THE COMMUNITY REPORTER ASK DEB ARCHIVES & Aspects of her life as a writer

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

You Can't Go Home Again... September, 2015 Community Reporter Column

September 2015 Community Reporter Column

“You Can’t Go Home Again?” You Can if You are Emily in OUR TOWN…

I grew up a poor Baptist preacher’s kid living my teen years on a hill by a creek in the backwoods of Central New York on a dirt road three miles from the nearest neighbor and a ten-mile bus ride to Marathon Central High School. Our house, a fixer-upper with a screen porch and a bank of Myrtle out front, held my family of seven. In the winter we huddled close to the space heater in the living room where the TV offered me the thrilling close up view of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and my first glimpse of Barbra Streisand with her amazing voice and her unlikely looks. We lived in three bedrooms divided by two by four framing with blankets tacked for privacy. At night I tucked my baby sister into bed in her crib in Mom and Dad’s room, put my hard-earned Barbra Streisand LP on the portable record player and sang my sister and myself into a peaceful state I remember to this day.  During the few years we lived on the country hill we expanded our luxuries from an outhouse to an indoor bathroom with a shower, moved from collecting water in milk jugs from the creek to a pump in the yard to indoor plumbing and a window with a view over the kitchen sink.

I remember my Mom posted an index card on the kitchen wall. It was a Bible verse from Isaiah. “…they who wait … shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” I pondered those words and contemplated the majestic nature of eagles as I overheard my mother crying behind the blanketed walls of her bedroom.

The year I was sixteen was a year of great discovery and epiphany for me.  My mom gave me James Baldwin’s GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN and Evelyn Smith’s STRANGE FRUIT. My English teacher gave me Truman Capote’s OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS. That same English teacher picked me to play Emily Gibbs/Webb in Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN. The tiny local newspaper described my performance as bringing down the house and leaving not a dry eye in the place. I can still feel myself in that alternate universe I lived in the months I rehearsed Emily and the two nights I was her returning to life in the cemetery at Grover’s Corners.

I left New York after that and graduated high school in a steel mill town in Ohio the following year. I married a boy I’d met in the New York Hills and we drove our 1963 VW Bug to Saint Paul, Minnesota where I’ve lived and done all my growing up.

I went home this month to the beautiful Finger Lakes Area and the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. I took in the roadside array of wildflowers, remembering I had picked the daisies and buttercups for my wedding flowers. I watched an Eagle soar overhead and close by on a road through those breathtaking hills. I burst into songs and giggles with my sister and brother who still call New York home.

I remembered the lines I spoke as Emily in 1966 and realized, not for the first time, how precious it is to pay attention to life as we live it. I think I can go home again. I think I did. But, as always, the beauty of home as we live day to day in our frantic blindness and reaching for more can escape us.  Over and over again on this latest journey home I found myself repeating Emily’s words:  

“Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?” Thornton Wilder, OUR TOWN

Deborah Padgett is a painter, writer and community activist. Her books Solving Lonely, The Sea in Winter and A Story Like Truth are available at SubText, Claddagh, Artista Bottega, Chapter2 Books, the Saint Paul Public Library and on Amazon.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

If Wishes Were House, Part II

June 2015

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
H. D. Thoreau
“Conscious, careful selection of those activities, situations, or people to whom we’ll devote attention is all that separates centered, serene people from harried men and women… The temptation is great to attend to first one thing and then another, passively and superficially. However, our lives are enriched only when we commit ourselves to a deeper level of involvement, and to the few, rather than the many.”
 THE PROMISE OF A NEW DAY by Karen Casey & Martha Vanceburg.

In 1990, a particularly low point in my life, when scarcity characterized so much I saw around me, I stumbled upon this passage in Barbara Kingsolver’s ANIMAL DREAMS. “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for, and the most you can do is to live inside that hope.What I want is so simple I can hardly say it:  elementary kindness. Enough to eat. Enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed.”  The passage hit me nearly like a brick in the heart. “Yes. That’s it.” I thought. “Enough to go around.” A lack of scarcity… This would be the hope in which I resolved to live.  My commitment was fixed in the direction of… if not plenty, then, at the very least, “enough to go around.”  At the time I had no idea where this commitment would lead me, but, daily, as I watched from my porch or window and as I strolled my neighborhood, I saw the scarcity that blighted the lives of the many homeless individuals in my community.  For years I wondered how it was that people found themselves in such dire circumstances in our country and community that possessed such a wealth of resources. I had some peripheral awareness of shelters, sober houses, Section 8 Vouchers and housing projects and began to wonder how an individual or family in need would access these resources. In Fall of 2010 I Google-d the term homeless, St. Paul and through a rather circuitous route landed upon a Ramsey County/City of Saint Paul structure called The Homeless Advisory Board.  I did a bit of research into the structure and agenda of this board, sought out an application, filled it out and was appointed by the Mayor as a community representative for this collaborative group that worked under the moniker HEADING HOME RAMSEY.  In 2013 the Board restructured as the Ramsey County CONTINUUM OF CARE. What had once been, largely an information sharing group became a true collaboration between provider organizations, service agencies, philanthropic agencies and other funding sources, along with local government and ties to State, Regional and National initiatives to end homelessness.
In last month’s column I described the concept of the Continuum of Care and its gateway, Coordinated Entry.  Data is shared, compiled, evaluated through the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) housed at Wilder.  Through this collaboration we are able to conduct an exhaustive assessment of the resources necessary to prevent homelessness, the particular and varying needs of people experiencing homelessness and the availability or scarcity of those services and resources. We can capture the entire scope of the need in quantifiable terms and attach to this the very particular services, facilities, staffing needs and costs. It’s not unlike the process a sports franchise undertakes when they identify the desire or need for a new stadium or arena.  Basic business planning questions like these are asked: “What do we want this to look like?” “Who do we want to serve?” “What particular needs/services do we want to provide?” “Who is likely to benefit?” “What are the costs /savings associated with the project?” “What will be our return on investment?” “How will this project benefit the larger community?”  In communities throughout the country where the Continuum of Care and Coordinated Entry structure has been employed there is emerging and strong evidence that housing the homeless and bringing stability to their lives is a winning strategy for a vibrant, prosperous and healthy community. When we begin to look at how we all benefit by lifting people out of poverty and need instead of viewing people in need as a drain on our resources we show ourselves to be living deeply within that hope of enough for all and plenty to go around.

A further hope of mine is that you will become familiar with the solutions to provide housing for all and recognize the role you play in deciding what you hope for and the contribution you can make by living within that hope. If you are experiencing a housing crisis please call 211.  The Coordinated Entry phone number for families is 651-215-2262. For more information on HEADING HOME RAMSEY and the partnering organizations in the Continuum of Care please visit our website at

Thursday, May 14, 2015

May 2015: IF WISHES WERE HOUSES… Where might I find the front door?

IF WISHES WERE HOUSES… Where might I find the front door?

Imagine, if you will, a home with rooms designed to accommodate any variety of human needs facing the homeless.  This “house” (we’ll call it…) is outfitted for sleeping, cooking, eating, bathing, playing games, studying, building, designing, thinking, reading, watching, listening, dressing, sharing stories, working, connections to jobs, health care, mental health resources and education. It’s goal is housing first, a roof to cover every head. Imagine various providers of all the essential resources that connect people in need with the resources and wherewithal to meet those needs coming together under the single goal of eliminating homelessness. Let’s call this house a Continuum of Care.  Such a “house” exists. It is real. We do not have to wish for it, dream it or imagine it. In Ramsey County more than 100 agencies and organizations collaborate to provide comprehensive services toward preventing and ending homelessness.

While all the pieces are in place to identify and meet the needs of those experiencing a housing crisis, there exists, especially in Ramsey County and St. Paul, a crisis of funding that significantly demeans our ability to realize the wish for access to houses/homes for all. It might be appropriate to visualize the absence of a front door, an entry into this mighty house we’ve just built.  A recent round of funding has left us scrambling for a way to provide the essential Coordinated Entry that is the doorway to housing and shelter for those in need. It is essential that community members, potential funders, business owners/operators, leaders and government officials and employees become fully aware of the Continuum of Care and our role in making it a success.

Many of the agencies, service providers, landlords, faith-based, humanitarian, foundations, outreach workers and funders who collaborate have been serving the needs of the homeless in a piece meal and/or broad fashion for some time. We all know the fine work of Dorothy Day, The Listening House, Saint Stanislaus, The Salvation Army and the Union Gospel Mission. The office of the Mayor, the city planners, Ramsey County Human Services, the police department, Joseph’s Coat, various health and mental health providers come to mind as participants in service to the homeless. Heading Home Ramsey’s Continuum of Care is where all of these providers come together to make up that larger house I’ve asked you to imagine. A key aspect of this collaboration is the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) housed at Wilder.  Each collaborating provider/organization collects and submits data regarding needs assessed and needs met or remaining to be met. We are able to identify how many people are experiencing a housing crisis, the exact type of crisis they are experiencing, what circumstances exist to meet their specific needs, how quickly their needs are met and when and where the crisis ended.

The Front Door or entry point to this collaboration is called COORDINATED ENTRY. I like to picture the Continuum of Care as a full-service hospital designed to meet any and all needs of the community it serves and Coordinated Entry as something of a triage system where the first call for help – a HOTLINE, for example – results in the caller being directed to the appropriate entry and beyond until his particular question has been answered and his needs have been met.

A “first call” COORDINATED ENTRY phone number for access to housing and shelter has been established:

The Heading Home Ramsey website offers a doorway to answers about how Ramsey County, under the auspices of Heading Home Ramsey and in concert with other Minnesota counties and Heading Home Minnesota and Continuums of Care throughout the country are working diligently toward the goal of ending homelessness. In the coming weeks and months this website will be updated to provide an entry point for questions you may have. Already, the site has much useful information and links to broaden and deepen your understanding of the work that’s underway and the role you can play in bringing homelessness to an end. You will find this website useful if you are a person seeking help, a landlord, a property development/management professional, resource/service provider, volunteer, funder or participant on the Continuum of Care Board of Directors or one of its work groups and committees. The COC Board meets the 3rd Friday of each month from 9 – 11 a.m. at Lutheran Social Services on Como Avenue in St. Paul. Meetings are open to the public. We are actively recruiting your participation.

Deborah Padgett is an elected member of the Ramsey County COC Board and serves as secretary on the executive committee. She is a West End resident, visual artist, novelist and a regular columnist to the COMMUNITY REPORTER.  For more visit:



Anyone here remember the “Crying Indian” who’s tears fell as he looked out over our mountains, streams and highways and saw how careless we were with our trash? Turns out that Indian was Italian but, hey, that is entirely beside the point but I am reminded of him today. Melted snow and warm temperatures are revealing our beautiful city in need of some tender loving care. It’s apparent the Saint Patrick’s Day weekend celebration detritus overwhelmed existing trashcans or that many were unable to find a receptacle. As a homeowner living in a shared commercial/residential area I don’t mind picking up a bit of dropped or blowing trash from time to time. When I’m out for a stroll and see trash I often bend to pick it up with a plan to deposit it in a nearby trashcan. Sadly, I’m finding these receptacles way too few and far between. Do you, Dear Cool Kids, realize there is not a single public trashcan on either side of West 7th between Smith Avenue (going West) and the West side of Mancini’s? Perhaps it is the expectation that the businesses that occupy these blocks will tidy up the area outside their doors but I do not see attention to that detail. When I pick up garbage outside these businesses I either have to carry the trash two to three blocks or enter the business (if it happens to be open) and seek out a garbage can.

Here’s my request. Can either the City of Saint Paul or the business owners on these bustling blocks install trashcans and arrange for its pick up? I don’t mean to pick only on my West 7th neighbors. Oh, goodness no. The streets leading up to and intersecting University Avenue and the parking lots in that area are a garbage-eyesore. I’m asking that we all do our part to make and keep springtime in Saint Paul beautiful. Let’s each pick up trash where we see it, deposit our trash responsibly and urge local government to install public trashcans. Let’s prepare for a springtime where we can see and smell the roses without having to kick aside the litter.
Follow this link to volunteer for April 13, 2015, Saint Paul Citywide Clean-up:

Deborah Padgett is a West End resident, artist & writer.  You can find her novels in your local library, various independent retail stores & online.  Look for SOLVING LONELY, THE SEA IN WINTER & A STORY LIKE TRUTH.  



It’s been kind of weird here.  I’ve been preparing for my second Deepening Compassion Meditation Class (two Thursdays per month through May) for the last three weeks and was feeling in need because a lot of turmoil was bubbling up for me. So I went out to start the car Thursday morning (having to miss my usual River Garden Yoga class with the amazing Paula Dancing-Eagle, where I am guaranteed serenity…) and the thing was dead -- the car that is. Brand new car!  Dead for the second time in two weeks. Wouldn’t even turn over.  Michael and I both had lousy nights’ sleep Wednesday night because our land line went dead and that sets the security alarm off to little beep-beep-beeps endlessly until you get up and disable it. We tried everything to get the landline back in working condition and it is simply gone… So, last night at 3:30 am I had to get up and shut down the beep, beeps again. I called the security company and they can’t do anything about it until next week. I went to the basement and yanked the whole thing out of action and shut it down for now. While coming downstairs to pull the beep, beep cords I heard a loud buzzing/blowing noise and thought it was the fan on our new refrigerator. I muscled that thing out of its space, pulled the plug and the noise kept going. It was coming from the basement. The fan on our furnace was going nuts. So, three degrees below zero and descending, and our heat won’t circulate. Not to worry, we bundled up and trudged across the street to our beloved Day by Day Café to down hot coffee and warm up in the company of our neighbors. I had been unable to download and print a hundred or so pages of proposals for homeless services that I’d agreed to review knowing the weekend was the only time I had available. I was a bit panicked until the lead man on the board came by to hand-deliver the work. When the dear man showed up to give me the papers at the Day by Day I stood up to walk toward him, tripped on my husband’s foot extended into the aisle and just about landed in the guy’s arms.  AAAAARGH!

Oh, and someone hacked my email and sent an insulting link to my sister in New York and god knows how many others, further insinuating what I often worry might be true, that I am just not seen as a very nice person. All this weirdness added to the trouble I’m having understanding and accepting the world in which we now live. How people can go on being so inhumane, cruel and even evil to each other after all the lessons learned over centuries and centuries.  So, all a-fuddle, I was thinking of what to write in my column this month and I thought about two opposing bumper stickers:  “IF YOU’RE NOT OUTRAGED, YOU’RE JUST NOT PAYING ATTENTION” and ‘IF YOU’RE NOT GRATEFUL, YOU’RE JUST NOT PAYING ATTENTION”. It occurs to me that TURMOIL itself lives in our hearts and minds in the place between the two of these.  My mind went to that “Tender, shaky place…” as the wonderful teacher, Pema Chodrun, describes it in her LIVING BEAUTIFULLY WITH UNCERTAINTY AND CHANGE. She talks about the need to live in that middle place between compassion, generosity, kindness and/or peace and life’s discomforts, turmoil, aggravation and/or genuine suffering and disaster. After indulging in tan AAAARGH! Or two, here’s what I’ve learned to do.  I take a deep and slow breath, acknowledge that shaky place and come to what I believe is a really solid base of riding the waves of joy and or sorrow that life throws my way. I usually get there through meditation. Others approach it through prayer, dance or song. Either way, all recent ills and assaults duly noted, I sit right here in between outrage and gratitude. I bow then lift my head. My eyes fill with tears but a smile comes. And then this… Inevitably, I rejoice.

Deborah Padgett