Reimagining, Revising, Reincarnating
I started this work 18 years ago after coming to this city for intensive trauma therapy. I saw that people were dying on the streets and I couldn’t just do nothing. The urgency to help people survive the bitter cold and oppressive heat burned in my chest and guts. I couldn’t sleep knowing people were out there without the right gear to survive the weather, but also knowing that they were being mistreated and targeted by authorities and sociopathic members of society whose whole goal was to harm and dehumanize them.
At first, I did this by myself—spending days asking for and collecting donations and nights sorting them and distributing them to whomever I saw that might need them. Then, 10 years ago people started to volunteer and ask how they could help. Not everyone had the ability to hit the streets with me, but I tried to figure out where their strengths were and use their talents to best help with our motivation to save lives. Some folks fundraised, some raised awareness, some drove around picking up donations, some called on their friends with resources to join the movement, and some loaded their cars and went in search of those in need. All together I know that we saved thousands of lives, and beyond that we made these struggling and marginalized people feel like they were cared for, loved, and valid in an otherwise cruel world.
This work has been deeply painful and incredibly satisfying at the same time. To witness the agony of so many we came across and lose sleep knowing we couldn’t reach them all has been heartbreaking, but also put a fire under my ass to keep going and trying to find more ways to help and get more people involved. Because there was also the light that would shine in their eyes when they knew you were there to help and be kind and not judge or harm them. The smiles and surprised gratitude that transpires when you hand someone an ice-cold drink on a searing hot day with no other agenda than to care for them and wish them well, to put a blanket on someone shivering on the sidewalk and help them put shoes and socks on bare feet when the barometer dropped below freezing, and watch their shoulders go down from fear to acceptance that you are not there to hurt them, but there to help.
This work has also been heart-swellingly inspiring as I watched new volunteers show up every week not knowing what they would be doing but willing to volunteer their precious and irreplaceable time. Working, laughing, and talking shit together and preparing for many more hours of service when we would hit downtown and serve hundreds in a day. I can’t even describe the gratitude and inspiration derived from these many long hot and cold hours that we spent sorting and distributing these incredible donations. I can’t count how many times I was asked “How can I help?” — What an incredible question!
And the fundraising! Don’t get me started on the fundraising! Watching amazing and beautiful drag queens sing and dance to raise money and awareness. Seeing Yogis sweat and stretch to serve their community! Artists presenting their artwork and giving us half of what they sold in order to feed and clothe those in need! So amazing! So incredible! Hearts that shine so intensely that I could barely stand it. I don’t know how to thank everyone . . .
But the circumstances of my health, being asked to leave the place we were operating out of, and my limited skill in supporting our growth have invited me to an opportunity to take a step back and reevaluate. So, as I reflect and realize that 18 is the year of maturation, I wonder what we are going to turn into? How will we transform? What parts were working and what parts can be left behind? How can I better manage and how do I learn the appropriate skills to create a more sustainable organization? And who do I ask for help to revamp this org, but also not make the same mistakes? These are among many questions I will be asking myself and others in order to get us back up and running soon. Until then, thank you all for everything you have done and will do!