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  • If Americans ever allow banks to control the
    issue of their currency, first by inflation and
    then by deflation, the banks will deprive the
    people of all property until their children will
    wake up homeless.

    Thomas Jefferson


    It was a David Hockney kind of summer day, the perfect swimming pools sparkling surreal Hollywood blue, the palm trees so perfect they looked as though they were from Central Casting for palm trees, the perfect sky unclouded from horizon to horizon.

    It was a perfect David Hockney kind of day, reminding me of his early paintings with those strong, sunny California colors, portraits of perfectly tanned trophy wives and mistresses on their Sunbrella pool lounges sipping their perfect Margaritas somewhere off in their mansions.

    That kind of day. Just another perfect summer day in Paradise.

    Down at our perfectly manicured beaches, the volleyball courts were still full.

    Handsome beach bums in hoodies and Maui Jim sunglasses trolled for bikini babe coeds, but were willing to settle for pony tail waitresses from Phoenix on holiday. A light breeze blew rich, spicy smells of barbeque, teriyaki, and roasting hot dogs into my car, as I drove slowly along East Beach, stuck in the stop-start going home traffic heading south.

    I decided to park and watch the perfect sunset, and wait it out a bit. It was good to be quiet and immerse in the magical realism of some Borges stories.

    It was a David Hockney kind of picture postcard, Travel & Leisure, Escape kind of day, but now the sun was setting, lights were blinking on down along the wharf and in town.

    The mountains, for a few minutes, lit up with a soft rosy pink as large granite boulders from millions of years ago reflected the fading sun.

    And then I noticed something unusual.

    As the holiday beach crowd started leaving the parking lots, heading home, a variety of vehicles - SUV’s, RV’s, pickups with camper shells, old VW vans, even some buses, chugged in and started taking their places. There were some Mercedes and BMW's too. Que pasa?

    It was as though a signal had gone out:”It’s OK to come down to the beach now.” It was like watching a large flock of migrating birds that had decided to spend the night here in Paradise, and were slowly flying in on weary wings to roost.

    As lights went on in the vehicles, a new generation of cooking smells drifted toward me: baking potatoes, stir fry, vegetable soup, fried beans.

    And then I remembered an article I read recently about a new City program in which homeless people are now allowed to camp out overnight in 12 of the City parking lots, with more being added.

    The article profiled some of the overnight campers:

    A 66-year old mother of three sleeps in the back of her Honda CR-V, snuggling next to her beloved dogs for comfort. “For the most part I sleep okay,” she says. “But it is very cramped. And my dogs are big. The CR-V wasn’t designed for people to sleep in. But it is better than being on the street.”

    This lady used to live in an apartment with a rose garden and a fence full of jasmine, but when her job evaporated in the sub-prime mortgage crisis, she found herself penniless and destitute, along with millions of other Americans.

    The City’s innovative program has received international publicity, and is being copied in other communities. At least it is a start.

    But, I thought, there is so much more we can do.

    I felt humbled, grateful for my home with its hot water and kitchen and refrigerator, telephone, computer, and the electricity to run all this.

    I felt grateful for my bed and clean sheets, and for enough food, and for so much else that it is so easy to take for granted.

    I found myself realizing that this whole program, which is of such help to so many right here in my community, is reaching its dynamic hospitality out to other cities nationwide.

    And I realized that it all started with one person, one good idea, and one City Council who bought in and said:”Let’s do it!” Such is the power of one.

    I wondered, as more lights went on in the parked vehicles, more dinners got underway, and as the parking lots filled up all over town in the fading evening light, what could I do?

    What breakthrough idea could I come up with that might have the same transformational power, goodness and outreach?

    There were, at that moment, no answers. But the question is now on the table, and it haunts me, and I hope it haunts you.

    What might any of us do if we put our minds to it? And what can we do together?

    To paraphrase Anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never underestimate the power of a good idea to change the world.”

    The traffic had thinned. I headed home.

    As I said, it was a David Hockney kind of day, with picture perfect silken palm trees and blue skies, and beautiful, bronzed people, right out of Baywatch, laughing and flirting and playing volleyball as though we were not living in a year of global and national meltdowns such as the world has never seen.

    I felt the presence of a sea-change in perception, I don’t know what else to call it.

    I remembered the line from a Phil Collins song:

    “Oh, think twice! It’s just another day in Paradise.”

    It felt like that moment in the “The Matrix”, when Neo sees the cat, and then sees the cat again, and again, and realizes that he is only seeing one version of reality, and that there is much more going on behind the surface of his experience.

    I knew that I had been given a gift, a new awareness of the terrible price so many are paying for the unimaginable financial and economic crimes of our time.

    I knew that this awareness was a kind of Call, and that I would never see Paradise and its surface perfections in quite the same way again.

    Got some good ideas, and solutions! How is your community dealing with homelessness? Sprouts welcome!

    (Revised and reposted)

    (Photograph by Alex at the Casablanca Hotel in the virtual 3-D world of Second Life)
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