Shelter from the Storm

Justin gave this talk to guests at Homeless Garden Project’s Sustain Farm Supper, 9.16.2017

Good Evening!  First of all, I would like to thank everyone for being here tonight.  And an extra special thank you to Mr. Tom Steyer and Ms. Kat Taylor  for volunteering your time and energy to be with us tonight.

But whether you are here to volunteer, work, donate, or simply enjoy a wonderful night with great company and delicious fresh farm to table food, thank you, sincerely, for being here.

Coe Holtaway photo

It is truly an honor to be asked to speak at such a special occasion, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to express myself.

So I have decided I will begin tonight like we do every Tuesday morning at circle, and have a check-in.  Tuesday morning circle can get a little personal, and I promise my share tonight won’t be any different.

My name is Justin and I am a trainee at the Homeless Garden Project.  Tonight, other than being a little nervous, I am doing great and happy to get the opportunity to share this evening with y’all and eat world class food in the middle of my favorite field in the town of Santa Cruz.  It’s September, so the autumn weather (which is my favorite) is beginning to arrive and some north west swells are beginning to hit our shores.  So naturally, I am stoked.

Other times though, I am a mess.  Though I am blessed with a wonderful family,  who wasable to make it tonight, and great education, I also have a thing called unspecified bipolar disorder and am in recovery from a drug and alcohol problem.  These times when I’m unstable, I think about all of the felonies I have gotten for things I’ve done while manic and psychotic. A different Justin than the one who is talking here today.  Like a bewitched Don Quixote, I have literally scared the crap out of friends, parents, siblings, and neighbors, and burnt bridges with several landlords and employers.  I cry when I think about it.  Who is ever going to give me a real job? Who is going to let me rent from their property with my background of psychotic behavior?

When I have these thoughts, it feels utterly hopeless and helpless, and I think about all of the people, just in this little town of Santa Cruz who must feel the same way. Many people like me, who have mental health or substance abuse problems end up on the streets. Most aren’t lucky enough to end up in a rehabilitation center like me, with a bed to sleep in and a roof over their head.

And this is why I am grateful for the Homeless Garden Project, which every day, when I come to work, gives me hope.

Tonight is a representation of a community recognizing these issues, and a small independent non-profit organization trying to do something about it.  I will say from a trainee’s perspective, we, collectively, are extremely thankful for this project. Hella thankful.  The HGP provides a safe and sober work environment where we can come to be relieved from the problems we face outside either on the street or in recovery centers.  As Bob Dylan would put it, the HGP provides Shelter From the Storm.

The Homeless Garden Project offers work to all of us without discrimination, regardless of our criminal background, substance abuse, or mental health backgrounds as long as we share the same goal of finding a full-time job and housing.  Not only does the program offer indiscriminate acceptance, but the work we do promotes healthy healing.  The seeds we plant do not discriminate and the flowers blossom for everyone, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.  This garden is a true place of acceptance and I welcome and thank everyone here for being a part of the beauty of this acceptance.

If you are here tonight, it is likely you realize that today we live in a difficult age where our mind, our bodies, our society, and our relationships are out of whack.  Our society is fragmented by income inequality and stressors are driving many of us out of control.

Again HGP comes to the rescue.  Gardening is a universal grounding practice that teaches us stillness and relieves anxiety.  At least I have found this for me  and have felt incredible personal growth and inner stillness in the garden.

So tonight, that was my share.  I invite each and everyone of you to someday join us on a Tuesday morning, so we can hear yours  I feel the more we open up and be honest about our situations, the more we can all personally heal.  Thank you all once again, and I wish you all a good evening!

Justin started as a trainee this May. He currently lives at New Life Recover Center. He studied Philosophy at Middlebury College before getting his MA degree at Monterey Institute for International Studies. He’s a surfer, an avid sportsman, a musician and a writer. In addition to working at HGP, he currently works at Epicenter Orchards and milks goats and a cow at a homestead in Happy Valley.