Oscar

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.

Oscar

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.



The Lady on the Basilica Steps

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!



I am tired of begging.

It took me over a week just to start this article, meanwhile our GoFundMe sits there with $20 in it, and we are another week closer to losing a lifetime’s worth of equity, and any shot at having a decent base of operations for The King’s Jubilee. We are serving a hot, nutritious meal to the homeless each Friday night on Logan Circle, now, and have nothing left in the checking account after putting gas in the tank. The people are so glad to see us! One lady kept repeating how she had missed my soups. I am a bad fundraiser, though. I don’t have many friends who are not homeless or poor.

As I am writing this, Tony is out back, working hard to finish the barn, so it can be our office, community kitchen, art studio, project area and drop off point for food, clothing, household goods, and furniture. Please give and share the GoFundMe however you can, online, or by printing the poster and taping it up on the fridge in your break room at work.

Thanks! Peace.



Fred’s Gone

Cranford & Fred at the Love Park
Cranford & Fred at the Love Park in 2010

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




First, I want to say thank you to all of those who have supported us through the years and have participated in this ministry. May God bless you! I am sorry if any of you feel I have not said that enough. It is at the end of most, but not all blog entries on this blog.

Second, we will be serving meals in the park this Thursday and next Thursday, May 7, will be our last, due to lack of support from the church.

Third, I was just told to “stop playing the victim!” I am sorry, but I am not playing. I really do suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being bullied by clergy, Orthodox, Protestant & Anabaptist. Most recently this has caused churches to be ashamed of me and this ministry, even though I have been told by two Orthodox Bishops and several Orthodox Priests to not shut up and to not give in to bullies, even if they are priests or bishops! Clergy are not infallible. We are in foreclosure again because of sickness and stresses of this ministry and the slowness of the Social Security Administration. I honestly identify with and empathize with the people on the street. I have been regularly attacked for this in the press, by city administrations, by pastors, by fellow church goers.

Jesus identified with the poor and outcast. So I still think I’m in good company. I will continue to serve as I can. I don’t know what that will look like. But I need to find more likeminded people who aren’t ashamed to be seen with me. In other words, I need someone to minister to me like I have ministered among the homeless for over 26 years.

Peace, Cranford

To make a real difference costs more than a meal a week.

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!




dayliliesinwinterThe 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.

Pray and give to save Rashawn’s Diamond

I have known Rashawn for over 20 years. He suffers from dwarfism, yet I have rarely seen him with a negative attitude. He works hard whenever he can get work. He always has a plan for the future. I have never seen him drunk or high. He is known to be a reliable man. Life keeps knocking him down. He is trying to take care of his wife, Alice, who he calls Diamond. She is a beautiful, cheerful, African-American woman who is always thankful for every little blessing that comes their way. This has been a rough winter. There has not always been enough money to rent a room. The shelters don’t let people stay in during the days. There has not always been enough room in the shelters. We have not had enough money to make up the shortfall to provide rent for them. They had been working with a social worker and were on the verge of moving into a house last November. The social worker’s mother died. She went to France to bury her mother. The agency did not transfer their case intact to another social worker. They had to start the months long process all over.

All of this made for a bad situation, leaving Rashawn and Diamond out in the cold for some of the wettest, winter nights of the year. Diamond got walking pneumonia and TB. She spent a few days in ICU and a few days recovering with oxygen on a regular floor at Hahnemann, then they released her back onto the street, still coughing, during Code Blue weather. May God have mercy on us!

Many of the private shelters, including the one they have been staying at (because they can stay there as a couple) will be closing on April 1. That’s less than a week away.

I know we can’t save everybody we meet or intervene in every bad situation, but we can do this. At The King’s Jubilee, we have never had the institutional approach, that, if we can’t do it for everybody, we should do it for nobody. No. We have the attitude of “the starfish thrower” who when she was told that it was futile to throw the beached starfish back into the sea, because they were too numerous. How could she possibly make a difference? She replied, “It will make a difference for this starfish!” as she flung one more out, saving its life.

Rashawn and Diamond need $500 for one month’s rent to get a running start through the iffy weather of spring. This way, Diamond has a real shot at recovery. Frankly, I don’t understand why this is not covered as part of Medicaid. It is far cheaper than a return visit to the hospital. At any rate, we can do this. Rashawn and Diamond would be most grateful and they also deeply covet your prayers. (Rashawn’s Christian name is Jose’.)

P.S.  We paid over two months of their rent, even though less than that was designated for their support. They did join us for Memorial Day picnic. When I took them back, they were very upset because they did not have rent. They did not tel us this ahead of time. I told them I did not have money. Diamond got very upset. She started to call and accuse me of all sorts of all sorts of false things. Anthony answered the phone, since I was driving. He could not believe what she was saying. He has known me for many years and was at our house for the weekend. She began texting all sorts of accusations that we had not given them all the money that had come in for rent, etc. We paid the next month’s rent despite the accusations, even though none of the money was designated for them. We decided to go the second mile. A few weeks later they asked if they could store five bags of their things in our barn. We said OK and arranged for Uncle John to pick it up from their place on his way home from work.

When John arrived at our place, I went outside and found they had come home with him, expecting to stay with us. They had just not said anything to him and climbed into his car. They had never asked me if they could stay with me. They had accused me of all sorts of awful things the last time they were here for a picnic. We had helped them in spite of their behavior with another $600 month’s rent and $20 cash. It was close to midnight. There was no room. Bethann would have been very upset if she woke up to find them here. I was ballistic. I have never in all my years seen such gall and such deception! I gave them 10 minutes to put their bags in the barn and get off my property before I called the police for trespass. They called John. John gave them a ride to the train station to get a ride to Philadelphia.

Now they are texting me with a threat of suing me for not giving me all the money I raised for them. They are delusional and evil. Rashawn, as it turns out, has been offered housing through an agency in Phila., which he turned down in order to stay to the hotel without inspection with Alice Diamond Robinson.

Saved by Beauty

Saved by BeautyPeople often quote Dostoyevsky from The Idiot about the world being saved by beauty. A biography of Dorothy Day of blessed memory is not coincidentally named Saved by Beauty. When I was a young idealist, I had no such concept. I was all pragmatics, numbers and economics. All the flowers were geraniums to me. Very slowly did I come to realize the poor man and rich man are no more and no less blessed by  the cherry blossoms in spring, or the sight of an eagle in flight, or the sounds and smells of a gurgling brook, or the sight of youths in the blush of first love. It is when we remember these common joys, we remember our common humanity. This is when we stop fearing each other; we can stop fearing that we will be left destitute if we share from our wealth. We become free to acknowledge all humankind as sisters and brothers.

This limited edition art piece in my Lily Gilding collection is a meditation on this truth. The inner circle has a blossom in motion at each compass point. The outer circle has a blossom in motion at each hour, or five minute mark, on the face of a clock. So, the meditation is with every step, with every moment, we are to consider beauty. Consider the common beauty around us and let it humanize you. Consider the beauty of the person in front of you. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field…” Then how each of us and everyone we meet is worth more that any of those beautiful lilies. God sees beauty in each and every human being. Ask God to show you what is beautiful in each person you deal with, especially the difficult people and any enemies. If even 7% or 8% of us would do this, we would be enough salt and light to save the world!

A maximum of ten of these will be sold, signed in custom, round frames. 27″ diameter. Call 267-497-0268 for pricing. Proceeds fund soup for the street, etc.

God bless you.



Bitter Cold on the Streets of Philadelphia

On the last couple of Thursdays, volunteers have called me to see if we were still going out to serve, since it was Code Blue in the city. I explained on each occasion that, yes, we would be going. Many of the people we serve are not fully homeless. They live in rented rooms, but have no place to prepare food. Some of them have to choose between rent and food for the month or week. Many we serve are the hardcore of the homeless who refuse to go in to shelters due to fear for their own safety or fear of being picked up on an old bench warrant, or just not wanting to admit that they are that homeless and dependent. Then there is the cold, hard truth, that even with the expanded capacity and outreach of Code Blue, there isn’t enough space for everyone to come in from out of the cold.

It’s a sad state of affairs. There are lots of heated, vacant spaces, if we only had more compassion. Train conductors used to be allowed to look the other way and let homeless ride and sleep on the subway all night, maybe without collecting a fare. Now there are cameras and they’d lose their jobs. The trains are running. It costs nothing more. It hurts nobody. It saves lives. We all descended from poor and homeless people at some point. Now we are afraid of them, so we don’t let them ride.

Those of us serving were well bundled up with layers. We served about 50 people. I thank God we had blankets and new socks and some clothing to give away. We served hot, thick hamburger and cabbage soup, spicy tagine, spaghetti, and hot chocolate, along with our usual complement of fruits, eggs, sandwiches, etc. We gave just about everything away! Somebody even left a huge bag of foil wrapped chocolate coins on our front step along with a cash donation. It was a joy to share those as a special treat on such a cold night. The cash helped someone stay out of the cold in a room. We were freezing and so ready to get back into cars with heat, by the time we left, 45 minutes after we arrived. My hands are still cold and stiff more than 12 hours later, even though I was wearing gloves the whole time (since they got frostbit in 1969). But we got to go home to heat and basically unlimited hot water, coffee, microwaves, tea, etc. We left these people, our brothers and sisters, on the street to try to survive more sub-zero, windy, Code Blue days and nights in a city whose main concern is that they not be seen in public.

May God forgive us.