John Mellencamp Records PSA for World Homeless Day!

Image credit: Rollingstone.com

Check it out:  John Mellencamp has recorded a PSA for World Homeless Day, the brainchild of my good friend and esteemed colleague, Jon Glackin (aka “Beat on the Street”).  Congratulations, Jon (and thank you to Mr. Mellencamp)!!!  World Homeless Day, an international initiative “thinking outside of the cardboard box”, is coming to a city near you on 10-10-10 (catchy, huh?)  Learn more and find out what you can do to help at http://worldhomelessday.org!  It’s truly astounding; the people that Jon has somehow been getting on board.  I’ve been told that HBO and Oprah picked up on it and will be broadcasting a show about WHD.  My mind is blown.

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An existential metaphor for my futile existence. Or, you know, just an adorably heartrending turtle. "Almost there...yeeeesssss...FREEEEEEDOOOOOM! (Aw, fuck)."

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Also, I sold my engagement ring today.  I was lowballed for much less than I’d hoped (and my asking price was already waaaaaaaay below the appraisal value), and it made me a bit sad to watch the guy walk away with it, but at least I’m unburdened of it and it’s on to greener pastures with somebody who will love and cherish it (I hope).  Now I just need to sell my ex’s Georgian ring, and it’s all outta sight, outta mind.   *adds mental note to the to-do checklist*  What can I say?  Beggars can’t be choosers.  Times are tough.

But right this moment (caution: vanity full-steam ahead), the first thing I want to do is color my hair.  Finances have been tight and since I’ve practically been a shut-in while finishing the book, it took the backseat to more pressing, if less fun, issues…like, you know, food.  My poor hair; falling casualty to practicality  :-\  I don’t think I’ve ever gone 3 months without coloring my hair since I started dyeing it when I was 9.  So to me, my roots are disproportionately horrifying and must be vanquished at all costs, but the friend who cuts my hair assures me that it’s not all that noticeable, since there are red tones in my natural dirty blonde hair.  Sage said the same thing, so I guess that’s consolation.

I’m also a bit puzzled, since my stylist friend said she spotted several gray hairs this time around.  I’m kind of hoping that she’s wrong and mistaking “blonde” for “gray”, but she’s adamant.  So, great.  Stress has driven me to premature aging!  Seriously, 25-year-olds are not supposed to go gray.  What am I, Steve Martin?  In any event, it doesn’t really bother me as much as you might suppose.  I mean, I’ve been pretty damn committed to my redheadedness for over a decade and a half.  Other than this isolated incident, when do I ever get the chance to see my natural hair color?  NEVER.  I’m on that shite almost as soon as it sprouts, even if I’ve had to hide in a gym bathroom for an hour to do it.  Actually, to be perfectly frank, up until now I wasn’t even completely sure what my natural hair color was anymore.  So who gives a fuck if I’m secretly a little old lady underneath?  Nobody will ever know, not even me.  I’ll be rocking the red hair all the way to my grave.  Even if it comes out of a bottle, way too much of my self-identity is wrapped up in my Titian tresses.

I'm back!

"Homeless: The Motel Children of Orange County", airing on HBO this Monday (permission granted to use promotional material on this blog)

OK, so I know I’ve taken a month off, and you might not believe me, but I really needed it (in my defense, I have been working – mainly on business plan-related stuffness, just not on the blog.  Oops.)  The book is currently going through the refining/editing process and there are lots of little tweaks to be made, and it’s also been the worst heat wave in SoCal for who knows how long.  I’m serious, there have been days here where the heat reached 115 degrees, and the swamp coolers don’t seem to be working all that effectively in that kind of heat.  I don’t do well in the heat, and that just kind of makes me want to sprawl out like a fried eel, twitch a little, and die.

But things are better now, heat is abating a bit, and I’m feeling in a much better frame of mind!  So, without additional fanfare, here are some links for you, my lovely loyal readers:

Homeless Californian man breaks into closed-down bar, re-opens it, and sells drinks.  I’ve gotta admit, this one is my favorite.  No, I don’t advocate violating liquor laws, trespassing on private property, etc.  It can and will get you arrested, as you’ll read.  BUT, this guy is epic.  It takes vision and creative thinking to do what he did (OK, and also desperation and a set o’ big brass balls.  But still.)  He lasted for FOUR DAYS before he was busted.  That’s oddly brilliant.

Andrea Star Reese photographs underground homeless living in Harlem.  Check out the photoblog.  What I really loved about this story was how much respect and dignity Reese treated these people with.  She took a long time to slowly gain their trust, never photographed them without explicit permission, and never did so in an exploitative manner.  She established lasting friendships with them and allowed their humanity to rise to the surface.  She also uses aliases for their protection.

“Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County” documentary.  I’m an Orange County native, so this really hits home for me.  The documentary explores the interesting dichotomy – one of the wealthiest counties in California, with more bajillionaires per capita than almost anywhere…with over 30,000 homeless children, many of them living out of motels.  The documentary is premiering this Monday, July 26th, on HBO.

Panera Bread opens a St. Louis, MO nonprofit community café where customers pay only what they can afford.  That’s right, they’re on the honors system.  Homeless and needy people pay nothing at all, and others are trusted to donate what they can afford.  Watch the video; it’s pretty amazing!  Panera Bread is planning to open two more community cafés within the next two months.

And of course, the Obama administration has unveiled a plan for ending homelessness.  They say that their goal is to wipe out family and child homelessness within 10 years, and chronic homelessness/veteran homelessness within 5 years.  Which is all fine and dandy, but the lack of details leaves me a bit cynical, to be honest.  How are they going to achieve this?  And what are homeless people supposed to do in the meantime?  1 year is hard enough.  What do they do for the next 5 or 10?  4,000 Section 8 vouches is a start, but to be honest, it’s not going to make all that much of a dent, overall.  I’ll hope that this initiative makes some difference, but again, I’m kind of skeptical.

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Brief self-plug:  I was in Publishers Weekly a few days ago!!! They were interviewing my editor about how Harlequin is expanding its nonfiction line.  True, I was only in 2 sentences, but hey, out of 39 nonfiction books they’re releasing this year and next year, only 4 titles were mentioned, and mine was one of them, so I’m feeling all warm and squiggly.  Also, they have “high hopes” for me!  Wow, no pressure or anything, haha.

Also, I’m apparently going to be in Writer’s Digest magazine (just did the interview today).  I’m not sure when that will be, but when I know the publication date, I’ll let you guys know.  I’m going to be brave (or foolhardy) and put my complete ignorance out on display:  Is Writer’s Digest like Reader’s Digest, but for writers?   :-\  Update:  Readers, Facebook friends, and the interviewer himself have all e-mailed me to say that Writer’s Digest is apparently a BFG (Big Feckin’ Deal).  So, woot!

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Disclaimer: If you're on the more conservative side, please don't send me hate mail about the album title. I didn't name it, I just like listing to it. It IS (excellent!) ballroom music...

Additional (non-homelessness-related) shameless plug for a friend and all-around nice guy:

So, I won Lee Presson’s new ballroom album by answering a trivia question correctly (yay! I never win anything!!!) and it’s fantabulous and such. You guys should all check it out. Lee Presson and the Nails do quirky/gothic-y/awesomely slightly creepy swing, mostly. But this album puts their unique twist on several other kinds of ballroom, too. My favorite tracks are “The Resurrection Waltz”, “The Mr. Crowley Tango”, and their swing cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” (the album is available on iTunes, but you only get the “Lithium” bonus track if you order directly from Lee’s website at the above link, so I advise going that route!)  Lee’s been having a rough-ish time lately (his beloved car just broke down, etc.) and he could really use the support.  Plus, the album is great listening.  So, yeah…I highly recommend. Buy it ‘n stuff!

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Happy Father's Day (And A Few News Links)

Happy Fathers’ Day to all my readers who are dads, stepdads, adopted dads, father figures, etc.  May your children continue to enrich your lives!

And also, a few quick weekend news links:

Starbucks is offering free, unlimited wireless to all customers starting July 1st! If you’ve read a lot of this blog, you know that I (and many other homeless people) already spent plenty of time in Starbucks, in what seemed to be an unofficial don’t-ask-them-to-leave policy.  But now they’re making it official!  Woot.  For the price of a $1.50 cup of coffee, you too can have an air-conditioned place to groove on a couch all day.  (Also tested and approved for starving college students.)

Sacramento County in California may completely abandon all homeless services within two months, unless more money is scrounged up to add to their budgets.  This will mean shelter beds for 3,000 homeless men, women, and children disappearing, resulting in their being put out on the streets.

And finally, the Associated Press reports that the total number of chronic homeless is down 30% from 2006, but the number of homeless families is up and increasing, as is the length of time that homeless families stay overnight in shelters.

Some Homeless News and a Shameless Plug

So things are pretty slow here.  Book is finished but I’m waiting on them to get through the usual string of legal procedures ‘n all that jazz.  I guess none of the exciting stuff starts until after that.  I’m feeling mighty tired of late, even when I don’t have any reason to be, and I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I have the hypoglycemia that runs in my family (both my mother and sister have been diagnosed with it, and my grandfather has diabetes).  I feel more exhausted than I’ve ever felt in my life, just completely sapped of energy.  I want to get checked out for it but have to wait until I can afford health insurance, yay.

Some interesting articles I’ve come across that pertain to homelessness either directly or tangentially:

Some companies openly admit to ignoring all résumés from unemployed candidates, effectively discriminating against those who have, for instance, been laid off due to no fault of their own.  Or any other reason – and there are dozens of legitimate reasons to be unemployed.  Hell, the long-term unemployed (6 months or longer) have surged to 46% of unemployed individuals during the recession; the highest percentage EVER on record (records date all the way back to 1948).

This isn’t normal.  These people need jobs.  And the hiring companies are rubbing it in their face that they won’t even be considered. Many are including it in the job description advertisements:  ”Client will not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason.”  It doesn’t matter how skilled or qualified you are, you will be discriminated against on the basis of employment status.  One HR representative interviewed in the article is quoted:  ”It’s our preference that they currently be employed…We typically go after people that are happy where they are and then tell them about the opportunities here.

So companies would rather go poaching employees from other companies, employees who are happy where they are, than dip into the masses of qualified unemployed who need to work in order to feed their family, to keep their house.  Yet, I bet these same companies are shaking their heads, tsk tsk-ing about the recession, what a massive effect it’s had on America, and when will it all just end already?  When will the economy right itself?  For shame.  They’re such a huge part of the problem.

I’m shocked that there aren’t laws against this type of discrimination.  Prepare yourself for an increasing number of phony résumés, employers.  That’s all that you’re really accomplishing here.  Hell, if I were unemployed and my only shot at a job that I was fully qualified for was “stretching the truth” and saying that I currently had a job…would I lie?  I’m not going to say I wouldn’t.  Desperation can do that to a person.  I don’t advocate lying, but I can’t say that I would judge any desperate, qualified individual who can work and wants to work, but is being discriminated against due to circumstances beyond his or her control.  It’s disgusting.

On a brighter note, New York City has abandoned its widely-decried plan to charge working homeless people rent for shelter services.  So, that’s something.  Instead, shelter beneficiaries with jobs will be required to set aside a percentage of their earnings every month in a savings account that they will have access to once they leave the shelter system.  This will provide them with accrued savings in the bank once they transition into permanent housing.  It’s still not perfect, but it’s quite a big step, and I like the initiative.

And now for my shameless plug:  I have to sell my engagement ring, and my ex-fiancé’s engagement ring as well.  I’m very conflicted about it, but better that I get it over with.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  Besides, I could always use the money, of course.  So, if anybody out there is interested in antique jewelry, or in engagement rings in particular, please feel free to consider mine – I’ve linked to the eBay listings.  If you’re a serious buyer, please also feel free to email any questions to me at info@girlsguidetohomelessness.com.

The female engagement ring is a French, platinum/gold diamond ring circa 1899-1900, the turn of the century (and the time and setting of Moulin Rouge, one of my favorite movies!)  The year in which it was crafted straddles three of my favorite time periods – the Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Nouveau eras.  It features a center diamond entwined by softly curving diamond-set “vines” that are an excellent example of early Art Nouveau style, which would morph later that decade into the characteristic “whiplash” curves that we think of today.  You can tell that I just love this stuff, don’t you?  Antique style really speaks to my heart, especially Art Nouveau, which is highly derivative of nature and feminity.  The pictures aren’t the greatest, but that’s because I’ve got a crap camera.  For serious buyers, I can attempt to take a video of the ring, which might not be a great deal better, but at least should do a clearer job of capturing the fire of the diamonds.

The man’s ring I haven’t yet listed, but it will probably go up tonight or tomorrow.  I’ll update here once photos are posted and link to the listing.  It is a large Georgian signet ring made of bloodstone (dark green stone with flecks of red), circa 1820-1830.  It’s set in gold and framed by two serpents twined into infinity symbols.  Serpents were Georgian era symbols of love, commitment, fertility, and wisdom.  Bloodstone is known as the “stone of courage” and supposedly revitalizes love, relationships, and friendships.  The stone was also used in healing and protection by the ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, and Greeks.  I don’t particularly believe in any of the new-agey or spiritual stuff, obviously, but it’s fascinating history nonetheless, and that’s what I love the most.

Sooooo…yeah.  Also, both rings will be heavily featured in the book coming out next Fall, so if your future intended is of a literary bent and wants to brag that he or she owns a ring from a book, well, now’s your chance.  Otherwise, it’s just a fantastic ring for history buffs and antique/vintage lovers.  If one of my blog readers purchases it, let me know and I’ll even throw in a free signed copy of the book when it comes out!

OK, shameless plug over.  Now back to your regularly scheduled broadcasting.

R.I.P. Raymond Franz (1922-2010)

Many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses are mourning tonight, myself included.  The author of Crisis of Conscience, Ray Franz, passed away this afternoon from a stroke/brain hemorrhage at the age of 88.

I never had the opportunity to meet Ray, though I had hoped to eventually.  He was a kind, humble man willing to give up everything in his world to walk away from an organization that he discovered was corrupt.

He and I would perhaps have disagreed on theology, but he and his books have done more than anyone else to help recovering JW survivors, and expose the inner workings of the cult from the highest level.  He never sought the limelight, and had only gentle and encouraging words for those who wrote to him, regardless of their religious beliefs.  Though I am not Christian, I believe that Ray Franz was the epitome of what a true Christian should be.

My condolences to his friends, family, readers, and especially his wife Cynthia.

(Happy) Homeless News of the Day – A Large-Scale Recyclable Clothing Program and a Garden

Image credit: New York Times

One from the U.S. and one from the U.K. today!

The New York Times reports that NYC is instigating a program in which convenient recycling bins will be placed throughout the city in order to make it easier to donate used clothing, rather than just throwing it away.  This could potentially double the amount of donations that local homeless shelters receive, right off the bat, and grow even further from there.  Unwearable clothing will be refashioned into “wiping cloths, insulation, and sound-dampening materials for cars, carpet padding or seat stuffing,” while buttons and zippers can be reused on new items of clothing.

This all means that over 90% of what is donated will be kept out of a landfill.  Plus, it’s a much more socially conscious option than, say, shredding old clothes so that homeless and impoverished individuals can’t use them. I commend NYC for taking this initiative!

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You may also know that I’m an “honorary Englishwoman” after staying with my friend Vicki and her daughter Alice in London.  Well, the Chelsea Flower Show is taking place in Battersea Park, right next to her home (I went walking there with her several times).

There’s a formerly homeless, ex-heroin addict named Paul Pulford, aka “Scruffy”, featured on the BBC, along with his group, Grounded, who have taken part in the flower show this year. The group is comprised of current/former/recovering homeless, drug addicts, and those coping with mental illness.

I highly encourage you to watch the video at the link; it’s fascinating to see how a common interest as simple as gardening has helped this man and so many others come together and helped them turn their lives around.  The symbolism of them choosing mainly wildflowers and other unconventional plants that might otherwise be considered undesirable or “weeds” also was not lost on me.  Too many homeless individuals struggling with mental illness, drug abuse, or other horrific challenges are written off as impossible to help.  Scruffy and the Grounded participants prove that this is simply untrue.

You can read more about and see a 3D tour of Grounded’s garden, called Places of Change, here. Please take a few seconds out of your day to vote for Places of Change to win the People’s Choice Award at the Chelsea Flower Show. They came in second last year; I think this is their year to take first prize, don’t you?

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P.S.  Still wading through my inbox; but I have created a Facebook account where readers can follow me, in addition to my Twitter account!  Thanks so much to everyone who’s asked to add my private page on FB, but my personal account is mainly for friends and coworkers that I know…I’m working on getting back to you all and thanking you for your sweet emails, and will be sending the link to the new FB account along in my responses, but in the meantime please feel free to just add me there!

~Bri

Ya Go To Sleep At Night…

…And ya wake up in the morning on the front page of Yahoo! Or at least, that’s what several of the messages in my abnormally-extra-large-wall-o’-emails are telling me.

<——————I made this face, by the way.

Eep.  I will never get used to this when it happens.  Darn all of you awesome internet people with all of your awesome, kind support and awesome friendliness!  ;)

So, welcome to the newbies!  And thank you so much to the ones who’ve commented.  Now, I’ve gotta get to work answering emails!  Letters from homeless people and those needing directions to help/resources get answered first (and I’m even a couple of days behind on those!), so I’m über-sorry if it takes a few more days for me to get back to you!  I totally appreciate all of the kind words, support, and questions.

As always, I love my readers!  :)

~Bri

I'm in U.S. News & World Report

Hey guys and gals,

Quick heads up; I’m mentioned in the intro to Rick Newman’s article, 10 Things We Can’t Live Without, in U.S. News & World Report. The article, he says, is about the “new American essentials that reflect the tension between thrift and materialism”.  He gives a quick synopsis of my story and even mentions the book.

I spoke to Mr. Rickman several months ago and had completely forgotten about it, but I guess the article did end up being published after all!  So check it out!  And if you’ve just found my site via the article; welcome!

~Bri

The Book…Is Done.

Smiling mantis approves this message and applauds your effort.

Well, I can’t believe I actually did it.  The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness book…is finally done.

*Ride of the Valkyries theme*

Done donedonedonedone, Done donedonedonedone, Done donedonedooooooone…

Or at least, the first draft of it is done.  The first 100 pages have received rave reviews from agent and editor, now the rest has been sent off, and I await the feedback.  There will, doubtless, be rewriting required, or trimming, or whatever it is that they do to make a book bloom into existence.  I’m learning it all as I go along.

The completion of the first draft also means that they can move ahead in movie talks, and begin to formulate a screenplay.  I hear there are some brilliant screenwriters eager to come on board, who wrote a fantastic script that made its way onto the 2009 Hollywood Blacklist last year.  Contrary to my gut reaction, it has nothing to do with the McCarthy Era, but is instead a prestigious list of the most liked, as of yet unproduced, screenplays in Hollywood for that year.  Basically, they’re the ones considered on the shortlist to be snapped up and spun into Oscar bait.

So, that’s all exciting.  Although, I must keep in mind, the movie thing could go absolutely nowhere.  Always best not to count your chickens, and such and stuff.

But, the point is, I’ve finished the first draft of the book and I’m very pleased.  Now I can get back to focusing on important stuff like updating my blog more, creating my new network of other websites, and figuring out what to do next with my life.

As always, I greatly adore the readers who put up with me.  *Mwah!*

~Bri

Mother's Day

I would like to recognize my readers on Mother’s Day – not only the mothers, adoptive mothers and stepmothers, but also those (all-too-often forgotten) women who have lost or miscarried a child.  Your baby existed.  You, too, are a loving mother.

I’ll never know the right things to say; perhaps there are no right things to say.  But you are recognized and appreciated.

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When a baby arrives,
be it for a day, a month, a year or more,
or perhaps only a sweet flickering moment-
the fragile spark of a tender soul
the secret swell of a new pregnancy
the goldfish flutter known to only you-
you are unmistakeningly changed…
the tiny footprints left behind on your heart
bespeak your name as Mother.