Monday, December 21, 2009

Homeless Gift Guide 2009

[Republished from Doc Gurley's blog on SF Gate's City Brights]

This time of year, no matter what your worldview, religion or culture, it's hard, as you hurry past the homeless huddled on the street, to not feel like Scrooge. Whether you're taking your family to the Nutcracker, or pounding the pavement for a job yourself, walking past so many shivering mounds of human misery takes a toll on the psyche. Maybe your kids are tugging on your arm, asking why can't something be done? Maybe you (like so many of us) just don't feel comfortable handing out bits, or even wads, of cash. So what can YOU do to make a small difference? Here, folks, is the 3rd Annual Doc Gurley Homeless Gift Guide, with tips for how you too can safely give an affordable, life-saving gift to the neediest among us. Because when it comes to the homeless, that's when, truly, The Giving Is Easy. And once you see how simple and rewarding it can be to drop a gift with a homeless person, be sure to pass the word along. Email friends, post your efforts on Facebook or MySpace. Put together gifts to have in your car for those awkward moments when you're waiting at an intersection, staring at a scrawled "anything helps, even a smile" cardboard sign. It will change the whole tenor of your life.

At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.<br />Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?

At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.
Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?

Still feeling reluctant to throw together a homeless gift? Keep in mind that, when it comes to your health, studies show that acts of altruism benefit YOU - your life satisfaction, your overall level of contentment, and even how long you live. If altruism was a drug, it would outsell Viagra.

Still not convinced? Channel some of your Niner frustration into a slightly different competitive arena. Hey, we've got to do something to redeem our city's good name - in the compassion-for-the-homeless nationwide stakes, San Francisco and Berkeley won top slots for Meanest Cities in America.

Still not convinced? Well, when it comes to gifts for the homeless, I'm not exaggerating about that life-saving part. How often can you give a simple gift, for less than 5 bucks, that can actually save the life of someone you pass each day? Now that's effective gifting. Life on the streets takes a lethal toll, and many people die unacknowledged. If you have a moment to spare in memory of the destitute, head over to City Hall as you leave work tonight at 5:30pm for our city's Solstice Homeless Death Memorial. Light a candle against the darkness tonight if you can, because each person deserves a moment to honor their passing.

How To Give:

Safety first - for you and your gift recipient. While many of us realize that giving an obvious gift to a street person might attract unwanted attention to yourself, you may not be aware that you could also be making your gift-recipient a target for assault later. When it comes to handing out a gift, here's what you mutter to yourself as you do it (hey, you'll blend in even more!): Discreet, discreet - the motto on the street. The safest and best way to gift a street person is to do what you already do - give small gifts to the folks you predictably pass on your usual routes, whether you're going to work, going out to dinner, or heading to a movie. Keep a gift handy and, instead of bending over to drop a buck in a cup, put your bag on the ground and keep going. Don't break stride, avoid getting into long conversations. Don't make a show of giving gifts around a large area and certainly don't go into areas your don't know. I'd say don't gift alone, or in isolated areas, and don't give gifts to crowds. Gift should be given in plain bags - no bows, no garish colors, no Tiffany sacks. It's nice, though, to tuck inside a small bow or giftcard ("From Me, To You"). You wouldn't wave money around, and the same applies to your gift. Anytime you might consider handing someone a dollar, hand him/her a gift instead. And do it as discreetly, and with as little fanfare.

What To Give:

Oooh (rubs hands together), now's the fun part! You can give hope, joy and inspiration with ANY small gift, including that old standby, money. But if you're looking for some practical tips, here's a few ideas.

1) Give warmth - you can find nice knit watch caps for as little as a dollar at many stores, including Target. Tips: try to stick to gender-neutral colors, although brights like red are nice. Women and transgender people forced to live on the street are often targets of sexual violence, and tend to dress to stay under-the-radar. If you give a hot pink pom-pom hat to the homeless woman on your corner to brighten her day, don't get your feelings hurt if it seems to have quickly disappeared. Same holds true for mittens and scarves. Darker colors are also nice because they don't show wear so quickly. Heat-shield blankets (also widely available in camping sections, for approx. $3 each at Target) can save a life - especially now with winter settling in with a vengeance.

2) Give protection - If you're considering gifting an umbrella, don't go buy one! Instead, buy (for about the same price) a sturdy plastic poncho. Umbrellas are bulky for homeless people, and, frankly, too frail. Umbrellas rarely withstand continuous rain. You can also consider giving a nice Intruder Alarm, like the one I found. It combines a piercing alarm-lock to protect valuables, and an LED light, all into one small key-chain-sized device. Consider making your gift-bag a gift too. Street people struggle to carry belongings in those thin white plastic bags. A sturdy cloth bag, or a reusable heavy-plastic rain-proof one, with a small treat inside, is a gift all by itself.

3) Give health - Footcare is a huge deal if you're exposed to constant rain, have no reliable access to a bathroom, and spend all day on your feet. Two pairs of sturdy new socks (two pairs so you can swap them out when one pair gets wet), a washcloth for drying between toes, and a toiletry-sized bottle of lotion make a great theme gift, especially now when continuous rains can actually cause homeless people to suffer from that World War I horror - trench foot. You can also gift a small first aid kit, or hygiene items. If you're gifting toiletries, however, keep in mind that everything has to be carried at all times, so travel-sized is MUCH better than Costco-sized. It's hard to give nourishing food, but giftcards of all types (food, transit, drugstore) make a nice gift. Be sure, however, to buy cards for locations that are very close by, and ones where a street person, maybe if not exactly welcomed, can at least reliably enter the premises.

4) Give joy - I personally think every present should have a little treat in it. Say, one high-quality, individually-wrapped chocolate, or a small fluffy whimsical item that would make anyone smile. When you buy these in packs, you can get them at very affordable prices to split among many homeless gift-bags. You can even combine joy and practicality by gifting a Santa-hat - it will keep a head warm, and help with panhandling.

5) Give understanding - with the economy so dire, many people may not be able to afford buying anything new. Giving a gift of something you already own (but rarely use), is fine. Maybe you have some old polartec throws, or a blanket or two that no one uses. You can also gift a street person with a BIG used item, like that old sleeping bag, or a coat, or even a tent. If you do gift a used item, be sure it's obviously freshly laundered and mended. Homeless people are often victimized by receiving "free," second-hand stuff that is infested with lice or scabies. It is an awful form of torture to have a warm item you're afraid to use - so be sure YOUR gift smells laundry fresh!

Brittney Murphy death cause report delayed "5-6 weeks"

Now it's reported that the cause of Britney Murphy's death may not be known for some time. explains that the autopsy was finished Monday afternoon but an unidentified source within the LA County Coroner's Office told the online publication that it "will be 5-6 weeks for test results to come through."

Brittany Murphy

Brittany Murphy was a popular and talented actress, writer, and producer who passed away of a heart attack Sunday morning at her Hollywood Hills home. She was found in her bathroom by her mother. Murphy's husband Simon Monjack then called 911. According to, Simon Monjack had asked that an autopsy not be performed, but the LA County Coroner's office ignored the request.

Foul play has been ruled out as a possible cause.

John Russo on Oakland, Oakland A's, Oakland City Attorney's office

John Russo: Part One:

John Russo: Part Two:

On Friday December 18th 2009 I sat down to talk with Oakland City Attorney John Russo and produce a vlog (video-blog) of our conversation. The result is a wide-rannging, 32-minute interview that essentially divides into three parts: the Oakland City Attorney's Office in the Economy, the Oakland A's, and the Oakland Mayor's race and Oakland politics. Here are some highlights from the videos:

Oakland City Attorney John Russo

The Oakland City Attorney's Office

Russo says that he has to cut a total 11 of a staff of 40 attorneys, or about 25 percent of his staff. He's already lost seven attorney positions this year, will lose another four, and is expected to cut another million from his budget during the next fiscal cycle. "Everybody works a little harder," Russo said. But he offered that when you lose that much of your core staff you're just not going to get as much done. As Russo pointed out, no one's yelling "save the lawyers."

"The City has to respond to lawsuits," he said. That means outsourcing, which is more expensive than having staff because the work needs to get done. "We're going to do the best we can," Russo said.

The Oakland A's

This conversation was covered extensively in my blog posting of Friday, December 18th. I wrote this:

Our conversation on the Oakland Athletics started because I asked John what he thought of San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera's letter to Major League Baseball. The letter, released on Thursday and I have (and will post for review) a copy of, states at length that the City of San Francisco is concerned with the potential negative financial impacts on that San Francisco if the Oakland A's are allowed to move into the San Francisco Giants 'territorial rights' area as established by the current Major League Agreement...

On the matter of the letter, Russo said "I think its an interesting letter. I spoke to Dennis today. I told him I think its an interesting theory. I can see where his concerns are; I understand it." Russo says that he can see where San Francisco taxpayers are a third-party beneficiary of those territorial rights given to the SF Giants...

"I do know that over the years, the Giants relied upon that territory in creating their ballpark, Russo said. "I also know that here in Oakland we relied on certain representations by the A's in signing a very flexible and advantageous lease with them. And I'm looking into whether or not their clear, and very clear attempt to move to San Jose - and San Jose's attempts to lure the A's - whether or not those are interfering with our rights under the lease."

In other words the City of Oakland's considering suing both the Oakland Athletics and the City of San Jose.

The City of Oakland

Russo explained why the City settled for $1.75 millionin the legal tussle with the Oakland Policewhere 500 officers successfully claimed they went without pay for pre-shift and post-shift activities. "As a matter of law, the City miscalculated over time...Once the court held as a matter of law we violated federal labor law standards in the calculation of overtime, that meant the party plaintiffs were guaranteed to get their attorney's fees for the case." Russo said that the City of Oakland has had 10 years of personnel problems in this area.

Russo didn't like the case but the city was legally bound. Russo said it was important to get the case "off the table" because the City of Oakland has a great relationship with the current new leadership of the Oakland Police Officer's Association. The lawsuit was filed under the OPOAs old regime.

The Race for Mayor Of Oakland

Russo said that there are really only two well-known mayoral candidates as of this writing: Oakland City Councilwoman Jean Quan and Former California State Senator Don Perata. John made an interesting observation in saying that the the executive power had leaked out and away from the Mayor's Office and to the City Council, and both can and need to spend time getting it back. That's a way of saying the Mayor's Office has not taken the lead in running the city, an observation that's become standard among Oakland insiders.

Follow-up coming

I decided to, as they say, eek this out in a series of posts rather than just one. This one introduces the videos but there's a lot Russo said that I will focus more on in blog posts leading up to Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

Tiger Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren not divorcing - confirmed

Two days ago I wrote that Tiger Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren was not divorcing Woods before Christmas, if at all in the future. My assertion was based on pure lack of evidence. That's confirmed by today, Monday.

TMZ reports that Elin Nordegren is upset with Woods to be sure, but can't figure out what to do. The sheer number of alleged affairs has her questioning if she can ever trust Tiger Woods again.

But as of this writing just four days before Christmas, they're still together.

I have to mention that HLN's Nancy Grace's show last night reported wrongly that Elin Nordegren was seeking a divorce. Nancy Grace did not hedge her words. She had Elin in Sweden - not true. The result was one of the most awful shows I've seen from someone who's work effort I like.

Reporting an opinion is one thing, but facts are something else. Hey, I get things wrong but I take steps to make it right. Nancy Grace should do the same.

Brittany Murphy death predicted by Perez Hilton on radio show

Not only is Brittany Murphy's death not a hoax, as some are blogging for some reason, it was predicted by Perez Hilton (Mario Lavandeira) this month. The death hoax claims are cruel and unnecessary, just to get that out of the way.

Perez Hilton

Some may find Perez Hilton infuriating - and he bills himself as having Hollywood's most hated website - but Perez Hilton does know Hollywood and the players within it. Including Brittany Murphy.

According to NBC San Diego, Perez Hilton appeared on the morning radio show AJ in the Morning earlier in December. Hilton was asked if there would be another celebrity death "headed in the same path" as Michael Jackson.

His response was "Brittany Murphy, maybe."

According to the same NBC source, Murphy was said to have an eating disorder earlier in he career and that some believed it was tied to an alleged cocaine habit. Murphy denied these allegations in 2005.

On his blog, Hilton hinted at this with his first post on Murphy:

Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton wrote:

Absolutely devastating. Especially because this comes as no surprise! We, and those who knew Brittany personally, saw this coming. That does not make this any less horrible.

Stay tuned.