Let’s Discuss Dignity

Twenty-two years ago I spent two days laying face down, crying into my living room carpet . Everything I had tried just failed.  Big things, a thousand small things, all of the things had slipped from my grasp and I was failing.

I had been psyched up to be a wife, and a young stay at home mother, and maybe someone who completed a BA down the road if I found time in my suburban dream. Instead, my relationship crumbled, Mervyn’s fired me (because I was obviously falsifying comment cards, it was impossible that I could be so good with people…but ask me about this another time), and I had 3/4ths of a degree in Physical Therapy with no way to get back into my life as I had known it.

When it “got real”, I pulled out the phone book, found the blue pages of government listing service and looked up the address to the Welfare Office. Bleakness.  I walked into to a dim green room where my shoes stuck to the floor and I will never be certain if the puddle in the chair next to me was apple juice, but I’ve decided to believe it was. In my hands I held a ten page, double sided application, and a pen. I could not fill it out. I must have made five trips to the Help Desk and I still wasn’t comfortable. I met with an eligibility worker who shamed me; pointed out that all the other white people on the building were employees, and send me home with a list of needed documents and a follow up appointment.  That was the day I walked back into my little apartment and folded onto the floor wondering if if I could ever get up again.

Twenty years later, or 2 years ago, I had my Bachelor’s Degree is Sociology, my own car, house, and no debt at all. I found my revenge on the County Welfare system by becoming an employee within it in a job that allowed me to do outreach work and volunteer in my community. My baby was off at  college, but a second child had arrived and I was still a single mother – only by this time I was doing okay. Education, house, career, and home life were all neatly checked off in the Success column.

   The floors of the Welfare office must never get washed.

I had this thought as I was lying face down in the lobby of the GAIN office in Burbank. Just seconds before I was walking a client to the door when the room spun and the floor ate my face. My doctors pulled me out of work and put me on medical leave.

Medical leave is nice and all, but waiting for Disability to come in so I could pay my bills and feed my youngest daughter was nerve-wracking. I had some concerns. I shared these thoughts with the front desk volunteer at MEND one Thursday morning in late January. I was in the San Fernando Road  office working on the silent auction for the Gala fundraiser my local non-profit throws to breathe life into their programs designed to help people survive in an impoverished neighborhood and find ways to leave that desperate economic strata. As we talked, Adela, the volunteer, walked me into the intake room and put me at a desk.  When a third person walked in, Adela said “This is Sonya and she needs to see if she qualifies for your program.” She smiled down at me and whispered “Come to my desk if you have problems with the forms” and disappeared down the hall. A week later an EBT card arrived in the mail.

This was the MEND effect.

Meet each need with dignity.

I was treated with dignity, and not because I volunteered for MEND, but because that is how MEND works. Some Saturdays I walk in through the floor to ceiling glass doors and stand by that reception desk just to watch the flow of faces. Little kids sit laughing at the tables, parents chat in the waiting room chairs, someone is always knitting in front of the clothing boutique, and bent senior citizens angle their grinning faces up to each other while they wait for food, or a medical appointment, or whatever special program is  offered that day.

Mend staff on Oscar night at universal stidios
MEND staff at their fundraising gala

The floor is not sticky. The room is not dim. The chairs are dry and clean. In my five years of volunteering for MEND, I must have had the opportunity to sit in every chair and even the one I broke in Lupe’s office was clean. I never intended to be a MEND client, even momentarily, and I never felt like one. I don’t think anyone does.

I’m used to volunteering at MEND

The MEND Effect is a design feature that started with the Rose family who just wanted to do a little something nice for their neighbors and then let others in on their idea until it grew into the community icon it is today.

MEND is not the heart of Pacoima. MEND is the limbic system that connects all of the other vital parts of the community ; politicians, doctors, dentists, tutors, teachers, schools, grocery stores, dance teachers, Health educators, financial institutions like Home Street Bank and Wells Fargo, ophthalmologist, dental and nursing students and their programs, the Welfare to Work program, courts, and more all touch and mingle in the bright beautiful building at Pierce and San Fernando Road and in the ETC nestled into the heart of Van Nuys Boulevard. MEND staff are likely to shake hands with a Board of Supervisors Member with the same warmth and enthusiasm they shared while clasping  hands with an elderly client.

Nene with “young volunteers “.

You will hear that MEND is volunteer run. Seasonal volunteers, like me, drop in for special programs like the Santa’s Workshop, Christmas in the Spring, and Head to Toes. Day to day volunteers answer the phones, pack food boxes, drive delivery trucks, teach English, send out mail, scheadule medical, vision, and dental appointments and perform the technical arts of Dentistry and Medicine. Volunteers are everywhere and they are hard to spot unless they come in the form of a Scout Troop. (It is safe to say that eleven-year-olds are not on the payroll.) MEND volunteers are trained, knowledgeable and efficient. This is not accident. Every volunteer is assigned to a department and each department has  staff members tasked with being an expert in their area and teaching their volunteers everything they know. Sharing their knowledge keeps the program alive and the volunteers take these skills back to the neighborhood where they are passed around again and the entire community is better educated, elevated and healthier.

The first time I used the EBT card (it is in my wallet as a reminder, ask and I will show you) was at Food 4 Less in Van Nuys and Glenoaks. The cashier leaned over and whispered “If you need more help than that, go to MEND”.

Volunteers at the 2017 Gala

 Poverty and food scarcity is only a paycheck in either direction. I donate money, time, and goods to MEND because I keep being reminded of this unfortunate truth. Through MEND, poverty can be survived with dignity.

Dignity will pull you up off the floor, not push you down in tears.

Los Angeles’s New Map for Overnight

If you live in your car or have to sleep in your car overnight, you need to know about the new rules for where this is legal. Restrictions have been placed to keep you away from parks, schools and day cars. (Apparently the LA City council thinks you are all child molesters ?)

Do you see all of the RED lines, you can’t park there: anytime.

The YELLOW lines are okay for daytime parking.

The GREEN zones are okay overnight.

Except, and here is where it gets nasty, this map does not account for local ordanances and what the actual street signs say. The map has some green lines that I know good and well are “no overnight parking” spots. Trust me, I have had the Parking Boot of shame on my car – I am a parking ticket expert.

Good luck guys.

E-Media | Los Angeles Public Library

Bookworms rock! I used to make them as a volunteer for the Arcadia Library in my teen summers.

go away, I'm reading

The Los Angeles City Library blows my mind as the local leader in embracing high tech solutions and applications. I thought I was cool because of Freegal Music and my Overdrive use. Wow. I underestimated.

The Los Angeles Public Library knows that e-Media collections, devices and formats can be confusing. In order to help you get started, this page shows our vendors (below), shows what types of materials are available by vendor (to the right), and also offers some Help Links and Device Guides (below and to the right). All e-Books, e-Audiobooks and OverDrive downloadable e-Videos are listed in our catalog, e-Music, e-Magazines and streaming e-Video (hoopla) are not.


e-Books from Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 are available to download and transfer to PCs, iOS devices and Android devices. These books use the bLio reader, which is available for download at the site. Support for Adobe Digital Edition compatible devices (Nook, Sony Reader) is also available via the ePub format. Access is provided by your library card and a bLio account, which you can create after you log in with your card.

Axis360 Help Pages

BiblioBoard features books, articles, images, photographs, maps, pamphlets, and documents as well as streaming audio and video content on a wide variety of topics including Literature, History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Nature, Native American Studies, Sports, Drama, Games, Crafts, Cooking, Music and Children’s Literature.

All content is available on an unlimited multi-user basis with no checkouts or returns. You can access BiblioBoard content from the web or various mobile devices using your library card number. Download the free app using these links: Web, iPad, Nexus, Kindle Fire HD  Just choose “Los Angeles Public Library” from the Library Credentials drop down, then enter your library card # and pin.

ComicsPlus offers unlimited access to thousands of digital graphic novels, comic books and manga from virtually any device, tablet or PC.  Age range runs from kid-friendly early reader comics to action, crime and fantasy graphic novels for teens.

You will need to set up a new account (username and password) with EBSCOhost. EBSCOhost has provided instructions on how to create a personal account, but to follow them you must first use this link to go through an authentication process.

For assistance with EBSCO e-Media, please use this form.


Freegal allows users to download up to 5 music track downloads a week from the Sony Music catalog. All selections are DRM-free in mp3 format. Patrons use their library card to download items (Freegal Music downloads are not available with the e-card).

hoopla is a digital media platform that gives access to digital entertainment content from either mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets and/or via any browser.  hoopla offers e-books, e-comics, full length feature movies, episodic television programming, full musical albums and unabridged audiobooks.

hoopla Help Pages


e-Audiobooks from Recorded Books  available to download and transfer to selected devices. Patrons must do a one-time account setup using their library cards (OneClickDigital accounts are not available with the e-card).

OneClickdigital Help Pages

Direct e-mail support is available at support@oneclickdigital.com

OverDrive offers downloadable e-Books, e-Audiobooks, e-Videos and e-Music. Additional software is required for all files. Most e-Media can be transferred to a portable device (Kindle now supported!). Patrons use their library card to check-out items.

OverDrive Help Pages

For assistance with OverDrive e-Media, please use this form.

Zinio offers full color, interactive digital magazines. Browse from a collection of popular titles with no holds, no checkout periods, and no limit to the number of magazines you can download.

Other e-Media

ALOUD Podcasts

These podcasts are recorded live in Los Angeles Central Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium as part of the award-winning ALOUD at Central Library speaker series presented by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.

L.A. in Focus Videos

These videos are recordings of “L.A. in Focus”, a series of lectures presented by Photo Friends and the Photo Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library, spotlighting images from the Library’s collection and unique stories of L.A. history.

via E-Media | Los Angeles Public Library.

Death on Crocker St -revisited

Death on Crocker St.

This is my throwback Thursday link. Living out in the element with no shelter, sunblock, reliable nutrition, healthcare, clean toilets, leads to a shortened life.


Thousands of years ago humans had a shorter life span.

In third world countries people died like this.

But this is in Los Angeles :my favorite city in a 1st world country.

Could someone please explain to me the reason this is happenening?

Are Homeless People Citizens ? Will the Sheriff’s Department Care About the Answer?

Do they even count? Should they vote? Are they individuals who matter or are they a collective lump that needs to be disassembled and scattered to other places? The Los Angeles Sheriff race had a debate tonight and not one candidate called this group “people”. This population is referred to as “The Homeless” the way I refer to ‘The Cancer” Or ‘The Trash”. Not one candidate discussed the thousands of citizens who are possibly registered voters as a constituent group with needs worth addressing. Yes, it is ugly to do down Seventh Street from the Wilshire Grand down and out of the financial district until your car slows to a crawl in allowance for the shopping carts and crush of people sleeping on sidewalks and meandering on the street like my kids hang out on the front yard. It smells bad -skid row smells like a 5 day old diaper left to molder under a bed. Businesses find it difficult to get customers in doors blocked by bodies. But Homelessness isn’t a blight -it is a PLIGHT. it is a side effect of failing schools and high school drop outs, low paying entry level jobs, a crazy housing market and domestic violence. What we see and smell are so very rarely life cgoices, they are states of living for human beings who can not see or get to other options.

Get on the bus, Gus
Candidate Bob Olmsted would give bus tickets to “the homeless” to send them home.

A bus ticket is not a solution. Los Angeles is a home. A street corner is a valid address to use when registering to vote. Listening and reading about tonight’s debate made me ever more thankful that I live and play where the Foothill Division of the LAPD, Burbank police and Arcadia police have jurisdiction -because if the future leader of the Sheriff Department won’t call an entire class of citizens “people”, I wonder if they will see fit to protect the entire population they are assigned to – or just the people they feel will politically and financially benefit them.

Book Report

Did you just flash back to your 3rd grade classroom?

You may have guessed that I’m an avid reader. There are boxes of books in my garage , a crammed Kindle bookshelf, and when I can hold the materials:I listen to Audible or books on tape. I am a junkie. My keyring has fobs from the Arcadua, Burbank, County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles City Libraries. I am super thankful to have a Lifeproof case on my Samsung so I can read in the bath since the contents and instructions of all my bath products are all but memorized.

My childhood was spent in public schools where I received a world class educat. The  Arcadia Unified School District doesn’t mess around (although please keep me from ranting about the current and recent Superintendents). Even a rudimentary education is worth gold if it teaches decoding and reading well enough to make a book a pleasure trip. Reading was  not an easy trick to learn and my spelling is , um, interpretive . Now that I have mastered the devouring of words -I understand their power.

Why am I posting this on a site dedicated to poverty issues?

Library cards are free. Having millions of dollars gives you no better selection of reading materials than someone carrying only the change they found in the parking lot. 

Public Libraries are a great equalizer.

A good public library can change a life. It holds the instructions to reading and information on every topic. The stacks hold the static equivalent of the Internet without the snide comments section or porn collections.

It also offers escape. Books are portals into the minds of other people, into locations the reader might never visit in person and into idea landscapes that would swallow us whole without the author to lead us home again.

The book I listened to this week during my commute

It is no mystery as to why so many homeless folks find their way to the library. There are chairs and protection from the elements, and accessable indoor bathrooms, use of the Internet and books.  The Burbank Library even has literacy tutors who teach adults to read.

Words have the power to change the world…or overthrow and control the political system. There us a reason many countries don’t educate their citizens and expressly forbid females to learn written language.

Hitler never used a gun in his rise to power.  He used words. He wrote a book. I read that book in Junior High, it was a copy brought from Germany.

Lincoln, the first Republican President, was like generations before him. He learned to read in school and then continued his education by lamplight , learning from books. Then Lincoln used his words to change the world.

Read a book. Support your local library.

Change the world.

Homeless Case Manager or Jerk…

Homeless case manager

I was a self-righteous fool when I started out as a Case Manager on Skid Row

Well, actually, the first thing I was involved knocking out a Schizophrenic man cold –and then I was a fool. See, my baby brother is 6’4” and has a mental illness. So, when a tall man is out of control and lunges for me, I instinctively swing for the fences and punch him in the face. It is rude, but highly effective. No one expects the short, fat, white girl to punch like a champion. No one expects her to have worked with Hal Espy either… At any rate, after the first day when I punched out Sean, I kind of thought I was God’s gift to The LAMP Lodge. I thought I was going to sachet in there with my BA degree under my arm and personally deliver 50 people off of the streets of Skid Row and into suburbia. I was going to motivate, inspire, and teach them to become productive citizens and tune their hearing so they could hear their calling. Yep – I was a fool.

What the residents of The Lodge saw when I walked in the door was some free entertainment. They would gather in the front office and just wait for 9 am to roll around and for me to drive up and start the shenanigans.

Billy Blade and Will Smith are the two most influential people I met on Skid Row. Granted, I have hero-worship for Molley Lowrey and Arianna and Celina and even John Best… but no one taught me more about appreciating the honest truth of who a person really is than these two men who were diametrically different and yet lived on the same floor of a converted motel at the corner of 7th and Stanford.

Will has a history in law. He immediately put me in my place for asking for his “buy on” and signatures on case management forms. He was a tenant with a rental agreement to the building and under no obligation to entertain the foolish notion that he was compelled to attend group meetings, have one on one sit downs where he plotted goals and measured success. Will was happy with his efficiency bachelor pad and had easy access to the busses and trainings and outside influences and did not need to be bothered by some little girl pushing a social workers’ agenda. How dare I look at him and decide that he needed to change. Why did I think there needed to be an improvement in his situation?

Billy leaned against the building and each morning as I walked past him to get up the stairs he mumbled “A$$h0le”. Eventually I stopped to ask him why he did that instead of stopping me and telling me to my face. He pointed out that I walked past him, signed in and then would speak to him – like he was a work produce and not like he was a person. Anyone who did not value him as a man was an …, well, you know.

Eventually, I did become a good case manager. I did extend and improve the lives of the men and women who lived in The LAMP Lodge and in LAMP Community. But it was a learning process. I was fortunate to have a thoughtful and caring supervisor, John, who was patient and instructive, but mostly it was the residents who constantly reminded me that they were individuals who are valuable. Some of them are still my FaceBook friends.

I am probably still a pompous fool, but I keep pictures of my days on Skid Row up in my office to remind me that there is always room for human dignity – and it comes from the client, not from me.

Paper Bag Law – Avoid the Fee

Effective July 1, 2011, grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores within unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County only, will now charge customers 10 cents for each grocery paper bag given or provide reusable bags at store cost when shopping at these stores. This is as a result of changes in County Ordinance, Title 12, Environmental Protection, County Code Section 1, Section 12.85, which bans the use of plastic carry-out bags in Los Angeles County.

CalFresh participants will not be charged for grocery paper bags when buying groceries at these stores.  However, participants who only receive CalWORKs or General Relief benefits will be charged 10 cents for each grocery paper bag given. If you are a CalFresh participant, and are charged for grocery paper bags when buying groceries at these stores, let the store manager know before you leave the store.

To find out more about the Plastic Bag Ban visit:

 – via http://dpss.lacounty.gov/dpss/calfresh/default.cfm

MEND in Pacoima – WOW

Yesterday I walked into a mecca of services, outreach and good old-fashioned neighborhood service.

You know I am always looking for resources and places that serve the low-income population in LA. I am not sure how I missed hearing more about MEND

“MEND was founded in the early 1970s by professionals working without pay. Today the agency provides the only free, comprehensive medical, dental and vision care in the northeast San Fernando Valley, where 44 percent of residents have no medical insurance of any kind. ” ♥♥ read more http://www.calwellness.org/pub_grantee/2009/fall/special_projects.htm

The building is big, bright and full of every service I could think of. A few streets away is a school with tutoring, ESL classes and general community education.

I will tell you more later- but for now, find them on FaceBook, follow them on Twitter  ” @mendpoverty1″ and tell me what you think. (Also, tell them Sonya sent you! 🙂  )

10641 San Fernando Road
CA 91331-2626
(818) 896-0246