Part IV: Tales of Bellingham: Real People NOT “Shadow People”

Copyright ©Jane H. Johann, 2016 "Bellingham"

©Jane H. Johann, 2016

This winter, I found myself in Bellingham, a city of contrasts and beauty. Along the waterfront of Bellingham Bay, hundreds of expensive yachts dot the shores and then there are the Homeless People sleeping without comfort or blankets in the doorways of businesses two blocks away.

This is an account of my experience with the people who find themselves homeless in this city with a small town atmosphere.

Since my daughter worked during the day, I had a lot of time on my hands after cleaning the one bedroom apartment.  So I would carry my feet out the door, and begin walking.

The “Old Downtown” begins with the Lighthouse Mission, that is just a stone’s throw away from Whatcom Creek. During the day, many homeless people frequent the park, sitting on the concrete steps or on a few park benches that grace the green park. Usually, many just sit on the ground in a group, drinking the free coffee that the library provides them.

For the first several weeks, I shyly watched their activity, passed them in the early morning hours as they lay sleeping in the entrances to many of the businesses down the main street. Some were wrapped in sleeping bags, others, piled with layers of clothes and cardboard. My daughter, who works at one of the Social agencies in town, told me that there is a two year waiting list for subsidized housing in this city. The average rent for an apartment is between $650 and upwards. The average social assistance check for an individual without any financial means, is about $720. So how does a person who is living homeless, raise themselves out of that situation without an advocate?

Perhaps if we could each adopt one Homeless person, we  might succeed. How do we begin?

I thought I needed to begin to do something. And my beginning was overcoming my fear and speaking to a Homeless person and to see them as a human being.

The weather this past winter was moderate, not 70 degrees but survivable outdoors. While I was there the temperature lingered around 40 degrees F (4.4 degrees C). Still, I could not imagine lying on the cold concrete all night long, with the usual morning fog precipitation, and waking up feeling invigorated.

Each day, I would leave the apartment and say to myself, “Today is the day I will speak to a Homeless person.”

I walked with fear and my usual shyness among them. Obviously, Mother Teresa I was not!

Maybe that is one of the reasons of WHY she is so admired. She stepped out of her comfort zone and did for thousands of people what so many of us fear to do for one person.

I have been away from city life for the greater part of the last 29 years. I read about the Homeless people and do NOT like addressing them as shadow people–as someone graciously corrected me, because if we call them shadow people, we are stripping them of their reality and situation, making them less human to ourselves. We are removing them one more step from ourselves. So, yes, I have read about the Homeless, on occasion I have handed out dollar bills when going into the city. Quickly being admonished by others for giving out money. But then I think, “Hey, once in a while it is nice to have some real money in my hand and make my decision as to what to buy with it.” I have also handed out McDonald’s bags—not too sure about that nutritional value. I have handed out fruit—but more often, dollar bills.

Now I found there were many Homeless people all around me. Every day I walked among them. And in the four weeks that I walked through Bellingham City, NOT once did a Homeless Person approach me or ask for money.

I felt very uneasy…guilty that I had a place to stay…and they had none.  I had food to eat everyday, and most of them had none.  I was working up my courage to approach one of them and help them in any way that I could.  I guess, in truth, it is part of my underlying issue of having a purpose myself, of wanting to stay involved in the human struggle and make a difference.

I thought, “They are people and deserve recognition and dignity. Any one of us could find ourselves in this very situation.”

So one morning, I spotted this young lady, about in her 40’s, sleeping in a door entrance on West Holly Street,  not far from Whatcom Park. She had about three blankets piled high upon her, in addition to disheveled hair and layers of clothes.  I began walking towards her and was determined I would speak to her and buy her breakfast. I was about three feet from her, when she suddenly jumped up from her sleep, and literally went  dancing into the streets, screaming and waving her arms and continued at an incredible pace down the street. My initial  reaction was being startled by her behavior and then I thought, “Oh my God, I frightened her!” Then, I did not know what to do because by that time, she was quite a distance from me.  She disappeared from my sight and I was left with my thoughts.  I didn’t know what to do or to whom to speak to about my experience.  And, she also had to no one to talk to…no one to share her experience with…socialization is a missing component when one is homeless. It was obvious to me, that this woman needed medical assistance.  This is another missing component of our society–many of the mentally challenged are not helped. Why are they not taken care of by us? Is our neglect born out of fear, born out of legalities of the law, born out of the complacency in our society that these things are NOT our personal issues and we do not have to get involved?

That day passed with no resolution.

The next day, Christmas Eve morning,  as I was walked a bit further East and down Cornwall Street, I spotted this very tall lady, wearing sweatpants that were just below her knee, leaving a good 12 inches bare to the wind, an oversized jacket, and some tattered gloves on her hands. She appeared to be about 70ish and had long white hair neatly tucked under the red tuque that donned her head. She was also carrying a trash bag. Then I later heard from another acquaintance that I met there, who has since become a good friend, that Marta makes the rounds throughout the neighborhood and collects all the aluminum cans that she can carry, every Tuesday.

I passed Marta and then stopped myself. I turned around, and returned to her and said, “Excuse me. I know you don’t know me. I am just  visiting the city and was wondering if you could give me directions.”  It was not that I needed directions, but I didn’t know how else to begin the conversation. Marta responded very politely to me and we talked a little, and she told me where she lived and then we parted.  I walked a bit further, and then I called back to her. I said, “You know, tomorrow is Christmas. I want to share something with you. I handed her some money.” She said, “Are you sure?”  I said, “Please, it isn’t much but you are working so hard to help keep this city beautiful. You deserve it.” She finally accepted it and went on her way.

I don’t know what she did with the money, but I thought she would put it to good use. I don’t know if it helped or not—what I do know is, that I make contact with another human being and recognized her as a person. I am sure I benefitted more from the encounter than she did. I do suppose it was more for my growth than hers.

The week continued, and I made more conversations with more Homeless people.  My uneasiness was beginning to evaporate.  Eventually, I carried with me a bag of apples, and would offer a piece of fruit to those I met along the way.

During one of my final weeks in Bellingham, I encountered a man named Chuck, seated on the steps of Lara’s apartment building, under the overhang, and he was nursing a cup of brew, and reading a book. As I was entering the building, I said, “Hi, what are you reading?”

Chuck told me about the science fiction book by Philip Pullman, and I recognized the author from my teaching experience. We spoke for a bit. He told me he was waiting for a ride to a day job, painting and helping a carpenter contractor. He said he didn’t get much work since his stroke, had been in Vietnam and was a vet. He was planning to marry this summer. Chuck was about 60 something, grey-haired and a friendly fellow. Our conversation ended and I entered the apartment. I put some food together in a bag, and took it out to him. He thanked me and then I returned to my warm apartment, thinking, “…this man has done so much for so many. He is trying to do the best he can for himself.”

We met a few more times, and then I told him I would be leaving Bellingham soon to return to Wisconsin. Chuck then said this to me, “I am so happy we met. You didn’t judge me. You stopped to talk to me. You treated me like a human person. I can just feel it when people are judging me, thinking I am nothing. Thank you.  Thank you for making me feel like a worthwhile human being.”

I returned the favor to him, saying, “You made my daytime less lonely. It was good to talk with you. Thank you!”

Later that day, I went downtown to a book store, looking for the sequel to the book he was reading. I found the next two books to THE GOLDEN COMPASS and decided to purchase them for Chuck. I created a card, wrote him a note, stuck a few dollars in it, and wrapped the books.

I didn’t see him anymore before my departure…and felt sad about that, but then Lara surprised me and said, “Mom, I will watch for Chuck and give him your gift.”

I was so happy to hear her words!

And last Friday, more than a month since I left, Chuck reappeared on the doorsteps. Lara saw him and gave him the gift. She said he was so happy!

I received so much more than the very little I gave to these people, who are sleeping and living on the streets of Bellingham.  I am very blessed to have what I have but I also know I need to do more for others. Now I am again in my cornfields, and I have to find a way out of the maze.

The Homeless People of Bellingham made me feel welcomed to their wonderful city!



I have found several very good suggestions on Facebook about little ways people can help the Homeless People. One suggestion is to get some sandwich bags, put a healthy grain bar inside, a piece of fruit, perhaps a toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers,  a wash cloth…any small item that would be useful to a person who has no home.



tuque: Canadian term for woolen hat

Listen…and walk in everlasting shoes

“You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart…”

Thich Nhat Hahn

Photo Credit; Jane H. Johann, Dec. 2014 "Walk in the Shoes of One Another"

Photo Credit; Jane H. Johann, Dec. 2014 “Walk in the Shoes of One Another”

Listen…and walk in everlasting shoes

among the broken-hearted

Listen…and walk in everlasting shoes

…hear the sighs–the silent whispers of the child

waiting for a hug of reassurance

Listen…and walk in everlasting shoes

…feel the judgment

we lay upon the homeless…

Listen…and walk in everlasting shoes

…crawl into the skin

of those oppressed because of the color of their skin

Listen…and walk in everlasting shoes

…touch the loneliness unspoken

of the aged in the walls of the nursing home

Listen…and walk in everlasting shoes

…open your arms to those battered

and abused

Listen…and walk in everlasting shoes





“to walk in everlasting shoes”–Victorian era— to walk barefoot

In Memory of Trayvon Martin

Sincerest sympathy to Mrs. Fulton and Mr. Martin and their family!

              Trayvon Martin          

What happened to that America, the home of the free?

What happened to that dream, where all colors can BE?

What happened to the day when we could walk without fright?

What happened to this young man, simply was not right!

His parents are left with his photo and thoughts–

The freedom of equality that night was shot!

Was justice served? No one could win. It seems it was lost!

More fear, more hatred,  more revenge, is the new layer of frost.

What will it take before we open our eyes to see

That black, red, yellow or white, our blood is the same, for you and me

How many more of our young people must die…

How much more racism and killings, before love is cried?

Dismayed I was, as I heard young adults, much younger than me…

Some of my former students, shout racial obscenities

How precious life is…how shallow our breath…

How long are we going to continue this hollow theft?

No one has the right to take the life of another,

Who is going to grieve with this mother?

Already, another murder has been committed in the sun

A second white man shot another African-American with a gun

He shot into the car filled with teenage boys

Because he didn’t like the radio noise

He is claiming he had the right, and already the gun owner is being set free

Six months since Trayvon died on the street, Jordan Davis is dead, you see

Violence creates more violence, we need to stop before no one remains

Love and understanding are the only way for us to honor all names

What will it take before we open our eyes to see

That black, red, yellow or white, our blood is the same, for you and me

Who AM I?

English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

English: A homelessman in ParisFrançais : Un sans domicile fixe à Paris. Tiếng Việt: Mộtngười đàn ông vô gia cư ở Paris Polski: Bezdomny mężczyzna w Paryżu See

below for more translations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I sit on the street

with my dirty feet…

my shoes are worn.

My heart is torn.

You give a sigh…

yet, you pass me by…

But I am one of you…

I know  you, I do!

I have no family

except for those who live in the alley.

I sit here by myself, alone

no food, no friend,  no cell phone…

I sit here in my ragged clothes

Do you really think this is what I chose?

Dazed eyes…no longer can I cry

Emptiness looms inside

English: Homeless veteran in New York

English: Homeless veteran in New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day in…Day out

Night in…Night shouts

You sit in your room for ten-

I sit on the curb and pretend.

You throw me a dollar to spend…

But when it will ever end?

“That will help me, that will do.”

You say, “He’ll probably have a drink or two”

How you judge me, what if I do?

Wouldn’t you too?

How do you know I won’t buy a coffee,

while you go on to see your bookie?

I sit on the street…

In utter defeat.

Take me, help me get on my feet again.

Do you have that kind of time to spend?

Would you take me in your home?

Would you give me a place of my own?

English: Source: Joshua Sherurcij

English: Source: Joshua Sherurcij (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just a corner is all I need.

Can you respond to my plea?

All that is, all that could be,

I just can’t find my way, can’t you see?

I once had a home

that I called my own.

I once had friends–

Our time we thought would never end!

Hard luck came upon me

Lost my job, my dignity, all of it, you see.

If fortunes were reversed

You could be the one who thirsts

I am one of you…

floating homeless

floating homeless (Photo credit: nozoomii)

I know you, I do!

Homeless people all the world around!

Homeless people in your town!

English: A homeless man in New York with the A...

English: A homeless man in New York with the American flag in the background. Français : Un homme sans domicile fixe à New York. Un drapeau des États-Unis est visible en arrière plan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Homeless shelters but a few…

Homeless could be me and you…

Homeless in America could it be?

Homeless in the Land of Opportunity?

Homeless man in Tokyo

Homeless man in Tokyo (Photo credit: theeruditefrog)


Who was Aminul Islam…Martyr for Workers in Bangladesh?

Aminul Islam was a married man

A husband, a father

An ordinary man who walked the Earth everyday seeking to create a living

What would prompt a man to stand up and fight the Hog that fed him and his family?

What would prompt a man to speak out when he was threatened previously to keep his mouth shut?

What would prompt a man to speak the truth when he would end up giving his life for just that fact alone?

A person with a passion for justice

A person who cared about his fellow workers

A person with a heart so pure he cared only for humans to be kind to other humans

A person who believed in truth

A person who was hoping speech would loosen the grip of greed choking the owners

A person who was only asking that walls and floors be built  safely

A person who was only asking for just wages so that he could feed and clothe  his family

A person who was only asking for basic human kindness

Greed and fear took over the hearts of those who killed him

Now who will take care of his wife? of his children?

Will truth be silenced because he died?

Hopefully, more will take up his cause and fight the battle for him and for each other

equality  justice  hope love social justice factories in Bangladesh

Bangladesh people

Bangladesh workers

Factory Collapse in Bangladesh


A map of the languages spoken in Bangladesh, i...

A map of the languages spoken in Bangladesh, in English. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“…So, Bangladesh faces a multilayered situation. Even though there is anger that people are being paid a pittance, there are equal concerns that international corporations could now abandon clothes that are ‘Made in Bangladesh’ due to safety problems…”

Extensive coverage of war crimes tribunals and controversial calls for blasphemy laws. ( 12-May-2013 )

Aminul Islam…Martyr for Workers in Bangladesh

The flag of Bangladesh Deutsch: Die Flagge von...

The flag of Bangladesh Deutsch: Die Flagge von Bangladesch Esperanto: La flago de Bangladeŝo Español: Bandera de Bangladesh. Italiano: Bandiera del Bangladesh. Русский: Флаг Бангладеша Slovenščina: Državna zastava Bangladeša (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aminul Islam is a martyr, whose death should not be in vain

He died because he spoke for the workers with no names

He died a cruel and torturous death not seeking fame

He simply asked for just wages and safe working conditions

Hoping that injustice would not become the tradition

That human life would not be lost in perdition

He rallied for those who had no voice

He spoke out for safety for lives who had no choice

He is silent now, but we remain with the damning invoice


We buy the clothes for which the men, women and children died

They wanted to work, they had to eat, they had their pride

They were crushed to death so the big cats could set money aside

What can we do, we may say…stand up today against these brands

Add your voice to Aminul Islam and ask for love to expand

We cannot  act like what we do doesn’t matter, we are part of the band

Do not allow this man’s death to be in vain

Shout out to the corporations  your disdain

His wife and children should not live in the rain

Men, women and children deserve human respect

Factories can be shut down and forced to inspect

One thousand one hundred twenty-seven lives too late to protect

Bangladeshi woman

Bangladeshi woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


European and USA Companies that do not insist on safe working environments are:  Wrangler, Wal Mart

**************************************************************************************** EYE ON BANGLADESH: At a time when Bangladesh is under intense scrutiny to make reforms in its garment industry in the wake of a building collapse that killed 1,127 people, CBS News has turned up another garment factory making clothes for Wal-Mart, Asics and Wrangler that allegedly blocks its emergency exits, fails to provide an adequate number of fire extinguishers and uses child labor.”


His body was found two days later, dumped by the roadside. His kneecaps were smashed, and his toes had been broken. No suspect has been named.

Fahima told us she believes factory owners paid off corrupt police to torture and kill her husband.

“If you try to help workers in Bangladesh,” she said, “you make enemies.”

U.S. retailers have been trying to improve conditions in Bangladesh for many years, but there isn’t any pressure on American companies to stop doing business in Bangladesh altogether.

Bangladeshi workers need these jobs, but a lot of people in Bangladesh told us that since U.S. retailers benefit from the country’s very low wages, should take responsibility for conditions inside factories. Following the Rana Plaza collapse, several European retailers have signed an agreement to use their own money to make Bangladeshi factories safer, but so far, all of the big U.S. retailers have declined to sign on.”

If you are further interested in this cause, below is an organization that is also:

Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights
(formerly National Labor Committee)
5 Gateway Center, 6th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, U.S.A.
Office +1 412.562.2406  |  Fax +1 412.562.2411