The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

The Roots of War March 31, 2008

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,Buddhism,peace,Vietnam — Karen Shafer @ 6:30 pm

Our youngest granddaughter, now three years old, was born in Vietnam. Knowing and loving her has given us all a special interest in this beautiful country and its history, as did coming of age during the Vietnam War.  KS


The Roots of War

“In 1966, when I was in the U.S. calling for a ceasefire to the war in Vietnam, a young American peace activist stood up during a talk I was giving and shouted, “The best thing you can do is go back to your country and defeat the American aggressors! You shouldn’t be here. There is absolutely no use to your being here!”

He and many Americans wanted peace, but the kind of peace they wanted was the defeat of one side in order to satisfy their anger. Because they had called for a ceasefire and had not succeeded, they became angry, and finally they were unable to accept any solution short of the defeat of their own country.

But we Vietnamese who were suffering under the bombs had to be more realistic. We wanted peace. We did not care about anyone’s victory or defeat. We just wanted the bombs to stop falling on us. But many people in the peace movement opposed our proposal for an immediate ceasefire. No one seemed to understand.

So when I heard that young man shouting, “Go home and defeat the American aggressors,” I took several deep breaths to regain myself, and I said, “Sir, it seems to me that many of the roots of the war are here in your country. That is why I have come. One of the roots is your way of seeing the world. Both sides are victims of a wrong policy, a policy that believes in the force of violence to settle problems. I do not want Vietnamese to die, and I do not want American soldiers to die either.”

The roots of war are in the way we live our daily lives — the way we develop our industries, build up our society, and consume goods. We have to look deeply into the situation, and we will see the roots of war. We cannot just blame one side or the other. We have to transcend the tendency to take sides.

During any conflict, we need people who can understand the suffering on all sides… We need links. We need communication.

Practicing nonviolence is first of all to become nonviolence. Then when a difficult situation presents itself, we will react in a way that will help the situation. This applies to the problems of the family as well as to problems of society.”

                                                                        ~~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step, “The Roots of War”

[see previous entry from this author, “Meditation on Love,” 3/11/08]


Guest Writers From the Street? March 29, 2008

Filed under: Christianity,healing,homelessness,hunger,inspiration,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 1:08 pm

I have long wanted to have guest writers on this blog — especially people who live on the street — but never got down to figuring out how to implement it. Perhaps this will be the way!

Today I received this comment on ‘Blogger Profile’ from my friend, Reagan, with whom I work on Friday nights at the Day Resource Center. She is one of a very dedicated group of people from Northwest Bible Church, who bring dinner to over 200 homeless individuals every Friday and have done so for many years.

These people do much more than serve dinner, however. They befriend street people in a very personal way, pray with and for them, and many of their number support homeless individuals quietly and without fanfare, helping them in countless ways with transportation, doctor visits, clothing needs, paperwork issues, and, above all, love, support and genuine friendship. The word ‘volunteer’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. They enter into real relationship and commitment with people from the street. [Website:]

“Hi, Karen-

I’ve been thinking about you lately and have missed you the last couple of weeks at the DRC Friday nights! 

I met a woman tonight, Sherry, who lives on the street and writes about her experiences. Prose and poetry, and I really enjoyed hearing some excerpts. Do you know a way or a connection so that her stuff might be read? either on a blog or in a publication? Just a thought.


“Hi, Reagan,

It’s great to hear from you. I’ve missed being there on Friday nights the past few weeks, but will be coming next week.

I would love to invite Sherry and other people who live on the street to write guest posts on this blog! What do you think?  Leave it to wonderful you to help create another level to this blog which I had in the back of my mind when I began it but hadn’t thought how to implement! Synergy and Spirit, eh?

Blessings! — which you and the amazing Friday night crew from Northwest Bible Church bring in spades to our friends at the Day Resource Center!



Ups, Downs, and Blessings March 28, 2008

Filed under: homelessness,hunger,inspiration,mobile soup kitchens — Karen Shafer @ 8:06 pm

       “Joy is the secret gift of compassion. We keep forgetting it and thoughtlessly look elsewhere. But each time we return to where there is pain, we get a new glimpse of the joy that is not of this world.”
                                                                                                            ~~Henri Nouwen, Here and Now

Journal Archives
Saturday, 2/14/04

Ups and Downs

The mobile soup kitchen feeding run last Thursday night was exhilarating and depressing, both in the extreme. It was very cold, and several people at the first and second stops (beside bridges on Industrial Boulevard) lacked even the basics for staying warm.

We had two new volunteers from Centex Corporation; they were wonderful and seemed to be very moved by the experience. When we finished the run, both said they’d never done anything quite like it, even though one of them had previously volunteered in a homeless shelter. They plan to get more involved.

At our first stop, I got off the truck to talk to people — mostly day laborers, the working homeless: one man’s a former university professor. There several people didn’t have any socks, hats, or gloves. A couple of us gave away our stocking caps, but we didn’t have any spare socks.

At the next stop, a young man, who had only been on the street for twenty-four hours, told me he was just so cold he could barely think: he was wearing a thin shirt and a light denim jacket. We had some donated clothes to distribute, but nothing warm, so I gave him my fleece pullover. It’s hard for people to think of the next step in getting their lives together when all their attention’s focused on the cold.

At the third stop, there was Robin, who’s about six months pregnant. I’m going to bring her some prenatal vitamins next week, but, hopefully, by the time the baby comes, she’ll be off the street.

One piece of good news is that Daniel, a homeless man who often rides the truck with us and helps us serve, is now employed. He went to work for one of the volunteers who owns a roofing company. Although we miss him on the truck — he’s a great organizational force as well as being very funny and brilliantly political — it is great news that he has a job.

It’s hard to imagine the level of need that’s out there in our own backyards, so to speak, especially in the cold. The people we feed are so grateful, so loving, and the mix is surprising — many who’ve been out there a long time and some who could be your next-door neighbor. As another volunteer said to me recently, “You can clearly see that many of these people are just one step away from being able to put together a normal life.”


When I awoke Friday morning after the Thursday night run, it was with an extreme awareness of my blessings, large and small. Although I generally try to stop and smell the roses, that morning I felt intensely the joy of having a beautiful white lace curtain across my French doors which I could tie back with a piece of gold Christmas cord. The simple act of putting a pan of water on the stove for a cup of tea was a cause of great pleasure, so fortunate did I feel for having cup, pan, tea, water, stove, kitchen and home. The blessings of this work are very great, the disappointments notwithstanding. I only wish all my peeps out there on the street had their own dwellings to cherish as much as I cherish mine.



Unfold Your Own Myth March 26, 2008

Filed under: healing,inspiration,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 9:41 pm

“Unfold your own myth,
without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
‘We have opened you.’ ”

                                  ~~Rumi, Sufi Poet

(Credit to Dr. Gail Thomas, Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, Lecture Notes, “The Power of Myth and the Healing Traditions”, 3/26/08)


Fellow Countrychildren March 24, 2008

This link is from the Co-Grandmother of our three grandchildren, Nancy (married to Steve.)

I hope you’ll look at all the screens, but then go to Screen 3 and click on ‘Street Vision’. These are our youngest grandchild’s fellow ‘countrychildren’ in Vietnam.

When my daughter and son-in-law went to Vietnam a year and a half ago to bring our granddaughter back to her new home in the United States, they fell in love with her first home and country of birth and its beautiful, gracious, loving, peaceful people.

These pictures touch me to the core. Our granddaughter, now three years old, is an angel beyond what we could have ever hoped for or dreamed of, and so are the children in the pictures.



Central Heat March 21, 2008

Filed under: homelessness,hunger — Karen Shafer @ 5:55 pm

Journal Archives
Wednesday, 11/3/04

The central heating in my house went on the blink five days ago, at the start of the first cold snap of the season. After having a lot more problems than usual with the my heating system this year, plus two power outages in my neighborhood lasting several days each, I’ve become more aware than usual of my dependence on the ‘mod-cons.’

I called my repairman, John, and he promised to come by the next day. When he arrived and checked out the system, it needed a gas valve, so he said he’d return the next morning after going to the parts store. I considered going to a hotel, but thought, no big deal, anyone can comfortably live three days in a well-insulated house, right? The outdoor temperature was only in the fifties and sixties.

The following morning, I called John early to make sure of the time he was coming, as I knew he was working several other jobs. He said between eleven and twelve. I put on my heavy University of Tennessee hooded sweatshirt and headed to my neighborhood cafe for breakfast and lots of hot, hot coffee. By now, I was feeling chilled to the bone, despite having been warm sleeping under my down comforter. I felt somewhat recovered after eating breakfast snuggled in my sweatshirt.

I went home to wait for John, but he was held up on a large installation. Well, I thought, this is a good excuse to stay home and get ahead on the reading for my night theology class. But, on this third day without warm air consistently blowing on me, all I could think of was how cold I felt. I wanted to read, but a low level yet persistent discomfort possessed my body and mind. I hate daytime naps, but before I knew it, I was cocooned on my sofa under layers of blankets and robes, sound asleep.

When I awoke and learned that John wouldn’t arrive for a couple of hours, I cleaned out the fireplace, gathered sticks from the yard and some logs from the few left in the woodpile, and built a small fire, thinking I should have done this earlier. I could sit by the fire and read, curled up next to my dog, Honey, whose thick coat apparently wasn’t doing it for her either.

Yet I found I couldn’t focus on anything but fire tending: I was completely obsessed with the warmth which the small area around the fireplace exuded. I used the fire tongs to pick up and replace every shred of unburned stick which fell out of the grate; I arranged and rearranged the small logs I’d gathered in order to get the maximum flame; I gazed lovingly at the small pile of embers which were forming in the ashes beneath the fire.

I don’t think of myself as a wimp. I was brought up by a loving but military father. We raised horses, and he considered it an essential part of my upbringing to be out in the freezing dawn, feeding the horses and breaking the ice on their water buckets. I used to particularly love going riding in the snow, despite the fact that the fluffy stuff packed up into stilts under the horses’ feet and you had to keep jumping off to remove them. But this low level of ongoing chill was different, even though it only lasted three days; it seeped into my bones and stultified my mind. It sounds ridiculous I know, but, by late afternoon of this third day, I couldn’t focus on anything except the fact that my veins felt as if they were running with ice water.

I thought of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, of how hard it is to engage in higher-order activities, even like reading a textbook on a cushy couch, wrapped in a blanket, in the light of an electric lamp, when other basic needs aren’t met. I thought of the people who live on the streets of Dallas, and of what it must be like to be cold and hungry twenty-four hours a day, or even twelve, if one was in a shelter at night.

I’ve met some of these people, and they’ve told me about middle-class citizens who drive by in their cars, spit at them, curse at them, and shout at them to “get a job.” I’ve never been inclined to offer them this sort of advice, but, if I had, my experience with my central heating would remind me that it might just possibly be easier said than done when you have no place that is safe, warm and dry to garner your resources.



The Capitalist March 19, 2008

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,homelessness,hunger,inspiration — Karen Shafer @ 5:39 pm

My five-year-old grandson, Louis, has an entrepreneurial streak. This past weekend, his mother (my daughter) called me and said, “He is sitting on the front porch with his old beat-up red fireman’s helmet and a sign reading $5.88, trying to sell the helmet to people walking by! Should I make him come inside?” Then, the next day, he had added his well-used child’s yellow construction hard hat to the venue, and the price for the two had gone up to $22.67! “I don’t need these any more,” he told his parents.

This fondness for cash makes all the more remarkable what he had done the previous week. He phoned me to say he had something for me, asking if I would come by their house on my way home to pick it up. When I arrived, he presented me with an envelope which had “Karen” written on the outside. I knew this was important business, because he always calls me “Gaz”, a name he began to call me as a toddler which has become my official grandma name.

In the envelope was a five dollar bill and two quarters, enclosed with the following letter, written out in his careful cursive-and-print-combo handwriting, with wonderful phonetic spelling:


I was unbelievably touched by his generosity and thoughtfulness, which was completely his own idea. It’s all the more remarkable because his total savings at that point was $18, much of which he’d worked hard for by raking leaves and doing other chores for his family.

I asked him, “Do you want me to take this money and buys some socks with it and give them to people?” “No,” he said, “I want you to give them the money directly.”

When you think of it, $5.50 is an embarrassment of riches. It will buy Donna a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, which she loves to have to warm herself up at bedtime. It will purchase a copy of StreetZine from Gordon. And there will be still be some left over for whatever special person comes along with a need or a wish.