service. The whole cost is $5500. Between Twelve Baskets Full and TKJ, we have at least $500 collected so far. This harks back to one of the 1st century ministries of Christians and is a powerful statement of love and mercy to the community. You may use the Paypal button to join in.
The viewing and funeral for Fred will be Wednesday, July 29, at:
Jason Lloyd Funeral Home
2125 N. 22nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19121
Viewing & Visitation: 9 am – 11 am
Funeral: 11 am
I have to start with the obvious here. The simplest and least expensive way to end homelessness is for the government to simply give the homeless apartments, no strings attached. Everywhere it has been done, it has worked. Since that takes political boldness and vision which most office holders lack, even in the face of empirical evidence, we need to move on to what we as citizens can do without them.
When the South still enforced the peculiar institution of Black slavery and the North did not, abolitionists organized a series of safe houses and people willing to take a risk who would convey freed and runaway slaves from house to house until they arrived some place ‘safely’ in the North where they could start a new life. Harriet Tubman is famous for her role in guiding so many to freedom. Now I ask you, when there are thousands of homeless men, women and children living on the streets and in the shelters of each of our major cities, subsisting on handouts and hand-me-downs, where there is no possibility of a job without an address, and no way to get an address without having a stable address (You read that right), how is this freedom?
It seems to me we need to get that old train moving again and add a few more stations!
This means we step up and take the risk. Remember the Underground Railroad is not Amtrak. It is not a government program. What does this look like? It looks much like the original. Families take in people and families who are homeless or about to become homeless and help them get on their feet. This is especially needed for families before they land on the street and the family gets broken up and the children get placed in foster care. Everyone needs to adjust. It is not easy. Our parents or grandparents did it, though, to get through the First Great Depression. From all of the stories I heard, because of the way people helped each other, it was the happiest time in those people’s lifetimes. We can do it again to help people through the Second Great Depression.
When I was in prison ministry, we took in ex-offenders to live with us when they were released from prison. I also started a program and support group for people who took in or related to ex-offenders after their time in our aftercare program. When we are talking about homeless people, it’s not quite the same thing, but for long term homeless, there are some definite cultural issues to deal with. We will facilitate with similar support groups. The idea is to be neighbors to each other and bear each other’s burdens, to share wisdom, and to not let anyone get in too deep.
We can end homelessness if we stop seeing the lines of bodies waiting for food and, instead, look at one face. Become family to that one face. Paste him or her in your family album. Take him or her home. Your grandkids will ask, who is that black man in the family pictures? “O, that’s your mama’s godfather, Michael.”
I guess my thoughts naturally went in the railroad direction today. We received notice that our house is in foreclosure again. This time, because PHH never did negotiate in good faith on an adjustment, and Social Security lost the documentation for expedited disbursement of my back pay for disability. It may work out for the best in the long run, as we may finally be able to negotiate a lower rate and payment. At any rate, the original part of our house was built in the 18th century. It was added onto to be the hotel for the railroad when it came through in 1845. There is an exposed spike between the two parts, right outside our bedroom door to mark this. The barn was built as a stable for the hotel. So we have a suitable, symbolic headquarters for a railroad of hospitality. Please consider how you may get involved.
God bless you.
Sorry, I am removing any and all endorsements from the 12 Baskets group. They have told me they don’t want to be associated with me in any way shape or form, even though none of them would have gotten involved on the street had it not been for me introducing them to it and being there constantly. They say I have been cantankerous and argumentative. Of course, the person saying that to me has been extremely cantankerous and argumentative to me, and has not been on the street that much.
I have never said I am not cantankerous. I can be. I don’t know of a single person who has been at this as long as I have who isn’t at times. It is damned hard to live at below poverty standards and keep going while pastors continue to abuse you and bishops lie and abuse you and feel threatened in their lifestyle, because the pittance you want for the homeless may cut into the grandeur of their banquets and not be considered an irritant!
I am finally quitting, because I am bankrupt after 26-1/2 years serving on the street. Some of these people who are saying these nasty things, just two weeks ago were flattering me and saying how they couldn’t do this. Then, as soon as I was quitting, it was all about how they could do it easy, because of how rich they are. They despise me because of my poverty! This is exactly what makes them unsuited for this ministry!
We are about to lose our house. No one gives a shit!
I have extreme depression and CPTSD because of CLERGY ABUSE! No one gives a shit! (Perhaps this is why I am cantankerous?)
I gave up a lucrative career to serve the poor. My children and grandchildren are wonderful, happy children, largely as a result. Thousands of inmates and poor received some hope and joy and unconditional friendship. Hundreds received HS GEDs. Hundreds learned English as a second language. A couple received their Bachelor’s degree. One graduated as a nurse Cum Laude. One became a prison chaplain. Others got their families together, etc. That’s among the homeless and inmates. Then, among our volunteers; Several found their callings to be doctors and medical missionaries and counselors and priests and nurses or to serve the homeless in other cities, while they were serving with us, because I stuck by the stuff. No one gives a shit!
I went through the court case with no support from any of these people or the church, in tears for months, in order to continue serving in the parks. No one gives a shit!
I was trying to be magnanimous. I gave my cooking gear and supplies to 12 Baskets, even while I was hearing negative comments, then it went beyond the pale.
I am a throwaway. I am a difficult person. Never mind the sociopathic priests or the bishops who refuse to deal with them and just hang up on me. Never mind the pastor who threatened to kill me. He got to keep his salary. He was the right nationality. I can just go to hell. I can’t go to church without risking a stroke. But I am “playing the victim” to say this!
Yesterday, I brought a week’s rent down to a couple, only to find out today that Social Security lost our documentation for expediting back disability pay. This means, we are likely to lose our house. This is why I quit. I was just too tired of begging to people who didn’t give a damn. All they care about is their warped view of Matthew 25. Here is a news flash. If you are serving the homeless to get into heaven, it won’t work! You can’t buy your way into heaven. Everyone is surprised at the Judgment. That is the point of that story. Judge no one. Muslims or atheists may enter before you. No one can con God. If you are doing this to earn points with God, the people can smell that on you, and it stinks to high heaven of self-righteousness. You may as well stay home.
You need to serve the poor because it is the right thing to do and because you enjoy doing it. The McGraws understand this and are faithful, loving people, with more patience than me. I am really glad that 12 Baskets is taking up this work and pray that God will bless and strengthen their hands and hearts and provide them with every good thing to continue to provide for my friends for many years! I guess I am blessing them after all. God chooses the foolish things to confound the wise. If God could use me, He can certainly use them.
I can’t express how disappointed I am with how little we have accomplished at The King’s Jubilee. We have been at it for over 26 years. By this time we had hoped to have made street side serving of meals unnecessary, because we had played a major role in ending homelessness in Philadelphia. Instead, we can count on two hands the number of people we have had a large part in making the transition off the street and perhaps 100 more to whom we gave some little bit of help through the years move off the street. I know this is not standard fundraising procedure. Most ministries speak very glowingly and, as we used to say, “evangelastically” about their accomplishments to garner support. We can only do what we have resources to do. It is that simple. Somehow I expected the church to get behind work like this, whichever church, and for pastors to invite and to recommend participation and support. Through the years, that has rarely happened. I have gotten more jealousy, abuse, and invitations to leave churches from pastors, because of this ministry. Yet, none of them has been able to say that what I am doing or teaching is wrong.
Now, I need you to get over your distaste for my honesty and help save some lives!
A few weeks ago, I posted an appeal to help save “Rashawn’s Diamond”. Diamond recently was hospitalized with tuberculosis and walking pneumonia. After a couple of days in ICU and the rest of the week on the respiratory care floor, she was released back onto the street. She and her husband, Rashawn, were able to spend nights in one of two shelters in the city that allow married couples to stay together. Daytimes were still rough, lugging all of their stuff around in the horrible weather. They are little people. Rashawn is disabled due to his dwarfism, so the type and amount of work he can get is limited. We were only able to raise $301 toward what we thought was going to be $500 for the month for rent. We kicked in an additional $249 to make up the difference and provide for some food. We knew that they owed this SRO hotel $230 from the last time they had stayed there. I had hoped we would raise the whole amount, since it was Great Lent. For most people in Montgomery and Bucks Counties the extra $230 is not that much, maybe a ski outing with the kids, or a dinner out at Wm. Penn Inn or Maize. At any rate, a pastor of a poor, storefront church, who works at a secular job, came up with the difference. We had a hard time making connection with him. Rashawn & Diamond came home with me on Thursday night and slept in our little living room, with the cats. We all had a good breakfast of bacon and eggs. Diamond took delight in cutting and sharing a pink grapefruit with Rashawn. They have talked to me everyday since to remind me to hug the cats for them, and named us honorary grandparents. We are not old enough for that, but, you know, it’s hard to judge with us white people.
Because it took an extra day to get the money, all of the cheaper rooms were taken for the month, plus the management raised the rent on all the rooms by $100, so the rent for their room ended up being $700, but they don’t have to walk down the hall for the bathroom. I stayed until I was sure they were getting in. I felt like I was in a scene from a bad detective movie from the early 1970s, except there was an Obama2012.com bumper sticker on the front desk window. in front of the extremely rude, young black man who was hollering at Diamond that “No you can’t try before you buy! All the rooms look alike! It’s first come first serve! If you don’t take it, someone else will!” I was tempted to try to gently remind him that he was in the “hospitality” industry, but I didn’t want to end up on the 6 o’clock news: “Lifelong homeless minister gunned down at the Blue Moon Hotel this afternoon in an altercation with hotel staff, along with two dwarves. Shooter claims self-defense.” It was definitely a new experience for me. It is disappointing to me that such places exist and are in such demand. Rashawn and Diamond are glad to be there. It is out of the cold and damp. They have a bed and a shower and a TV. They don’t have to make a major plan to find a toilet.
$700 a month is more than we usually raise for the whole ministry. People spend a lot on food and cups and such. I understand that. There is more to this ministry than Thursday night. There always has been. Yet when I say we need money, it doesn’t seem to sink in most of the time. I want to help these people. I have known Rashawn for over 20 years. He is a straight arrow. He works whenever and wherever he can. Diamond needs to be off the street in order to live. They were on the verge of getting a place once before. They are in line to get a place now; just a couple more steps. They need a reliable address and good phone reception to be able to complete the process and to apply for the other benefits they need. This is a major flaw in the so-called safety net. Once one has fallen through to the point of homelessness, one needs a boost up just to get hold of the net again. If I could, I would just write a check. I can’t even pay my own mortgage or utility bills. We’re on SNAP and Medicaid, because what I do is worthless to the church. I’m alive. Diamond will die if she has to live outdoors. Take a true pro-life action. Save a beautiful life! Give using the donate button below and everything given will go to help Diamond & Rashawn transition off the street into permanent housing.
May God bless you!
The artwork featured above is: Remembrance of Summers Future & Past
The same plant in two seasons. The bare sticks poking through the snow reminding us of the past and future glory. This is what Holy Week and Pascha are about. It is not just a commemoration of past events. We are remembering the coming in glory of the Kingdom of God! This is Spring Revival Time! It is time to shake off the doldrums, renew our almsgiving and re-energize for action, so that it may be done on “earth as it is in heaven.”
This art piece is available in a strictly limited edition signed by the artist, me, museum quality printed on canvas and framed in a handcrafted frame designed for this piece. The art is 13″ x 7″ plus frame. Call 267-497-0268 for pricing, etc.
Summer is our busiest time at The King’s Jubilee.