Friday, March 23, 2012

Sliced bread - and the pits

I recently got a keyless lock on my front door, and I’ll tell you, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

For the longest time, I wished I could have some kind of automatic door - something like the remote control unit that I was given in college to open the door to my dorm and hall. After I got out of school, my father made a key holder with a small piece of wood. I could handle it well enough, but it was always a challenge, a test, to get the key into the keyhole, especially if I was cold. Yes, it always felt good, like a victory, when I got the door open, but it was a pain, and that it took a few minutes or sometimes more pissed me off.

I kept thinking of those keypads where you punch in a code to open a door. Wouldn’t something like that work? But then all of my attendants would need to know the code, and maybe one of them might let it slip out to someone they knew.... More to the point, though, didn’t something like that cost thousands of dollars? I always thought there was no way to afford what I wanted.

This became an actual problem when I got my Vmax speech device a couple years ago. With it mounted on my wheelchair, unlocking my front door was all but impossible. Soon, I left the door unlocked when I went out on my own with the Vmax. Although my neighborhood is relatively quite quiet and safe, I knew this was unwise, if not asking for trouble. It only got worse when, because it was just easier, I began leaving the door unlocked - just this one time - when I left on my own without the Vmax. An occupational therapy appointment last year was no help at all. (I suspect I’m far more independent than any of the other patients seen.)

So, last month, when I complained about this after I returned home to find that an attendant had inadvertently locked the door, it was suggested I look on-line for a keyless door lock. Well, it turned out - hello! - that there were plenty of them, and I found one that, like many, was under $100, probably because it wasn’t marketed to the disabled (the picture in the ad and on the box when I got it showed a woman at a door with her hands full with a baby and a shopping bag). I ordered it on a Wednesday and, with standard postage, got it on Friday.

One of my attendants, who happens to be quite handy with such things, installed it easily that evening (I had also been worried that installation would be another big cost), and my life changed. The unit works on the dead bolt (I no longer use the door knob lock) and works just like a remote car key, with the fob taped onto the armrest of my wheelchair. There is a satisfying buzz and click when it works, and it even works when I’m in my van in the driveway.

I have to say that, for a day or two, I felt sad and even guilty about not experiencing the thrill of victory in unlocking the door with the key, like I was being lazy and giving up, but I’ve been much more thrilled with it now being so much easier to unlock the door. Like I said, the best thing since sliced bread!

But what about my attendants? How do they get in when I’m not here or when I’m in bed? Do they each need a fob, which I have to order at extra cost? No. As I was reminded, there is a back door that they can use and for which I got them keys. Hello!

Unfortunately, I have been unable to use the Vmax, to have it on my wheelchair - the reason I got the keyless lock - for nearly three months. Unlike sliced bread or the best thing since, this is the pits, and the reason is even more so.

My wheelchair broke down when I was out on January 6. Yes, Happy New Year and Happy Epiphany! Having witnessed my doctor signing a prescription for the new chair, which I can tilt back with the push of a button, back in October and having been told that I should get it in January, I called the vendor to see if I would be getting it soon and was told that my doctor’s prescription hadn’t been received. Why didn’t I know about this?... After making a scene (and later finding out that my doctor had signed the wrong form when I saw him in October), it was straightened out, and we are now waiting for Medi-Cal’s approval.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t get my chair fixed, because Medi-Cal is (hopefully) funding the new one. I have been using a wheelchair which I’m very grateful I have access to, but not only is it not the best for my legs and back, its frame is different and can’t accommodate the mount (which costs hundreds of dollars, being, unlike with the keyless lock, marketed for the disabled) I had for the Vmax. I had been told that the new mount for my new chair could fit on the chair I’m using, but when I received it last month, it turned out that it couldn’t.

So I’m enjoying some good sliced bread - or the best thing since - but I’m also having my share of pits.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The homeless with us

The following is my column which appeared in Wednesday’s Claremont Courier. I will add that the memorial walk and service on Sunday for the five (known) homeless men who have died in Claremont was one of the most remarkable and powerful gatherings I’ve been to in Claremont. There were about 50 people there, and, while that may not be many, there was strikingly clear, passionate and eloquent talk about the shame of what this community has done and not done with the homeless.


Gregory Tolliver says he won’t rest until he doesn’t have to keep an eye out for the Phil Greenes in Claremont. He says he will keep speaking up until he knows for sure that no more Phil Greenes show up dead in front of City Hall.

That’s the thing. There are a bunch of Phil Greenes here in Claremont. And Mr. Tolliver and the other Occupy Claremont activists say that we are fools not to acknowledge this.

Phil Greene was the homeless man who was found dead at the doorstep of the City Council chamber one morning in January. He was found dead by Mr. Tolliver, who had spoken with Mr. Greene the night before and had, as he had for the previous month and a half, slept in a tent in front of the chamber. Although his and the other tents are no longer there, Mr. Tolliver and the other Occupy Claremont activists are still making noise and working on behalf of the homeless and others in Claremont struggling with poverty and losing homes.

The activists point out that, while they share the name of the national Occupy movement, their focus is very much on Claremont, and homelessness in Claremont is a primary concern.

Homelessness in Claremont. The fact is that Phil Greene wasn’t the only homeless person living on the streets of Claremont. Not only that - he wasn’t the only homeless person to be found dead on the streets of Claremont.

This past Sunday, in the afternoon, a community-wide service was scheduled at the Claremont United Congregational Church, preceded by a procession through the Village. It was a memorial service for Phil Greene and four other homeless people who died in Claremont over the last four years. That’s five people who died, homeless, on the streets of Claremont in the last four years.

It just so happened that Phil Greene died right at the door of City Hall and right when the Occupy Claremont activists were there. This is probably the only reason why we knew about him. This is no doubt why his death was front-page news.

There were four other homeless people who died in Claremont during the last four years that we didn’t know about, that didn’t hit the front page. But these four deaths shouldn’t really be a surprise, because, as Mr. Tolliver and the other activists have discovered and have reported, there are about 28 homeless people living just in the Village area, within two or three blocks of City Hall.

This is only about a six or eight-block area - a very small, tiny area. It doesn’t include all of the rest of Claremont. There may well be at least a few other homeless people living in Claremont.

But, as with the three others who died, we don’t know about these 28 homeless people living in the Village and the others who are probably living in the rest of Claremont. Most of us don’t see them.

Why don’t we see them? Why are Claremont’s homeless people invisible?
The primary and most simple reason is they clear out during the day. They get up early in the morning and head towards Pomona where they can get services - food, healthcare, perhaps a shower. They return here at night to sleep.

Part of the reason for this is Claremont’s anti-camping ordinance. They don’t want it obvious that they are “camping” here, that they are breaking the law.

Even so, they feel safe here. Claremont is no Pomona, no big city. Claremont is known as a safe, quiet place.

For a homeless person, being safe is what it is all about. A homeless person is constantly on the lookout for a safe, out-of-the-way, “invisible” place. For someone who is so vulnerable and who has nowhere to put clothes, blankets, medicine, cash and, yes, cellphones and watches (after all, homeless people do have lives and the things that that requires), finding a place where they won’t be bothered, where they won’t be hurt and robbed, is critical.

There were those killings of homeless men in Orange County earlier this winter. It is easy to see this as a case of easy pickings, with the men literally being stalked. But, as has been pointed out by the Occupy Claremont activists, it is also the fact that two dozen - that’s 24 - homeless people have been assaulted just in the Village during the last year.

What can we do about this? How can we make these people here, many of whom are mentally ill and need medical help, safer? How can we be sure that there are no more Phil Greenes in our midst who end up dead on our doorstep?

Or do we want to do anything about it? Would we rather just ask how we can make them go away, like with a no-camping ordinance, so that they are someplace else and not here?

These are some tough questions, and it appears that the answers are at least as tough. Nearly ten years ago, the Los Angeles County supervisors came up with the idea of having five regional centers throughout the county where the homeless could go for shelter, food and services instead of ending up on L.A’s notoriously crowded and dangerous skid row. However, there was such an outcry from those who didn’t want the homeless in their area, who said that the services would attract the homeless, that the idea was quietly shelved.

At about the same time, which was also when the City established its original camping ban, a group of Claremonters met a number of times to see what could be done for the homeless here. They eventually came up with a monthly meal program, done in rotation at several Claremont churches. I haven’t heard of these meals being stopped, but neither have I heard much about them going on.

The message is that Claremont shouldn’t attract the homeless. At least, not too much.

And, other than monthly meals, it appears that, in a painful irony, there is, as with Jesus, no room at churches. Several Claremont churches have been asked to open their facilities - rooms, restrooms, even showers in one or two cases - for the homeless to use. But something always comes up about liability. Or something.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It gets around

A very long time ago - when I was in high school, I think - I went to a small film festival here in Claremont and saw a short documentary called “The More They Know.” I remember it featured a man of small stature - a dwarf, as we used to say - who was a ranger in Yosemite National Park talking about how, after their initial shock and amused or bemused puzzlement, people quickly came to respect and admire him in his job. I don’t recall other people in the film, but the point was that when people get to know disabled people, the more comfortable they are with them.

I thought of this when I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about how it is turning out to be easier for people to accept and perhaps support same-sex marriage when it is presented as a matter of love, family and commitment rather than a matter of equal rights. Not only did the article point out that it is harder for people to say no to people that they know in their families or among their friends or even from T.V shows as more and more come out, it cited the recent case of Wade Kach, a Republican lawmaker in Maryland, where same-sex marriage was approved, having a change of heart when he happened to sit by the witness table during a packed committee hearing on the issue.

“I saw with so many of the gay couples, they were so devoted to each other. I saw so much love,” said the House of Delegates member, who is one brave Republican. “When this hearing was over, I was a changed person in regards to this issue.”

(It occurred to me in reading this article that the rebuttal to the inane argument that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and people marrying children and even animals - hey, I’ve seen such an argument being made - is to simply have marriage laws state that “marriage shall be between one man and one woman, one man and one man or one woman and one woman.”)

The message was essentially the same when I saw Dan Savage, who started the “It gets better” video project, speak last week at Claremont McKenna College. (I had a ticket to see the wonderful actress and documentary-playwright Anna Deveare Smith speak at Pomona College, but I’m glad I went to see Mr. Savage instead.) Mr. Savage, a gay man who writes a very popular sex column from an alternative paper in Seattle, spoke with much passion (and more than a little humor) about how many queer youth are rejected by their families and churches, sometimes resulting in suicides, and how the “It gets better” videos, now numbering in the thousands and easily accessible on-line, offer them encouraging role models when they otherwise don’t or can’t, often literally not being allowed to, have access to them.

I have mentioned before how Claremont McKenna College is known as the conservative college in Claremont yet, at its Miriam Miner Cook Atheneum where Savage spoke, has done a remarkable job in hosting diverse speakers (I have written about RuPaul speaking there). When a young woman asked how heterosexuals can have healthier, safer sexual encounters, Savage, who strongly echoed my long-held belief that the anti-gay crusade is really a crusade against having fun and pleasure with sex, advised couples to ask each other the simple, magic question, “What are you into?” Think of all the trouble that would end.

Yes, the more they know....