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Culture of Peace: Peace and our homeless parents

Four weeks ago, my dad (90) returned to his rural home to find the stove on fire. He ran outside to grab the watering hose. In the short time it took for him to return, the fire had spread up the wall, quickly engulfing the ceiling in flames. In a matter of minutes, my parent’s house burned down.

Thankfully, everyone was safe, including my mom (81) covered head-to-foot in soot. However, since they had no insurance, our parents — loved by so many — became homeless.

This tragic story illustrates how easy it is to become unhoused and that homelessness can happen to anyone (even your loved ones) at any time. In addition, every person who is homeless has a unique story to tell about how they got there.

Over the last two winter seasons, I’ve been blessed to work with hundreds of volunteers and guests in Ashland’s winter shelter. I’ve heard many “housed” people say that the homeless should be most interested in getting a job or finding housing. Yes, these are indeed important. However, to Ashland’s unhoused residents, priorties tend to be much more immediate — like “what’s for dinner?” In our freezing cold winter nights, the biggest challenge, they tell us, is “getting and staying warm.”

To my parents, their most immediate post-fire needs were food, clothing and shelter (Maslow’s hierarchy). My brother Mark took dad to a local food bank. Goodwill donated clothing. Red Cross provided money for a hotel for two nights; family covered costs of the next two weeks at a hotel nearby.

Homelessness is a unique “call to action” opportunity for communities like Ashland’s to unite as “one” in peace and love around our most vulnerable.

According to Merriam-Webster, one definition of “peace” is “harmony in personal relations.” I appreciate harmonious relations with my four brothers throughout my lifetime and now more than ever. We frequently meet by teleconference and communicate by email and Facebook. We address mom and dad’s greatest challenges, such as how to get mom approved for Medicaid and how to get mom into a nursing home ASAP. It’s a catch-22 situation: we can’t apply for Medicaid quickly unless mom is enrolled in a nursing home; we can’t get mom enrolled unless she has Medicaid.

Fortunately, a GoFundMe campaign for her grandparents set up by Jessie generated enough donations to cover “private pay” out-of-pocket expenses to actually enroll mom in a nursing home through the end of next month, as well as cover costs of an expert paralegal to help us with mom’s Medicaid application.

Even though we rally behind our parents, their aging has not always been harmonious. For example, mom would not give up her driver’s license until she turned the wrong way on the freeway, ran out of gas, and was discovered by a policeman. Luckily, she listened to this non-family authority telling her that she shouldn’t be driving. Now, she wanders on foot.

Thank God for good-timed humor. I smile during our calls when a brother cracks a joke and diffuses the tension with corny, light-hearted absurdity, a family trait.

Another definition of “peace” is “freedom from disquieting emotions.” Grief was the first disquieting emotion to emerge for me. In fact, waves of grief began bubbling up inside for two days before the fire even happened.

I can’t imagine the sense of loss that mom and dad must be experiencing. The day after the fire, when I asked mom how things were going, she replied, “It’s kinda hard.” That’s the deepest feeling I’ve heard from her ever. I appreciate her vulnerability.

My heart goes out to my father who usually says he’s “fine” but appears to soften as he ponders living without his wife who has been by his side for 65 years, as well as losing his home and being alone. I appreciate his uncharacteristic vulnerability.

While it’s not easy to see anyone go through the traumatic experience of homelessness, I appreciate how peace keeps showing up through “harmony in personal relations” and “freedom from disquieting emotions” connecting us through our vulnerabilities and human frailty.

Join me in sending love and peace to mom, dad AND all unhoused parents everywhere and their families! Please support Ashland’s homeless residents. Visit WinterShelters.com!

Phil Johncock is the shelter consultant with Options for Helping Residents of Ashland (OHRA) and chair of the One Site Committee that is finding a single location for Ashland’s winter shelter scheduled to start Nov. 11, 2018. Phil has been a consultant with the Jean Houston Foundation, organizing the eight-day 2016 Social Artistry Leadership Institute that generated over $162,000 for the foundation. Over 400 people attended at least one event connected to the Institute; 100 leaders participated in the full eight days from as far away as Nepal. Many refer to the Institute as “life-changing.” Email comments and questions to ashlandcpc@gmail.com. The ACPC website is www.ashlandcpc.org; like the commission on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AshlandCultureofPeaceCommission; follow twitter.com/AshlandPeace on Twitter. All are welcome to join the ACPC’s Talking Circle at 11 a.m. each Tuesday and Community Meeting at 4 p.m. each Wednesday, both at the ACPC office, 33 First St., Suite 1, diagonally across Lithia Way from the Ashland Post Office.

Phil Johncock