My Experience with the Homeless in Oxnard’s Plaza Park

 

 

By Rafael Stoneman

I set up a folding table at Plaza Park in Oxnard on July 4th, 2019 and handed out bottled water and bananas to about 25 homeless people. These people regularly can be found congregating at the park.

Mr. Lang Martinez, who was formerly homeless in Oxnard, joined me in this outreach work. Many of the homeless people there took a water and banana and offered a short greeting and went back to their spot in the park. However, about 15 people engaged in conversation and wanted to know what we were doing there. 

So, what were we doing there? There are other organizations and churches that go to Plaza Park and feed the homeless people and recently a survey was done by the County to determine statistical information of the homeless population. What could Lang and I offer that hasn’t already been offered? 

From my point of view, that is not the right question. When people think about Plaza Park, generally, their first thought may be, “There are so many homeless people there, it is a real problem.” Typically, when something is viewed as a problem, the next movement in thought is to brainstorm solutions to the problem. Very smart people have brainstormed in order to problem solve this and yet their “problem” remains. 

I don’t view the homeless people at Plaza Park as a problem. I see it as a fact and when I think about actions that can be taken to participate in this situation, I don’t think in terms of solutions. 

Honestly, I don’t put a lot of energy into thinking about it. I don’t believe that mental formulations are the best way to understand people. If you are going to build a bridge, then yes, mental formulations and math and engineering solutions are going to be essential. But when it comes to human beings and how to provide services to homeless people, it is not something that can be figured out with math and statistics. 

Lang Martinez knows all too well what it is like to be homeless and addicted to drugs. He has written about it very candidly in an online newspaper, called the Citizens Journal. Lang is coming up on his one-year sobriety and what he has to offer is a very real and honest way of speaking from his own direct experience. 

While I have also been homeless and technically would still be considered homeless at present because I am living out of my minivan at Ventura County camp grounds– I have never lived on the streets of Oxnard and have never had a drug addiction. I have studied addiction disorders at Oxnard College, so I do have more training than the average person. But what Lang has to offer is what has worked for him: the 12-steps to recovery.

I observed Lang speak with a young man who was barefoot and speaking out loud to himself in the park. I will call this young man Sam for his own privacy. Lang was certain Sam was high on methamphetamines as this was the drug Lang had been addicted to. Sam was speaking non-stop for at least an hour and it was very hard to get a word in as he did not take many pauses during what came across more like a monologue than a dialogue. But Lang found a way to get in there and establish a line of communication. He used humor to engage Sam.

Sam was not ready to stop using drugs, that was clear, and there wasn’t going to be any miracle that Lang could perform in the way of solutions. But in a way, just engaging with Sam and getting him to listen and not just talk, was a miracle of sorts.

One definition of miracle is: “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.”

Some might argue that what Lang did with Sam could easily be explained by scientific laws and to consider it the work of a divine agency is a leap that has no way of being proven or even tested.

I ended up giving Sam two dollars and seventy-five cents, that is what I had in my pocket. I did this because he kept talking about being a hungry man and that no one seems to want to feed a hungry man. He had gotten there shortly after the last banana was handed out. Sam was grateful for this money.

Critics might say, “How do you know he won’t use that money to buy meth?” I don’t know that he won’t. I’ve seen signs in Ventura County that read: “Don’t give money to pan-handlers. Give it to charities that can help them.” While I agree with giving money to charity, I also feel that there are times when giving money directly to the person is acceptable and, in some cases, it is even essential.

Sam had been complaining that he went to have breakfast at the Rescue Mission but since he had not stayed there overnight, he was told he cannot eat breakfast there. I don’t bring this up to criticize the Rescue Mission, who are doing a lot of great work and several of the other people I spoke with had been staying there and had only positive things to say about it.

I bring it up as an example of how giving to charity doesn’t always ensure every person in every situation is going to benefit from it.

Sam was still hungry. It was the fourth of July and we didn’t know of any shelters serving meals. I wish I had been able to provide him a proper meal right there in the park but I did not have the money to do so.

There were many others that I spoke with and each of them had their own story to tell. I will try to share more about some of these stories in another article.

My take away from this time spent at Plaza Park is: I met some interesting and goodhearted people. I learned more about my own boundaries and what prevents me from being able to be of service to others in need. I don’t have the answers but each time I take a step towards getting to know people without an agenda, I discover new insights that make life as a human being a little more satisfying.  

Homeless at Plaza Park, Oxnard, CA on 6-7-19. Photo: Lang Martinez

Rafael Stoneman has worked as a tree trimmer,  an active duty soldier,  a mental health recovery worker,  a junk hauler,  a care-giver,  and currently is a homeless veterans outreach worker for the nonprofit Gold Coast Veterans Foundation.  He has a B.S. in Psychology from University of La Verne and a certificate in Addiction Counseling from Oxnard College.  He is the author of a column in the Acorn newspaper titled: Veterans Connection. Rafael has three sons,  ages 16, 22, and 25.

Rafael has lived in Ojai for most of the last 23 years,  with the exception of 1 year in Joshua Tree,  1 year in Seoul, South Korea on the Yongson Army base,  2 years on the Ft.  Irwin Army base, and two years in Oxnard.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.


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10 Responses to My Experience with the Homeless in Oxnard’s Plaza Park

  1. Rafael Stoneman July 12, 2019 at 9:28 pm

    c e: Yes, once someone’s hooked on a drug, what you say is the case. But you don’t address how someone started taking drugs, how they came to that choice to use a drug and then abuse it. In many cases, the person was severely abused as a child and not knowing how to heal from the pain they turned to drugs. A bad choice, yes, but you don’t speak to the issue with any compassion. It is not so black and white a subject, there are many factors that contributed to Sam’s drug addiction and now that he is hooked, should we just forget about him and turn our backs on him?

    Reply
  2. c e voigtsberger July 10, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Just perhaps if “Sam” hadn’t spent his money on meth he wouldn’t have been hungry. Drug use is a self-inflicted condition. It isn’t something you “catch” or happens accidentally. Drug use is a deliberate start on a course of action that only leads to a dead end. Except for sex prisoners who are force fed drugs in order to make them compliant and dependent, every other druggie started on the road of his own volition. Sam is hungry. Gee, tough. Maybe if Sam gets hungry enough he will decide to stop spending money on drugs and start on food.

    Reply
  3. Rafael Stoneman July 8, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    Yes, it is hard to live on minimum wage, I’ve done it many times. I tried to convey in the article that I don’t have any answers. I do have feelings that arise that have to do with the greed of the wealthy but I don’t know if that is an answer that will make a change. I know I have to start with my own thoughts and feelings and find out what is there at the beginning and end of each thought or feeling. The process of finding out is ongoing and I don’t know if there is any conclusion I can relate that wouldn’t just be another thought that I’d have to investigate from where it came.

    Reply
  4. Rafael Stoneman July 8, 2019 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks, Bill. I agree that healing is needed. It is definitely not a matter of debate but rather discussion and discovery. When we think we already have the answer, it leaves us not open to listening and investigating with fresh eyes. I appreciate you commenting.

    Reply
  5. Bill July 8, 2019 at 11:30 am

    I think it is a great idea, and a great resource, to see an article written by someone who has walked both in the homeless world and the non-homeless world. Lasting progress and long-term healing rarely comes from only one side of the debate, or from only one point of view. People who can see and explain things form both sides of an issue are the ones who will be able to make a difference.

    Reply
  6. Rafael Stoneman July 7, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks, Mr. Hopkins. Yes, I’ve always felt that the fastest way to end homelessness for those who want to be housed is simply for all politicians to take half their pay and put it into housing for the homeless.

    Reply
    • C Hopkins July 8, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      Forensic accountants should go through financial records going back as far as possible. They would likely find a handful of families that have benefited from every war, every regime change scheme, from the War for Independence to the present day. These families and the corporations they now have substantial profit from should be stripped bare, not to the point of homelessness. They should be allowed to live as others live who make $10-12 per hour.

      Reply
  7. C Hopkins July 7, 2019 at 8:04 am

    Thanks to Rafael Stoneman and Lang Martinez for their kindness. It takes a big heart to help the homeless. There is a feeling that we might catch what they have or that they have made their own beds etc. Now we see whole families forced to live this way. I first began to notice this phenomenon immediately after Ronald Reagan was elected president. He seemed like a nice guy and I think he actually believed in his trickle down philosophy but it doesn’t work when those at the top take more than their share. Even the Jordan River now has dry mouth and the Sea of Galilee could soon catch fire.

    Reply
    • Citizen Reporter July 7, 2019 at 6:58 pm

      C, Hopkins- How do you explain why it wasn’t ended under Clinton and Obama?

      Reply
      • C Hopkins July 8, 2019 at 4:21 pm

        Obama was a disappointment. The Clintons are what they appear to be, power hungry slime bags. Trump a degenerate, outright criminal. Ultimately they all eat from the same trough and serve the same masters, which are not average Americans, to say the least. Power corrupts everyone who comes near it without the requisite maturity. There is only one American President I admire and that would be Jimmy Carter. Mostly I admire him for what he has done SINCE being president.

        Reply

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