This morning I couldn’t sleep, so I went to take breakfast to my favorite crew on a job site. As I was making the rounds with the site superintendent, one of our team members mentioned that he hadn’t gotten much sleep either because his sister’s home had been shot up in Eatonville. His nieces were there with his nephew, who almost got hit by one of six bullets that hit the front of their house. When the mother went outside, she saw a person dead with his brains “hanging out” on the sidewalk. Her family had gone to stay with her brother, who was standing with me on this job site at 6 am. Understandably, he couldn’t sleep much last night either.
I finished the rounds and completed my business on site, before heading back to the office. Somehow when I read the business journal, I found it hard to get excited about the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s picture would be appearing on the backside of the new five dollar bill. It doesn’t seem to change things for the people living in Eatonville, and all over the United States, who are waking up to bullet holes in their walls and dead people in their yards.
Last week, I heard of two gang related shootings in West Orlando in one day. A friend of mine who teaches at The Human Experience, a private school that supports at-risk children from some of the worst areas of town, posted this picture on Facebook with two separate stories of gang violence that had impacted his life in twenty-four hours.
One was a student who texted him from his home in Parramore, scared because his street was blocked off and his mother couldn’t get back to him. Their neighborhood was on lockdown from a shooting with six victims. At least one dead. The other was one of the school’s “most intelligent, creative, sweet, and promising former students” who “had to witness her mother being shot.”
My heart is broken for Orlando. God help us all, if we sit by any longer and let this continue to happen to another generation. Stop focusing on the political circus that is the U. S. Presidential elections and open your eyes to the ways you can get involved in your community to help those in need. Donate to the Human Experience. Volunteer as an after school tutor at the New Image Youth Center in Parramore.. Clean up Parramore this weekend with The Orlando Union Rescue Mission. Placing Dr. King or Harriet Tubman’s picture on currency won’t do much to change this reality for black, hispanic, immigrant or poor white communities affected by gang violence all over the country, much less in Orlando. But you can begin to do something to help your community today.
Last year there was a tiny house exhibit at Central Florida Earth Day 2015. Since I had just visited Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon, I naturally wanted to visit. And I took my grandmother with me for a day of quality time strolling around Lake Eola. My preconceived notions led me to believe that the tiny homes would be ideal for chronically homeless individuals; but my grandmother’s stories changed my perspective. They led me to believe that small homes would be perfect for housing homeless families, victims of domestic abuse, single mothers with children, and especially to provide affordable housing for the working poor in general.
While we were looking at one tiny houses that looked like a doll house, Mamita surprised me by explaining that she had raised four children in a room half as small. She would swing two babies in hammocks, while two children slept in bed with her. Some of her children were already grown, and occasionally her drunken husband would come home to rape and impregnate her again. So, sometimes there would be as many as six people in this tiny shack. She would cook on a fire hearth stove in the corner of the room.
Mamita told me about the struggle that was her life – including some stories that I already knew, but still I always listen. She worked as a nanny for a little girl with Down’s syndrome during the day, and sold bus and boledo (lottery) tickets at the depot in the mornings and evenings. Then she would stay up until 12 am hand scrubbing sheets and laundry for a shilling ($0.25) a piece. She stayed up even later to cook food for her children to eat the next day, then woke up at 5:00 am to fold laundry and do it all again. I don’t think she even had days off.
Being the type of person who loves to sleep, I didn’t understand how she could even function on such little sleep. But this is how she raised ten children – in a tiny house, with an abusive alcoholic husband, who was only there some of the time and never helped. My perspective on small homes for the homeless was forever changed that day, as I realized that these structures needed to be so much more than just “better than being homeless.” They needed to be built so well that I would be happy for my grandmother to raise my mother there, and for other working mothers to be able to raise their children out of poverty. They should set a standard of excellence that people will want to see and replicate.
I’m really looking forward to my grandmother visiting again next month. I can’t wait to spend time with her and just listen to her stories. She is such a strong little lady. She will be 86 this year, and she continues to inspire me to be the woman I am today. I am so blessed to have her in my life, and I can’t wait to show her the New Dignity Small Home that my team is building as an affordable housing model.