Wednesday, May 2, 2007

WHAT PRICE... HERO

The first time I met her, I saw unshakabilty, immovability, and unreservedeness in her spirit and personality.

The second time I met her I told her she was my hero. I remarked to her that I felt at 74 she should be enjoying her retirement, that she had paid her dues, raised her kids, went through her own personal storms and now she was starting over living in a FEMA trailer, trying to rebuild her home - on her own - without family to take care of her.

Mrs. G lives in the upper part of the 9th Ward. The 9th Ward was totally flooded out. She lost everything she had in her home. Home now consists of living on a nearly empty block of shelled out houses in a FEMA trailer.

The third time I met her, I was in the street talking and saw her a half a block away, seemingly walking in a daze under the street light.


I could intuitively tell by her stance and bearing that something was wrong.

I immediately interrupted my conversation and walked down to her asking "Mrs. G are you all right?"

"Do you have a phone?" she asked me. "Yes, in my car." I ran to get and came back to her, she was standing under the street light.


"I was just robbed, " I went into my trailer and I found that someone robbed me.

"Let me dial and you speak", I said.

She was visibly shaken. The visible opposite of her personality compared to the other times I had seen her.

This was at 9 p.m. at night, Tuesday night. She told the dispatcher that she had been robbed, that she lived in a FEMA trailer and that she needed help. The dispatcher told her that they would send someone right over.

I went into her trailer with her and she said "look what they did to my T.V." "That's how I first knew someone broke into the trailer", "all the stuffed animals I keep on top were shoved off onto the floor and they pulled the antenna out."

"I can fix that" I said to her and went about fixing her T.V. as we waited for a patrol car to arrive.



She was so shaken. So vulnerable. My heart was crying out for her. "Look at what she is trying to do" my heart was saying. She is 74, living in a tin can on a nearly abandoned street, for all means and purposes alone - and she is trying to get her life back together. I had found out the second time I had met her that a contractor had stolen $22,000 of her money promising her to fix her 2 apartment shotgun home. (A type of New Orleans style home - long and not wide)

She told me - they stole my gun. "What gun?" "The one I keep under my pillow at night, they stole it - it is gone".

"Let me look again for you" I said. I looked all around her bed. No gun. "What type of gun was it ?" She replied "a 38 caliber, my husband gave it to me years ago." "I don't have a registration for it - I lost all my papers in the storm."

"What else have they stolen?" I asked her.

"Nothing else, some what-nots" (figurines" were broken, the T.V. antennae broken, it seemed like just the gun being gone. Which worried me so much).

"Would they use it on someone?" I thought to myself. "Would they sell it and would it be used in a crime? Worst of all, would they come back and use it on her?"


An hour had gone by and she was talking with me and I felt I was being called to serve by being a calming presence for her until the police arrived. At the hour point I am thinking, "this is ridiculous, where are they?" So I called again.

"I am sorry ma'am" the dispatcher says to me, "we have no record of a call being put in for the address you have given".

"But I was here as she called it in" I said to the dispatcher.

"Sorry ma'am". "Well, can you send out another car there was a robbery here and she is elderly and living in a FEMA trailer alone".

"Will you be with her ma'am until the police officer arrives?" "yes", I said, "I will stay with her".

This night lasted until 5:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. That is when a police officer called us back - we ended up, between us, calling the police until 1:30 p.m. - 5 times. Katz from Common Ground up the street, called at least 4 times.

I even told the dispatcher, "listen, she is elderly and alone on an empty street in a FEMA trailer and they took her gun, her only protection". NOTHING. There was no response from police.

I couldn't leave her. She was afraid - her gun was gone, she had an old 32 with one bullet in it that hadn't been shot in years."


I went up the street to Common Ground who has a skeleton crew stay at St. Mary of the Angels Catholic School (now that they have moved away a majority of their services and activities from this neighborhood and into the Lower 9th - sad for this neighborhood as they feel abandoned) and told the guys on security what had happened.


You see, in the upper 9th ward, Mrs. G has garnered a lot of respect for her strength, courage and community activism in years past and when the guys had heard what had happened to her, they got together and put their security crew outside - up the street from her trailer - the guys were pretty upset someone robbed Grandma G. Then a local man who knows Mrs. G and helps her out sometimes, heard about what happened and positioned himself outside her FEMA trailer for some hours during the night - vigilant - in his concern for her. Eventually I sent him home as it didn't make sense that we were both sitting awake watching over her. He came back at 6:00 a.m. to relieve me.

"K" who is a long term volunteer from Common Ground, whose father is a lawyer, came down and figured out how whomever got into the trailer did so, found another figurine outside and called the police dispatcher again - no holding back - telling the dispatcher, "she is elderly, in a FEMA trailer and needs your help asking, where are you guys?" and telling them he would be reporting what happened at a local civic meeting this week. "K" brought her back a flashlight and batteries. He tried to do as much as he could for her.

Mrs. G was able to go to sleep because she was exhausted and because felt safe enough with me there. Later in the night, Augie came and sat outside and one of the security guys from Common Ground came down and gave her a walkie talkie to use which would help her feel less alone. This was before I knew I was going to be spending the whole night up watching over her - this is when we thought the police would arrive within an hour or two. She had a feeling about who might have stolen her gun (and later on Wednesday morning I found out this person also stile $300 from Miss Elizabeth who stays in the unfinished house behind the FEMA trailer, when I was taking her to work).

I told the security guys at Common Ground who are friends of mine about her suspicions, just not quite believing this person could do this to her.

Neither could she, as she would say "he calls me Grandma G". Then in the next moment she would say, "I know it was him that stole from me. I know it."

So I went and told the guys at security and later on Wednesday, one of the men in the neighborhood saw her gun, as the person who stole it, sold it for $35. This man had stolen her gun and $300 from Miss Elizabeth, who was staying in the empty unfinished house behind the FEMA trailer Miss G stays in - Miss Elizabeth who was saving her money to move into a space of her own as she is homeless. So much sufferation...

During the night when Mrs. G and I were talking, before she went to lie down and sleep for awhile, she began praying that "Jesus would help her and bring her gun back to her." He answered her prayers by the next day. The guys in the neighborhood that know her got her gun back to her.

I called Mrs. G the next morning after I drove back to my apartment - into another reality that has some of the trappings of 'safety' to it - I said to her, "this is no way for you to be living." "To be living in a place where you are robbed, ripped off, and you have to sleep with a gun to feel safe."

"I know, I know, she says, but I care about this community. I want to see it come back."

A Post Script... The "smaller" pictures of homes are Mrs. G's immediate neighbors.



WHAT PRICE... HERO (Part 2)
The week of May 18th 2007

The stress of living the way she is really seems to be taking its toll on Mrs G. She is, for all intents and purposes a strong willed and opinionated woman - with a heart of gold. Yet this week, I have seen signs in her personality and body language which worries me. I brought over a journalist to speak with her and watched in amazement as she seemed dazed, unable to remember facts, and dates. She seemed confused. C - the journalist, told me he had seen this before in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) sufferers. Being that he himself is an Iraqi war vet that was a medic, I am going with him on this.

It makes perfect sense. She no longer sleeps on her bed in her FEMA trailer. She now sleeps on the little couch - bench like in design, that is situated on the wall facing the door. This way she tells me, that if someone tries to come in when she is sleeping, she can be ready with her gun to protect herself.

On Thursday, a woman living in the abandoned house next store to Mrs. G's was almost raped. When she ran away, the man robbed her of the money she kept with her belongings in the abandoned house. This really stressed out Mrs. G she began to talk even more seriously about giving up trying to rebuild and get out.


There was some good news for her for her on Tuesday from Sarah and Stu who are with Plenty International http://www.plenty.org/ - they have 8-10 volunteers coming to rebuild and the volunteers have fund raised enough to purchase most of the rebuilding materials. This great news kept Mrs. G up for a day, but then the reality of the everyday life in the abandoned Upper 9th Ward, began to get to her spirits again. I would say to her "Mrs. G only 5 days until the volunteers come. This is just the darkest hours before the dawn". Then as Mrs. G is very committed to her faith, I would say to her, "Why don't you pray?" And she would respond, "I am going to claim it in the name of Jesus". And she would make it through the night or the rest of the day. You see, she has been betrayed so often, it is hard for her to have any reality connected to Sarah and Stu and the volunteers coming. It is hard for her to believe that it really will come true.

A day later she called me at about 8:30 at night to tell me that a car was on fire 3 doors down the street. She called the police. The burned out shell is still sitting there.

I found out about the Council on Aging and Meals on Wheels, through meeting Katy at Covenant House - what an awesome, overworked - stretched to limits organization, that really helps the poor. Katy's office is a corner of a hall with a screen in front of it for privacy. I believe she is the only social worker there and her case load is enormous. When I met Katy, I was dropping someone off for a medical intake appointment,. By the time I left Katy's presence I had medicaid forms, food stamp forms, phone numbers of contacts and most importantly, the number for Meals on Wheels. For Mrs. G and the other 'senior citizens' I have been meeting that could use a hot cooked meal.
Unfortunately for the locals in the Upper 9th Ward, Common Ground has stopped feeding the homeless and poor and I am keenly aware that the seniors that I have met, do not like to cook on the gas stoves in the FEMA trailers, there have been too many fires. So I thought I would have her contact Meals on Wheels. Which turned out to be the Council on Aging. The folks from the Council on the Aging will be coming to interview her on Monday May 21st to see what help she may be eligible for. It seems she may be eligible for a grant for $700 from Lowes/Council on Aging to help her with supplies for rebuilding.

This news has brought her some hope for a period of time. Even still, the only reality she can comprehend was the suffering around her. A day later, she is looking at the burned out shell of the car and wondering, is it worth it. I say to her, "Just a few more days now and everything is going to be different for you. "

"Mrs. G", I say to her, "why don't you claim it?"

In Peace.



WHAT PRICE... HERO (part 3)
May 23, 2007

Mrs. G was out sweeping and cleaning up the yard of the abandoned house next to her yesterday, she told me, when she saw "a young white man, jump over the fence and go into this house - to steal the copper." (Stealing copper is a whole other story that I wish to share with you at a later date).

"So I went into my trailer and got my gun and went into the house and said to the young man who was stealing my neighbors copper, you come out of there, I have my 38 pistol on you."
She went on, "so I marched him out of the house and down the street towards St. Mary of the Angels, and when we got to the corner, he upped and ran away."
"When I told some of the young men with Common Ground at St. Mary's of the Angels, they laughed " she tells me. (Seemingly, at her bravado).

"I told them not to laugh, I would do the same to them if I saw them stealing."

I am distressed by her story.

Distressed that a 74 year old woman that I care about, has no other protection than her gun in a mostly abandoned neighborhood. Distressed that she went into the house and confronted him, yet proud of her for standing her ground.

Distressed that the next time it might not be some frightened kid.

Proud of her as she told me, "when my neighbors come back, they need that copper piping, I am trying to help them out."


Distressed that the only one that seems to be taking a stand in that neighborhood, even though Common Ground is up the street - is a 74 year old woman with a fuzzy white haired dog and a 38 snub nose pistol.


What price... hero?


In Peace.

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