Monthly Archives: May 2015

Placer County Food Bank

The other day someone from the Placer County Food Bank showed up at the church in Roseville where we were distributing food. She arrived with her son and armed with a camera. Her goal was to write an article about us for their publication.

Well, turnabout is fair play, as the saying goes.

Her main interest was why don’t we use their services in Roseville? It was a fair question. I will try to give you the same answer.

Let me preface this response as this concerns the Roseville operation only. Each of the other operations works somewhat differently. Still, she was at Roseville and wanted to know about Roseville.

We get most of the food from local merchants. We buy it retail from the over the counter shelves and pay full retail price for it, just like any other consumer. We are big consumers of Winco, Sam’s club, and Costco’s food offerings. We get the coffee, crackers, creamers, and hot cereals, and most of the canned products from Winco; the tuna, spoons, napkins, candy, fruit and the drinks from Costco; and the granola bars, noodles, tea and other items from Sam’s club. We shop and compare prices to always find the best bargain.

We divide the shopping among several people, just like the other chores so that no single person need do it all.

The reason that we don’t use the food bank is that most of the items that they offer us are perishable. They have a short shelf-life. We can’t store them in a climate-controlled place and the food would spoil. It is better that they supply those organizations with their products than waste them on us because we would have to discard so much due to spoilage. No one would want bananas that have all turned brown because they were three weeks old.

Now, the response is different if we talk about the operation in Auburn and Colfax. In those sites we do, almost exclusively, use the supplies from the Placer Food Bank. The reason for that is that we have access to a kitchen and storage facilities that we lack in Roseville. We can prepare hot meals, and store the supplies needed to make then.

So, there you have it as it relates to WWJD?.

I would like to also note that on many days during the week, the Catholic church, St. Rose of Lima, offers a sack lunch to the homeless of Roseville. We distribute their lunches as far as they go from our van. The church gets much of the food supplies for the lunches from the food bank. So, while we don’t directly use the food bank, others in Roseville do.

I look forward to her story of our operation. It is a shame that the homeless people that she tried to talk to felt uneasy speaking with her. Perhaps she represented too much of an authority figure. I do not know exactly why she did not get much cooperation from them. I suppose that it is simply a matter of trust and that takes some time to build. We trust them. They trust us. And to a “stranger”, who comes in asking questions, the trust factor would be very low.

I would also like to add that the solution to the problem of homelessness is too vast. No single agency or government entity can solve it. It will take the teamwork of all those involved. So, I welcome the Placer County Food Bank, the Churches, and all other organizations that attempt to aid the homeless. It is a never-ending but rewarding job.

God bless us, everyone!
— Tiny Tim (1951)

Man’s Best Friend

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The dog belongs to the same family as wolves, coyotes, jackals, dingos, and foxes. The family name is called canids or canines. All canines share the same characteristics; They bear young by live birth; Have hair or fur, four legs, with a protruding tail; Have similar dental structure with 42 teeth; Walk on their toes instead of the soles of their feet; And keep their body temperature at a constant level (called “warm-blooded”). Their body temperature is normally the same as humans, about 98.6 degrees, Fahrenheit. They also have a longer digestive system than cats and are able to digest vegetables and grains. As such they can eat most food meant for people.

The tamed, or domesticated dog, Canis lupus familiaris, has been around for almost all recorded history. In fact, the dog and its ancestor, predates humans on this planet. It was the first animal to be a companion to humans and was called “man’s best friend” for that reason. Dog bones, discovered in the United States, have been dated back to some 8300 BC. That is almost 10,000 years ago.

Scientists say that the dog’s natural hunting instincts have been used by humans in varying environments and that this led to the development of different dog breeds. There is evidence that the first breeds of dogs were “sight hounds” or “gaze hounds” that had a deep chest, long legs, and a keen sense of sight. These dogs could spot their prey at a far distance and then sprint quickly and silently to run it down in the open, treeless country.

The oldest breeds of dogs are African and Asian and include the Basenji, Lhasa Apso, and the Siberian Husky. “Scent dogs” have a large nose with well-opened nostrils. In Europe, they were bred for stamina and used to track prey over a long time. The British hunting foxhound is a prime example. Breeders in Britain developed dachshund dogs to hunt burrowing animals such as badgers, foxes, and rabbits and to control many types of vermin. These dogs, known as terriers, needed to be feisty and energetic.

Later guns were invented. Dogs with sensitive noses were bred to find, indicate, and flush out the prey. They also had soft mouths to retrieve the prey once it was shot. They are the “pointers” and “retrievers”.

According to the American Kennel Association (AKA), the Labrador retriever is “top dog” in numbers of registrations and the German shepherd is number two. The third place goes to the golden retriever, one of the most loyal dogs.

When I was a child, we grew up with two black Labrador retrievers. The retriever has large webbed feet to aid it its swimming and uses its tail as a rudder, tossing it from side to side seemingly to control its direction. It lives for the water, any kind of water, be it a garden hose or a mountain lake. The temperature did not matter as long as it was water. They were very good-natured dogs.

I would say that the most lovable dog is the basset hound. The only problem is that the dog barks at anything and everything from the wind to its own shadow. But, to a dog owner, each dog is very lovable.

The reason for this piece is because, like people from nearly 10,000 years ago, the dog has been a constant companion. The homeless tend to pick up stray dogs. These dogs are themselves homeless. Together the two form a bond-ship and a friendship that is life long.

The problem is, however, one of care for the animal. We offer what we have for dog food on our van. We do not normally buy dog food. We buy “people” food as that is our mission. However, many times, our volunteers buy, out of their own money, dog or cat food which we re-package and distribute as we can. But, it is a very hit-or-miss situation.

The other issue is that because the dogs are strays, they are not properly licensed. It is rare that they would have the required rabies vaccinations, distemper, bordetella, and other vaccinations that are either required by county law or “extremely advised” by the medical community. Also missing are the common preventive medicines that we, the more affluent, can offer our own pets. Medications to prevent heartworm and control fleas and ticks are missing. Leashes that are required by the city are at times not available.

Then, there is the general lack of identification. If the dog becomes separated from the owner and is picked up by animal control, the animal control would have no way to find the owner of the dog. There is not even a rabies tag to track the dog back to the owner. These pets are usually, unfortunately, euthanized after a few days.

The loss of a pet is akin to the loss of a loved one. There is a real emotional, as well as a true chemical bond between the homeless owner and the pet. Each lives for the other and existence is extremely hard without your pet, your “best friend”.

There are organizations that aid the pets for the homeless. One is called “Pets of the Homeless”.

In closing, let me say a small prayer; “May God grant me the ability to be the great person that my dog thinks I am.”

Habeas Corpus

The habeas corpus concept was first expressed in the Magna Charta, a constitutional document forced on King John by English landowners at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. The Magna Charta, which King John signed (or he would had never seen the June 16th sunrise), formed the background for all legal precedents in England since that time. It put specific limits on the King’s authority, and thereby the state’s authority. Before then, it was “King’s Law”, or what the King wanted was law and everything else was not.

“Habeas Corpus” comes from Latin. It literally means “you have the body”, or as some people refer to it, “produce the body”. It is a writ or court order that commands a person or a government official who has restrained another to produce the prisoner at a designated time and place so that the court can decide if there is even enough evidence to start the case. The government must release the person if there is not enough reason for detention.

It was a common practice in some cities to shuffle the prisoner from jail to jail to exclude him from contacting his attorney. The attorney would then go to the judge and demand to see his client and the judge would instruct the city to “produce the body”.

The writ of habeas corpus was first used by the common-law courts in thirteenth and fourteenth century England. These courts, composed of legal professionals, were competing with feudal courts, controlled by local landowners, or “lords.” The feudal courts lacked procedural consistency, and on that basis, the common-law courts began to issue writs demanding the release of persons imprisoned by them. From the late fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, the common-law courts used the writ to order the release of persons held by royal courts.

The only reference to the writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. Constitution is in Article I, Section 9, Clause 2. This clause states that “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” [sic]

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln authorized his Civil War generals to arrest anyone they thought dangerous, suspending the writ. In addition, in 1863, Congress suspended it to allow the Union army to hold accused persons temporarily until trial in the civilian courts. The Union army ignored the statute and tried people under Martial Law in “drum head” trials, illegally.

Now that you know something about legal habeas corpus, we have a similar regulation, law, procedure, guideline, or method of operation. To us, habeas corpus is best described in the saying “No body, no bag.” I mentioned this because many times people ask us for food for “my friend who just can’t come today, but I signed him into the roster.” Or, “my five other friends who need to stay behind so that they can watch their stuff, I want food for them so please just give me six sets of food.”

We are charitable people. If we weren’t charitable we would not be doing this. But, there are common sense limits that we follow. One is “no body, no bag”. You have to show up to get food from us. We don’t care if the wife is “over there”, watching the children or the dogs and you come and want food for two. You will get only one bag of food. After we give you your bag, you can go over and watch the dogs and allow her to come and get a bag. We won’t give you two bags.

No body, no bag.

You would not believe some of the stories that we hear about the urgent need for one person in one day to have six pairs of reading glasses or a dozen razors or eight containers of shampoo. What can they do with eight containers of shampoo? Drink them? I doubt it. But, we don’t carry that much supplies to give a single person eight containers of shampoo. That would prevent us from giving a single container to seven other people.

That is our simple definition of habeas corpus, or as some people would say “produce the body”.

California Proposition 63

California Proposition 63 Mental Health

In 2004, the people of California voted on a “proposition”. A proposition bypasses the legislature and put is on the ballot directly by the voters when it is clear that the legislature wouldn’t pass it as a traditional bill.

This is Proposition 63. The ballot called it the “Mental Health Services Act” and it passed by 53.8% of the voters.

Proposition 63 deals with reforming the state’s public mental health system by raising the tax rate on income over $1 million by an extra 1%. It affects about 30,000 taxpayers. (If you are not handy with mathematics, that is an extra $10,000 on every million dollars per year.)

The extra money would be about a 31 percent increase in the previous budget of about $2.5 billion dollars. Its purpose was to revolutionize and expand the mental health system and focus on the recovery-oriented programs to try to get people off the state’s dole as soon as possible.

The Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) was projected to generate about $254 million in the 2004-2005 fiscal year, $683 million in 2005-06 fiscal year, and then increasing amounts later.

OK. So what does this mean?

The Steinberg group, well, Darrell Steinberg and his staff, made the papers the other day announcing that they are working with the Sacramento County Behavioral Health Directors Association to check the results of the programs that use the funds collected by the proposition. The results seem to the success in helping the homeless and other severely mentally ill people with a variety of services such as substance abuse treatment, housing, and job training.

“What made me happy was to see that over 35,000 people a year are benefiting from the full-service partnerships. And yet … we know there are more people who need the help,” Steinberg said.

What does this mean to the homeless? Well, there are many homeless people out on the streets today, this morning, and every morning who are mentally ill. There are some who are obviously in need of severe help. They barely can form a clear thought; let alone hold a salient conversation with anyone.

I know of at least one person whom I will call George. That is not his real name, but for the story I will call him that. George would come to our van and wait in line. He would properly sign our sheet and when we would ask him what food the wanted it was basically the one word.

“Tuna, tuna, tuna, tuna” would be all that he would say.

“Ok, George, here is a can of tuna. Now, do you want some peaches or oranges?” I would question.

“Tuna, tuna” was the reply.

“But George, I gave you a can of tuna. Do you want some peaches? How about oranges?”

“Tuna, tuna”.

The garrulous conversation would go on like that. I would then try to guess what he wanted; besides tuna. It was clear that giving him choices was not the proper thing to do.

It was not always “tuna”. Some days it was “chocolate”. Other days it was “noodles”. It was as if he had a craving for a single item.

But, more probably, it was all that he was thinking about then.

After he got his bag of food, he would stand nearby and relate how the earth’s magnetic field was destroying all life on the planet. The words that he spoke did not make sense. They were a rambling string of words. Journalists call it a “stream of consciousness”. Everyone else has a simpler term for it — crazy. And, like an ignored child, if you didn’t listen to him, he would only repeat it louder until finally someone asked him to speak softer.

You take pity on him. You wonder what happened. I can tell you what happened. The mental health facilities were closed and they tossed everyone there out on the streets to fend for themselves. That’s what happened!

The story of George is not unique. In some form or another, we serve many disabled people. Our sign in sheet has a column for “disabled”. If you looked at the sheet, I am guessing thirty to forty percent of the people have indicated a disabled status. In most cases, the disability is not physical but mental.

That is a sad statistic. It’s a sad condition of the state of our society that these people are in so much need of mental health care and wonder the streets like George saying “tuna, tuna, tuna” to everyone that they see.

I can understand why mothers sometimes keep their children away. To them, George must seem dangerous. It is that they don’t know George as I do. Please don’t misunderstand me. George is physically harmless. He would not physically hurt anyone. His is neither violent nor a threat to society. He is just not mentally fit to lead a normal life.

Without help, and like Ahasuerus before, he is cursed to wander the streets among us all who just don’t seem to care.

It just sometimes that things seem overwhelming to me that I wonder if there really is a solution to the problem. There are so many people out there who are in need, like George, of basic mental health support.

Maybe proposition 63 will supply the funds that people like George need help. Or, perhaps it is just another boondoggle on the taxpayers. Only time will tell. In the meantime, George will have to wait.

The Yellow Ribbon

Green is the color of the wist-band or ribbon associated with Mental Health. The reason that I mention this now is that this month, May, is also “Mental Health” month.

I will talk about mental health later, so don’t worry. You will get my thoughts about our combined mental health or the lack of it.

But, when I told my wife that the color for mental health was green, she asked me “Why is it green? Have you considered why we have those ribbons? Are you sure that it is ‘green’ for mental health? You know that it started with ‘pink’ don’t you?”

Being diplomatic, I did not tell her “Well, um, no, that’s not quite correct. Yes, I am sure that it is green and no, it did not start with pink.” It actually started with yellow and had nothing to do with health.

The origin of the idea of a yellow ribbon came from the 1800s. Ladies wore yellow ribbons as an indication that she had a love in the U.S. Cavalry. It was then made into a song called “Round Her Neck She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”, a common marching song at the same time.

About 150 years later, John Wayne and Joanne Dru starred in a movie by the same name, “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”, directed by the legendary John Ford (1949).

We skip forward about 25 more years.

In the 1970s, there was a singing group was called “Tony Orlando and Dawn“. Tony sang lead and the two ladies who made up Dawn did the backup. One song that made number one on the “charts” was called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” (1973). It was about someone returning from prison and wondering if his love still held feelings for him. He asked her to “tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree” and if he did not see it, he would keep on the bus and forget about us.

Then, in 1979, the relations with the state of Iran exploded and the Iranian government seized the American diplomatic mission in Tehran. They held them captive for 444 days.

Some of the families of the diplomats felt frustrated, angry, hurt, and wanted to “do something”. Like Tony Orlando and Dawn’s song before about returning home, Mrs. Langen tied a large yellow ribbon around her large old oak tree and vowed that it would stay there until her son, held captive in Tehran, removed it. The story of the yellow ribbon and the old oak tree made the news and soon, yellow ribbons were tied around many oak trees; all in support of the hostages in Tehran.

The yellow ribbon as we know it was born.

Soon, they were everywhere. It was not just that you knew someone who was kidnaped in Tehran; it was that you supported them and wanted them to return home to their family. Everywhere there were yellow ribbons. And, on the bumper-stickers, the folded yellow ribbon came into being. It had the familiar shape that the ribbons do today, a simple twist fold.

Then, later, the ribbons started to show not only yellow but pink. Pink was a female color and it signified breast cancer. Originally, it was a breast cancer survivor. Later, it was in support of breast cancer research.

Then there was red for AIDS; clear for lung cancer; blue for colon cancer; orange for kidney cancer; then multi-colored, then every color under the rainbow. The list is quite extensive and can be found here.

But, yellow is the traditional support for military soldiers and displayed by their families at home. It was the first color.

The modern ribbon craze and shape all started with a simple catchy song called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree”. Oh, the song ended with saying that there 100 yellow ribbons around the old oak tree. His love must have worried that he might have missed just one. She obviously welcomed him home as did the families of the hostages when they eventually returned home.

Mrs. Langen donated the ribbon that her son removed to the Library of Congress in 1991.