Friday, September 30, 2011

My Spirit, My Call

My son and I arrived late at the One Spirit, One Call event this Sunday in the Park blocks here in Portland, Oregon.  One Spirit, One Call is a group that formed last year in response to the announcement by the Vatican that the ordination of women was a sin against faith as serious as the abuse of children.  The group is not about the ordination of women, but about women having a more respected and responsible role in church life.  Last year’s event as well as this year's centered around a woman oriented service paralleling, to some degree, Mass without the Eucharist.
The role of women in the Church is not my particular issue.  I am a woman doing what I do, so I feel that my own conscience overrides my obedience to authority, but women abuse children and cover up abuse the abuse of children too.  Ordaining women as priests won’t end abuse in the Catholic Church, nor will it heal the wounds caused by abuse.  However, there is a relationship between the two issues in that in both situations, some people are treated as though they are more worthy than others.  So I go to some One Spirit, One Call events.  I feel inspired when I am around other reform minded Catholics.
This Sunday the event drew an attendee who others might have wished had gone elsewhere.  My son and I sat on a low wall lining a sidewalk leading to the center of the South Park block where the One Spirit, One Call event was held both last year and this.  On the other side of the sidewalk and ten or so feet closer to the curb sat a man, loudly and apparently drunkenly proclaiming something about God, the Church, San Francisco and being molested.  A woman in a red jacket, who appeared to be a crowd security person with One Spirit, One Call, walked up to the man, spoke with him and slipped him a few dollars.  She walked off after a few minutes, but the man continued to proclaim his issues loudly and somewhat incoherently.
I wondered if he was a Catholic clergy abuse survivor.  So I walked over to the man with my son in tow and sat down.  
He spoke randomly about being a gay man and an artist and a flight attendant who had traveled all over the world.  He criticized organized religion.  I asked if he understood what the One Spirit, One Call event was about.  He understood the basics.  I suggested that we speak a little more quietly, but he did not quiet down.  So I suggested that we walk to the nearby Starbucks and speak there.  I don’t usually give money to homeless alcoholics in fear that the money would be spent buying more drugs and alcohol.  I don’t have enough money to donate, but If I did, any and all of the various shelters and missions that work with the homeless would be worthy recipients of  my money.  But this man had forgotten how to live.  He needs hospitalization, but given our penchant for wars and tax cuts, he is unlikely to ever receive the intensive help he needs.  I can’t do much for him, but I can divert him from disrupting the One Spirit, One Call event and lift up his spirits for a short time.  So I repeated my invitation to Starbucks and after a few repeats, he agreed.  All three of us, my 15 year old son, the man, and I walked the entire block to the closest Starbucks.  The man said he was hungry so I bought him coffee and a breakfast sandwich as well as a hot chocolate for my son and a cappuccino for me.
“Thank you so much for your hospitality,” the man said, “When I get my place, I’ll invite you over for Christmas dinner and make tamales for you.  I need friends.”
“How long have you been homeless?” I asked.
“Two of three months,” the man said.
I didn’t believe him but said nothing.
I said I worked with abuse survivors, trying to encourage the man to open up.  It turned out he was abused, not by a priest, but by a babysitter.  But I work with all survivors of abuse, not just clergy abuse survivors, so we stayed with the man,
He spoke at random, telling me that his first love was a Puerto Rican.  He also told me about being an alcoholic.
“It’s a genetic disease,” he said.
I told him that many people who were abused as children became alcoholics and drug addicts.
He told me about his years as a prostitute.  (Yes, my 15 year old son was present for this, but he’s heard many other bad stories.  The up side is he is very aware of abuse and the damage caused by abuse.)
His most high profile customer as a prostitute, was a prominent Hollywood entertainer, now deceased.  
“I did both women and men,” he confided, “but I  didn’t like it much.”
“Many survivors of abuse end up as prostitutes because they are used to only being valued for sex,” I replied.
The survivor receded into memories and began dissociating.  He didn’t look at us as he spoke.  Drool dripped down his chin.  His words lost what coherence they did have.
Victims of abuse often dissociate to cope with their pain.  Their mind goes elsewhere while their body is being abused.  
My heart broke that I had so little to offer him.  I have some Rose City Resource Guides published by the Street Roots newspaper that advocates for the homeless, but I left them at home.  All the homeless I’ve met know about them and the resources available.  Elizabeth, my therapist partner in this work, tells me that Central City Concern is the best place to refer people in this condition to.  But they have to be ready to go or it won’t work.
We need more.  I feel as though society abandons fragile survivors of abuse such as this man.  Yes, he made bad choices, but he clearly did not understand the reasons for his poor choices.  Because he lacked proper support at the proper time, his condition became much worse than it might have been.
I was concerned about the man’s dissociated state.
I asked him, “What is your name.”
That was enough to bring him back to the present.
He told me his name.  
“I came from a good family,” he told me.
We spent half an hour with the man, but I had promised my son some quality time.  I have to be a Mom first so we said our goodbyes, but I am still thinking about the man.  His story and his plight moved me.  I had to call Elizabeth and ask her what else to do.  She told me more details about various resources.  I wonder if I should have walked with the homeless man to Central City Concern.  We were only a few blocks away.  We were also close to Picnic in the Park which serves dinner to many homeless and non-homeless people in O’Bryant Square every Sunday in downtown Portland.  Later in the afternoon I passed by O'Bryant Square with my daughter and saw the Picnic in the Park still handing out food.  Next time I hope to be better prepared.  O'Bryant Square is located between SW 8th and 9th and SW Stark and SW Washington Avenues in downtown Portland.  The various addresses for various Central City Concern facilities are listed below.

These resources are easily found on Google Maps.

Central City Concern - Community Engagement Program  
709 Northwest Everett Street, Portland, OR
(503) 226-4060 ‎ ·
alcohol and drug · equal opportunity employer · mental health services · mental health treatment · homelessness

Central City Concern - Business Enterprises  
205 Northwest Couch Street, Portland, OR
(503) 467-4707 ‎ ·

Central City Concern - Employment Access Center  
2 Northwest 2nd Avenue, Portland, OR
(503) 226-7387 ‎ ·
department of veterans affairs · department of labor · stand-down and job fair · homelessness

Central City Concern  
204 Southwest 8th Avenue, Portland, OR
(503) 295-0390 ‎ ·

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