#SoldOut Raising Funds and Awareness

I recall many years ago standing on the terraces at Hampden Park, Glasgow with 145,000 other rabid fans, waiting for the teams to come out of the tunnel to begin the annual Scotland v England ‘Home International’ football,(soccer), game. There would always be 140,000 Scots and about 5,000 English fans in attendance. As a Scot, born and bred, I was brought up, just like the majority of others who were standing around me, to ‘hate’ the English with a vengeance. It was just part of our parochial culture at that time, and probably still is today, although I have not lived in Scotland for 40 years and with the demise of Scottish football and an awareness that political correctness is now the order of the day, perhaps the ferocity of that hatred has mellowed. The two teams, now standing in the center of the field, would face the main stand, where all the dignitaries were seated, and the British national anthem would begin, God Save the Queen. This was before the Scots were allowed to sing their own anthem, a change in protocol that occurred some years later. The band, yes, a real brass or bagpipe band, would strike up the first chord and immediately there would be a wall of noise emanating from the Scottish support just booing as loud as possible at the UK anthem. It completely drowned out the band and any semblance they had in mind of being heard as a unit. We hated that anthem, supposedly, and we all gave it little or indeed no respect. Within seconds, our vocal distaste of everything that the British Monarchy stood for was demonstrated by this blasphemous howling and booing which seemed to last an eternity, but which in fact lasted only about 120 seconds, the length of the British national anthem being quite short. Once over, the game began and the fact that 140,000 Scottish football fanatics had remonstrated vocally against our forced inclusion under the monarchy we all loved, or at least some of us loved, was soon forgotten as the football took over and blood and guts was then spilled on the field of play rather than on the streets of Glasgow. It should also be noted that while the anthem was sung by the players on the field from the England team, all the Scottish team just stood in silence, some smiling, some not, but to a tee, not one of the Scottish team would sing along. It was an unwritten rule, followed religiously. Silent protests against supposed oppression, acceptable and respected throughout the world. No harm done, no one to cry foul. Until now!

When Colin Kaepernick knelt down for the Star Spangled Banner whilst playing for the San Francisco 49rs some two years ago, the whole world, at least the world that surrounded American Football and Donald Trump, went berserk, and for what reason? Well as far as I can tell, the National Anthem was never played at any sporting event before the end of the second world war. And even after that, there were sports events in the USA where the anthem remained just a figment of everyone’s imagination, laying silent as battle commenced on the field of play. So why, all of a sudden, after Kaepernick and some of his fellow Pro’s decided to protest, quite justifiably in silence to make what has turned out to be a very relevant point on an issue that has haunted this country for generations, has the President of the United States and the owners of some of the football teams where protests have been continual and well publicized, lost the plot by telling players they will be fired if they continue to ‘abuse their privilege’? There is not one reason on earth why anyone should be forced to alter their beliefs, especially those who feel threatened or abused and more especially inside a country that not only preaches pure democracy and a right to free speech to the whole planet, but a country that encourages its populous to be vocal in the form of protest when under threat of unjustifiable racism. Racism is rife in America. You can smell it in the streets, it’s a pollution that has become silent in its poisoning of its population. Racism cannot be tolerated, hatred of anyone, any race, any creed and any color has to be kicked out, but, unfortunately, and in the opinion of this author, it’s just being swept under an already filthy carpet, where, when the dust is uncovered, it becomes a mountain of trash that is becoming ever worse and unstoppable, fueled by a President and government that just turns a blind eye and looks the other way whilst telling us all, quite disingenuously that there is absolutely nothing wrong! Well, not much!

My guitar teacher Tony, remember him from the first article I wrote last week, inspired me to make the lapel pins you see in the image above. The players protesting and following in the footsteps of Kaepernick, have a right to do so. It’s not disrespectful, it’s poignant, it’s their human right, it’s peaceful and most importantly, it’s something they believe in. However, it seems if these protests carry on players will be fired or, and I say this with the utmost respect, the President will have to intervene personally, something not one of us would like to see happen.

With all of this in mind, I have this idea, not only to raise the awareness to a very great cause, but to raise money for charities associated with racism and the profound effect that racism still holds on our society. The #SOLDOUT will soon display the pins pictured above for sale, to make people aware that there is genuine suffering out there, whether it be in the murdering of Jews in Pittsburgh, or the simplicity of daily senseless traffic stops on innocent African Americans, it matters not. We have a right to protest, so by wearing this pin, our protests shall be seen, and by the money we raise, out protests shall be heard.

Keep reading this blog for more updates and check out our Instagram #soldout to get your pin.

If there are any athletes, well known or otherwise and or charities, who would like to be considered as spokes people for this idea, please get in touch. Colin Kaepernick, if you read this please know that I have tried in many different ways to contact you because I believe you should lead this movement, but to date, no response.

Thank you everyone.

Too Many To Count

IMG_0352Yesterday was warm, around 68 degrees here in San Jose, not a bad day to be out in shorts and a tee-shirt? Well the days might be warm, but the evenings are certainly winter cool, not cold, just cool. Ideal conditions of you have a home to go to, turning on the heat as you walk in through the front door after a long day at work, ready, willing and able to put the stove on, or perhaps just the microwave, so that you might enjoy your favorite meal in the comfort of your favorite arm-chair in the company of your favorite lover or with your favorite pet by your side.

For those who are homeless however, last night was yet another slog to get in line at the Home First Boccardo center in San Jose to guarantee a bed and a hot meal. And it’s to that very same center that I once again set off around 4 PM to help Chef Diane serve more than 300 starving souls, who, unlike you or I, have absolutely nothing in their lives except the misery and depression that being homeless brings.

The line for beds was out the front door and into the street, and as I parked my car I could see that this was going to be a night unlike any other that I had seen before when volunteering at Boccardo. I’ve been going there for years now, through thick and thin, cold and warm, but never have I seen a line like the one I saw last night. Was it because ‘the jungle’ off CA 87 had been closed? Always a resting place in the past for refugees of this continual homeless crisis we can never seem to fix, now closed due to pressure from council members who wanted them out. Was it because there was spaghetti cooking inside the kitchen run by Miss Diane and word had spread that tonight dinner would be delicious? Or perhaps it was just that we cannot control a situation that is out of control and the sad facts are it won’t get any better soon.

Having gone into the kitchen to assist, Diane informed me that she was short of volunteers and that during the winter months most of those who come to help serve and prepare seem to just vanish. With gloves and apron in place, desert carved and plated, peas and salad and warm bread all ready to be dished out, the spaghetti would not be short of company tonight.

Then the chaos began. One after another, an endless line of deprivation strolled expectantly into the dining hall. Some were pleasant, others ungrateful, the usual mix which I’ve seen many times before. Some wanted no meat, some no tomatoes and some only chocolate for desert. Whatever their poison, Miss Diane controlled the line with her usual dignified authoritarian energy, pushing those who dithered towards a table that bore empty seats, and those who were perhaps more decisive and bold when asking for extra food, towards the exit. She’s a real trooper and still, to this day, I have no idea how she and the rest of her staff cope with this never-ending, depressing situation day in and day out.

When you get home from work tonight, think about that line. It will be there for sure, just like it is every night, 300 souls with their hands out looking for assistance and receiving it courtesy of those who donate their lives to the betterment of others. Give up some of your time if you can and come and help Diane and the rest of this very dedicated team. They will make you welcome and you will make their day.

 

Mr Blue Skies

downloadThe line was huge tonight. More people than I’ve ever seen at the shelter. Dinner consisted of Sloppy Joe’s, bread rolls, mixed veg, french fries and salad, all nicely prepared by Chef Diane and her team. I was cutting cake, donated mostly by Safeway, whose support we greatly appreciate. We thought it was a feat for a king. Everyone lined up believed the same. So much food and looking so tasty too.

5 PM and the doors opened. One by one they entered, some excited and some not. Some were grateful as they took their plates and headed to a table, and some were not. I sincerely believe that those who were not are just too ashamed to express their gratitude with words and find it hard to look us servers in the face as they take a plate that’s filled and brimming with hot food and completely free, all thanks of course to the hard work of EHC Lifebuilders.

Tonight’s line seemed to be never-ending. I looked at the deprivation, the consternation and the angst that some of these homeless men and women carry on their weather-beaten faces and I think, there but for the grace of God go I. I am also ashamed that I have and they have nothing. Hard feelings to express because you know they have no sympathy for my guilt and I have no real interest in explaining it to them. They just want food, and they want it as quickly as possible and then they want to leave and go to wherever they feel most comfortable. It was so busy tonight that two fights were close to breaking out over something very trivial indeed, the lack of an extra plastic fork! With the clock ticking, food began to run out and there was no end in sight to the line outside the door of those still to be served.

Here’s the deal. If you stand outside at 4 30PM, you get fresh warm food just out the oven. You’re supposed to be there between the hour of 5 and 5 30PM to ensure you get something inside your empty belly. Anyone coming after this will be turned away with a ‘doggie’ bag and a snarl from those who have volunteered to clean up. These people all know one another and you never want to piss off your friends. At 5 20 tonight the food began to dwindle. There was no salad left, no veggies, and very few french fries. Sloppy Joe’s were in plentiful supply but the bread was running out too. By 5 25, the food was gone, something I’ve never witnessed before in this shelter, and people were still waiting outside in an orderly line to eat. At 5.30 the doors were closed and some of those in line went out with nothing. How do you relate to that? How can I as a human being just let that happen. I wanted to go and get pizza or burgers for those who never ate, but alas, that isn’t allowed and I couldn’t bring them the food they deserve.

For those reading this who think, ‘oh well, it’s free and they are homeless so who cares if they missed out, they should have come earlier’ THIS IS NOT THE POINT!! These people are human and just because there is no food left and just because it’s free, and just because they showed up at 5.25 instead of 5 PM, why should they suffer the consequences that hunger will now bring. Have a think about this while you eat your own dinner tonight. By stark contrast, at 5 Guys burgers ten minutes after I left, there were 12 baskets of French fries all ready and sitting waiting to be cooked, with ELO Mr. Blue Sky playing loud and clear over the audio system in the restaurant, and no customers to buy the food they were waiting to cook.

What a world we live in! Support the homeless charities near you. They need all the help they can get and they need it now.

Needless Deaths

It’s a balmy 50 degrees here in San Jose today. Tonight it will be 33. Quite chilly for this part of the world and as every gardening enthusiast in our area rushes outside to cover up his or her plants so they survive until Wednesday next week, bare a thought or two for those of us out there who have nothing or no one to cover them up.

Last night 4 people died here in Santa Clara county. 4 homeless people. Needless deaths indeed when you consider that the nearest shelter was half empty. Tonight all the local homeless shelters are putting on extra beds, which under the circumstances is quite admirable. It leaves the unanswered question though of why 4 had to die without being offered the chance to sleep indoors in a warm bed? Having spent a week being homeless, I can understand the reluctance of some, the minority, who choose to sleep rough and who will sit stubbornly at the side of the road or under their favorite bridge clinging to everything they possess and believing that nothing worse could possibly happen to them. On the other hand how can we, yes, you and I, as todays so-called ‘caring society’ not be out there rounding these people up and placing them in a safer environment especially suited to seeing them through the climactic conditions in which we find ourselves tonight? It beggars belief that here I am, sitting in a home with unlimited central heating, 6 incredibly warm empty rooms, and yet there are many, some 7000 plus in this county alone, who have nothing but plastic sheeting, a supermarket trolley and perhaps a coat, and not even a warm one at that, braving temperatures that are normally found in places far North of California.

If you go out tonight, even if you don’t live where I live and are based in other parts of the planet, give some thought to those who might need just a wee bit of guidance. Help someone. Help them get to where their souls might be warmed and their bellies filled. We live in strange times. People line up for iPhones and Play Stations, sometimes in the cold, and yet others….. Well, you get my point. We have so much in the way of resources, but yet we give so little.

I hope no one else meets their demise this evening, and I hope you are all at home feeling nice and warm and lucky that you are not one of those who have to endure several more nights of this weather without anything other than a prayer and an empty heart.

 

 

James

James was happy. In fact James is nearly always happy. Stuck inside the homeless shelter at the EHC-Lifebuilders Boccardo center in San Jose, James is a cook, or perhaps I should say, Chef. His journey to the shelter is somewhat incredible, littered with so many ups and downs, and a desire, no matter what his circumstance, to succeed. You see James is unlike most homeless people you and I would ever come across in the street, James is just different.

His passion is football, or soccer for all of you Americans who refuse to accept that your football is shite and should really be called handball. James loves the Black Stars, given nickname for his beloved Ghanaian national team. Every chance he gets, and that’s not really that often because African football isn’t really covered too much here in the USA, James is glued to the radio, the newspapers or any magazines he can get his hands on, trying to keep up with the goings on of his team. Yesterday he was elated. They qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, to be held in June/July 2014, and once the result of the second leg of a 2 game fixture with Egypt was confirmed, Ghana winning 6-3 overall in the 2 games played, James was ecstatic and celebrated in style by cooking all 125 residents of the homeless shelter, his favorite meal, teriyaki chicken, rice and mixed veg. The aroma coming from his kitchen yesterday had to be smelled to be believed. But James has always been a great cook, ever since he was a little boy growing up in his homeland, some 35 years ago. So how did he end up homeless, jobless and in need of help, here in the USA? Well, this is his story.

James left Ghana when he was 18 to come to college here in America. Before his 18th birthday, food was his passion, (it still is, only then he was spending all his time experimenting and sharpening his skills inside a small kitchen that he says was his ‘home away from home, at his aunts house in a village just west of Ghana’s capital city, Accra), and he decided by the age of 10 that he was going to become a master chef. But it never quite worked out that way. Fresh off the boat into New York, James made his way to Miami, where he studied for three years in a culinary institute, before meeting his soon to be wife. She was from Colorado, where they eventually married and settled down into a ‘normal’ kind of lifestyle. James went to work, as did his wife and then 2 kids came knocking and things changed. James was just becoming accustomed to the way things worked here in the USA and as suddenly as it began, it was all taken away, by a stroke of fate as unfortunate as it was unexpected. James wife ran off with his two kids, took every penny he had, and left him looking not only into his heart, but also into his wallet and his future. He had nothing, other than a cousin who lived here in San Jose. With virtually all hope lost, (and I’m sorry this is a brief rendition written in it’s simplest form, to protect all the participants from any unwanted retribution), James ended up in her home in San Jose, cooking simple foods for a cafe in the downtown area. This was really a million miles from where he thought his life would be at 30 years of age. And as if he thought it couldn’t get any worse, his cousin sadly died soon after James moved in, her home was taken by her ex husband, as were her kids, and within 2 days of her death, James found himself wandering the streets of San Jose as a bona fide homeless man, with no money to spend, no place to rest and a job that also vanished because of James’ inability to show up for work on time in a presentable state.

And so, here he is, pictured below, now residing at the center in San Jose, cooking meals for those who have become his friends, 8000 miles from his original home and millions of miles away from where he ever believed he would be. He needs a job, but to get a job he needs a residence. You cannot help but wonder how our system really works when you talk to James. He’s a great guy, pleasant, articulate, educated and also one hell of a cook, but yet, here he is, unemployed and homeless. There’s something wrong with this picture, and there’s nothing you or I can do about it. Or is there?

Perhaps we could find James a place to work? Perhaps we could give up some of our own precious time to sit and talk to people like James, people who have nothing, and try to coax them back into society. Or, perhaps we could just donate to great causes like EHC-Lifebuilders, in the hope they, as an organization, can put the James’s of this world, back on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately until that happens, talented people like James will remain hidden, though never by choice, anonymous and homeless. Wouldn’t it be great if just because of this article, James found a real job? Wouldn’t is be fantastic if his self-esteem was returned to him courtesy of the American dream which has so far, eluded him?

James I salute you. I salute your courage and your never-ending desire to make things work. You have never given up and I doubt you ever will. Cook on my friend, good things will happen, I promise!
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A Tale Of Two Lines

downloadTonight was surreal, as are most nights at the homeless shelter, especially for those who are unfortunate enough to find themselves waiting in line outside a locked kitchen door at the Boccardo Center in San Jose. They stand at least ten minutes before the supposed 5 PM opening, all chatting, all nervously awaiting that opening and the rush of adrenaline that will propel them ever so slowly towards some incredible cuisine, prepared by Chef James. Chef James is from Ghana, but more about him in my next blog.

And so, with steaming hot plates lined up in a precise regimented fashion, just like soldiers, the 5PM deadline arrives and one by one, some of San Jose’s neediest arrive, just in time to feed their bellies at the end of yet another lonely day out on the streets of a city that tries to care and tries to assist, but as yet, has not found a solution to curb what is quickly becoming, an epidemic!

With all of the available food eaten, all their plates cleaned and all my goodbye’s said, it was back out into the cold, yes San Jose can get cold in November, and off to eat dinner at 5 Guys.

Pulling out of my parking spot and heading south towards The Plant, I made a left tun into the shopping Mall and was suddenly struck by a line of a different kind. Hundreds of people were both standing and sitting, along the curbside that led up to Best Buy’s front door. The line must have gone for about 200 yards, each person wrapped up and looking ready to stand in this line for a very long time indeed. Some had coffee, others could be seen drinking from small metal flasks, and just like the homeless line I’d left 3 minutes prior to arriving here, there seemed to be an air of anticipation on each and every face. I parked and walked back to inquire as to what exactly was going on, and there, right in front of me in big bold letters on a sign standing right in front of Best Buy door, I received my answer. PS4, ON SALE AT MIDNIGHT! The words hit me with a bang! No Way!!! No Fucking way! ‘These people must be mad’ I thought to myself. It’s 5 45 PM and they are lining up to get a Play Station 4? Where is the sense in that??

It proved to me once again how screwed up we are as a civilization. About two blocks away there lay 300 or so lonely souls, unable to get a job, unable to get a home and unable to afford anything to eat. Penniless, they stand every night in the hope there will be enough food to go round to feed all of them. And here, at Best Buy, the contrast was staggering. 300 odd morons, lined up to splash out $500 plus on a game center that doesn’t go on sale for another 6 hours! Madness. If only we could learn where our priorities should lie? If only the world made sense and if only there was a way to feed and clothe those who have so little with some of the money from those who have too much! If only we could achieve our goals to personal fulfillment by helping those who have no chance of ever achieving a personal goal. Finally, if only God had created men equally, (obviously a slight misjudgment on his part), then perhaps, and just maybe, happiness and sincerity would reign supreme in a world that seemingly cannot get over it’s dog eat dog image! PS4 will sell and make Microsoft millions of dollars,and good luck to them! EHC-Lifebuilders could use those millions of dollars to feed tens of thousands for a very long time period indeed. There are currently over 2.5 million homeless people in the United States. Their average age?? 9 years old. YES 9 years old. Do you think any of those who are 9 years of age and homeless would ever receive or indeed get the opportunity to play on a PS4, let alone buy one? Do you know how much that $500 would mean to them and what they could do with it? And lastly, having been homeless and having received an opportunity to be relieved from homelessness, should, God willing, that ever be the case for any of them, do you think they would ever lose sight of what they had been through in life and join that 6 hour wait to buy a new Play Station?? Never! Why? Because they understand, there are more important things in life.

And A Dog Came Too

Cindy was her name, carried in a baby stroller, assisted somewhat ably by her owner. Molly, a little old grey haired lady, about 75 years of age, perhaps older, pushed Cindy into the room. Molly was wearing the same clothes as I remember from my last visit just two weeks ago, and perhaps the same as the visit before that. Molly only has one set of clothes and she only had one mission tonight. She had to get her dinner, and feed Cindy too. At the Bocadero center run by EHC LifeBuilders, they don’t feed dogs, only people, but Molly, unperturbed, split her meal with her closest companion, spooning out some ham on a separate plate and then letting Cindy do her best to gobble it up in seconds. Molly watched, looking tentatively at the rest of the food sitting on her plate, which by now was turning cold. I could see by the look on her face that she would have preferred to give Cindy the lions share, but Molly knew that this was her only chance to eat until 5 PM tomorrow afternoon. And so, with a hand that shook and a smile that by now had vanished, she picked up her fork and tried to reason with herself that Cindy was going to be OK with her small ration until they once again frequented the dining hall tomorrow.

Once finished, Molly stood, got behind her stroller and vanished back into the dorm room where both she and her dog would bed down for the night. Molly was grateful to have a bed. Molly was grateful to have Cindy, but most importantly, Molly knows that without the help and donations from people like you and I, both she and Cindy would be lying out on the cold streets of San Jose tonight, alone, frightened and definitely hungry.

Please do what you can http://www.ehclifebuilders.org/donate-today/ 

It’s not just Molly and Cindy. There are tens of thousands of Molly’s out there, not all of them have dogs, but ALL of them have a basic need, the need to survive!

A gipsy woman with her dog in a street of Rome