This letter and the one to follow are about Miss Elizabeth. I have found her to be a highly compassionate being who has experienced much homelessness and suffering herself – (she pointed out just today a street corner/alley way she would sleep in as “it was a high traffic area and I would be safe when I slept”) who became a homeless advocate in New Orleans. She felt called to move down to the 9th Ward and serve with Common Ground. She was with them from August of 2006 until Friday April 20th, 2007 when this story takes place. This story is not about the problems with Common Ground or Habitat for Humanity Nola, although problems relating to how long term staff were treated in these 2 specific instances, come to light in this letter.
Bob, who this letter is written to, is someone I met who was volunteering at Common Ground. He has website I would recommend where he documents in film and writing about his experiences. http://thegreatestyearofmylife.com/frameset.asp
My intention in publishing this letter and one other letter concerning Miss Elizabeth is twofold. 1. To advocate on the behalf of the people who were “long-term” volunteers 3-6 months at least who were not receiving any pay or stipend for their service who were so wrongly treated in the way they were asked to leave and to help those who volunteer "long-term" to understand that even the best intentioned organizations can fall short of the ideals and goals they set in disaster situations. 2. Most importantly, my hope is that those who read of Miss Elizabeth might hold her in their hearts and also the many who are here helping selflessly in an area with so much suffering and pain.
It is important to note to the people who come here to volunteer come for a week or two that they may never get involved in the politics and that they have no worries of this happening to them. And at the same time, it is important to be aware that politics exists in charitable situations simultaneously with the good work and moral support they give to the community.
April 21, 2007
Hey Bob -
I want to share some sad news with you about Miss Elizabeth and Common Ground.
I was with Miss Elizabeth all day yesterday (Friday). I was with her because she called and asked for my help. She had called the other day on the same matter but on that particular day, she thought it had been resolved, but she found out yesterday that it was not.
The "Collective" at Common Ground "threw out" Miss Elizabeth and a handful of other people.
Now as a "Collective" they voted on this and did what they thought was right. And they had every right to do so.
What I felt they did absolutely, positively, callously wrong, was related to the fact that they who serve the poor and homeless - "threw out" homeless people - with an hour or so to get their belongings together and get out. One such person was someone who was mentally challenged and could not properly take care of herself in the "outside" world.
I also feel very strongly that how they did what they felt was right to do on behalf of the "Collective", was done in a manner which seemed to me to be spiritually, ethically, and morally wrong, especially in the case of Miss Elizabeth
Even the little I know of her informs my heart that she deserved a better leave taking.
You have seen how she has given of her self to the people of the community and those who volunteered at Common Ground. And whilst anyone who has met her knows that good boundaries were not her strong point - throwing her out after months of selfless service and devotion to Common Ground and the community without hotel money for a few nights, or even a small stipend of gratitude to get on her feet - let alone a day or two to get her things together - seemed to me be very callous and ethically erroneous.
I was with her during the whole day as I watched her belief in the righteousness of Common Ground, Malek and Miss S especially (they started Common Ground), crumble before her in her being avoided by Malek. Eventually, after Malek told her many times he would get back to her - he was too busy to speak with her throughout the day during her time of crisis - he promised he would call her back when she spoke to him at 6 p.m. As it was getting close to 8 p.m., I insisted she call him (my intention in doing so was to create a scenario in which he had to show up or show his true colors) unfortunately for Malek, his true colors were that he forwarded his phone messages to Brandon's line who does Common Grounds public relations work and it was a painfully clear message to Miss Elizabeth he had not intention of speaking to her.
And here is the thing Bob, by that time of the day she had come to the decision that it was best for her to leave, she had just wanted to speak to Malek to have a clean ending between them and to let him know that she cared for Common Ground and that there were things happening there that could in the end, bring shame upon his name and the good works of Common Ground in the community. She knew there was nothing Malek could do for her as the "collective" had voted and the decision was final but Malek and Sharon had led her to believe through the same events happening the other day, that when it came to Miss Elizabeth, they had her best interests at heart and would be there for her. She found out as the day unraveled before her, that this was an illusion. She was being until the very end, loyal to Malek and Miss S and the Collective, wanting to protect him and those whose needs are served by the collective.
It was heartbreaking to watch in that moment, when she heard the Malek had forwarded his calls to Brandon's phone life, the see the pain on Miss Elizabeth's face and in her eyes, to see her heart break at his betrayal.
She is packing today, I kept her out of Common Ground yesterday as I felt she should leave there with dignity - and not be "thrown out with an hours notice". And when I dropped her off last evening, they "collective" was sitting out front together on the front steps, something I had never seen before, all of them together (not Brandon). A few walked away inside as soon as the saw it was Miss Elizabeth getting out of the car, and of those who stayed, she was asked by one of them where she was staying that night and she said "in my room", "I will be packing and leaving on Saturday". She invited them to call the police if they had a problem with her staying in her room and leaving on her terms - with dignity – an offer, which they declined to take her up on.
I have spoken with her this morning, and she is packing with thoughtfulness and care. She will be moving her belongings to stay in Mrs.G’s shed for an unknown amount of time. I continue to feel called to help Miss Elizabeth during her transition from Common Ground to maintain her dignity.
Today she seems to be stronger, her heart is in great pain, and her mind and spirit, although in turmoil, still trying to grasp the various betrayals of the last 24 hours, has begun taking the necessary steps as she transitions into the limbo state of not-knowingness, getting her belonging into a safe place, and getting to the French Quarter to earn some money through her tarot readings. Which, she did not even have the bus fare to get to the Quarter as she has been serving at Common Ground without a stipend. I gave her the only cash I had, $5 and a calling card I had stashed in my wallet. Others who love her dearly are helping her to move her belongings.
You know Bob, I thought more of Common Ground. I had been aware of this same type of event happen to a few "long-term" volunteers at Habitat for Humanity just a few weeks ago, the same type of callous "throwing out" of the volunteers with hours notice and no money for a hotel room or thanks for their months of usually very co-dependent (giving too, too much) service. Yet, I thought Common Ground might be different, that they cared about the homeless. Which I sure they no doubt do - but my perceptions is that it isn't a blanket concern - personalities seem to dictate the level of care they have for certain homeless people.
I understand why they did what they did, and I agree with Collective’s absolute right to do so. It was the horrible way in which they did it, and to so many, but most especially, to Miss Elizabeth.
Hey, thanks for listening Bob, I didn't realize how much watching experiences of ethical and moral corruptness of various participants in organizations I had such great respect for has hurt my heart also, even though I have only been a second hand witness to these events to those at Habitat for Humanity NOLA and now to those at Common Ground.
What was it that Miss Elizabeth would say, "they are committing injustices in the name of ending injustice".