From Terry Messman and Ellen Danchik, September 20, 2007

Dear Friends and Supporters,

I want to thank those of you who have made donations to support the work of Street Spirit and to help my family in one of the worst periods of our lives. I have felt so blessed by the amazing acts of kindness from friends who have stepped forward to help without ever being asked. In truth, I could never have asked for help from any of you. It is just not in my nature. So it’s all the more beautiful that so many friends have helped my family survive this crisis. Even when I tried so hard to refuse their help, they barged in, broke through my resistance and helped anyway. I will never forget this outpouring of kindness for the rest of my life.

I have worked on homeless issues for 23 years now and my wife Ellen Danchik has worked for 15 years helping the poorest and most disabled people find housing. In that time, Ellen and I have seen so many people overcome and undone by a single catastrophic blow or a series of blows. For 23 years, I have warned anyone who would listen that all of us are vulnerable to becoming homeless in a heartless society that cares only for profits and not for people. The loss of a job, a sudden raise in rent, an unjust eviction, a major health crisis, a serious injury or disabling accident, the break-up of a family, domestic abuse, mental health problems, substance abuse, the termination of welfare benefits -- any of these blows can reduce any one of us to homelessness.

How ironic and bewildering then, that after all these years of warning others about the hardships that can cause homelessness, that I found my own family slipping into the very same fate. In our case, it was one single blow that reduced us to the brink of economic ruin and eviction. Without warning, my wife was diagnosed with a huge brain tumor last February, a Grade 2 brain tumor that has a high chance of recurrence in the future. Although her surgery was successful, her doctors have told her that the residual brain trauma will leave her disabled and unable to work for more than a year. During the course of this, she lost her job as a housing coordinator, and then we found that her employer, the Contra Costa County Mental Health Department, had never paid a single dime into the state disability fund in the nearly 10 years Ellen had worked for them. Their miserly refusal to pay any disability benefits nearly destroyed us.

We soon learned how very many people who undergo brain tumors are economically ruined. In May 2007, the National Brain Tumor Foundation released a report, entitled Nobody Can Afford A Brain Tumor: The Financial Impact of a Brain Tumor Diagnosis on Patients and Families. The report showed that virtually every family suffered drastic economic losses and many were economically ruined by the loss of income. Even though 95 percent of patients were working full-time when they were diagnosed, fewer than 35 percent returned to work full-time after their diagnosis. The report also found that, “Despite having paid into the system, many patients had been turned down for disability coverage. Two-thirds of survey respondents were not receiving disability in spite of having stopped working as a result of the tumor.”

Without our friends we would not have survived. Just at the moment when we literally had given up hope, three friends called to ask what was happening to us. I am more grateful than words can express to those three friends -- Jesse Ben Clarke, Joan Clair and Susan Prather. Then along came Keiko Kubo from AFSC and two incredible tenant rights attorneys, Leah Hess and Anne Omura. I can tell those six people that they literally saved my family. If you’ve ever had your life saved by a friend, you may have some idea of how thankful I am to each of them. They have shown me what it means to be a blessing for others.

And now I wonder what happens to all those who don’t have the incredible friends who stepped forward to help us. But I know what happens because I’ve seen it time and time again. They are reduced to homelessness by the heartless system of profit that turns food and housing and health care into luxury commodities that are priced out of the reach of millions of people. This system of profit and greed doesn’t care about any of us. It only serves the endless need of the rich to grow even richer.

If your life should ever fall apart, you will surely learn what we have learned. None of your good work, not even decades of dedication to helping others, will stay the hand of the bankers and realtors and landlords and capitalists who will not treat you as a human being deserving of mercy and respect, but only as a commodity to be exploited for profit -- or evicted. The system of profit is without mercy; it is entirely inhuman and only serves the cold calculations of the moneylenders. All of us are victims of that system. All of us must find a way to transform that system.

My wife Ellen has drawn a far deeper lesson from undergoing this crisis, and I want her to have the last word tonight. I have always had far more admiration for her caring and compassionate work with the homeless community, than for my own. Ellen feels that she was supposed to go through all this so she could become more sensitive to what people are really feeling when they face mental disability, eviction and homelessness.

Ellen says: “I feel there have been a lot of lessons for us in going through this. One is that we both felt the real fear of eviction. Our landlord literally comes knocking on our door asking for money we didn’t have. I know we both cared about other people facing eviction before, but now we truly know how real and scary it feels to others, and I feel that will help us more with our own work. I have also learned what it feels like to be in a really mentally altered state because of what the tumor did to my mind. I know now what it feels like to have people around me talking and not being able to make any sense of it -- not being able to understand anything. And I feel that will help me so much in my work of being more sensitive to the hardships faced by mental health consumers as they try to find and stay in housing.

“So I feel that there are so many lessons in what I’ve gone through, and the most important one is that God has sent people like all of you who have valued our lives and our work, and helped us so much. Thank you with all my heart.”


Blessings to all,

Terry Messman and Ellen Danchik


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