Local teacher explores homelessness through poetry

Many people think they know the reasons for homelessness.

by Jill Forman

Mental illness. Drugs. Laziness. High rents. Underemployment. Many people think they know the reasons for homelessness. And others know the solutions: treatment, jail, more jobs, subsidized housing, more services, fewer services.

But as local teacher Brian Galetto knows, it is “Not So Simple.” A multifaceted situation with multiple root causes and no easy answers calls for careful thought and a big dose of empathy.

How to accomplish this? “Everybody loves a story,” he says. Poetry is “…telling a story with rhythm.” He was teaching poetry and liked its conciseness, “…a way to get people to listen.”

His sign screamed


I had pizza for later

But later for me

Was present for him.

So he started writing “Not So Simple” in 2015, and it was published in February of this year. He has two themes: just trying to get by, and it’s never simple. “I’m trying to show what it means to be a community.”

Brian came to California with his degrees in English and a desire to make the world better as a teacher. Villanova was revamping their speech program and he had a chance to design a communications curriculum that teaches, along with grammar, writing and speaking skills, Brian’s core values: empathy, compassion, gratitude.

Living in downtown Ventura, he sees the homeless daily; “…I was curious…” and started to talk to them and find out about their lives. For a while he was giving out food and “care packages” in the parks, until the city put a stop to that. At Villanova he initiated their version of “Socktober,” collecting clothes and toiletries; he works with HELP of Ojai, local churches, and Project Understanding.

To increase his community involvement, and get other perspectives on the problems, he goes to community council meetings. He even went to the rally at City Hall even though “I was scared…it felt like a mob mentality…I understand why people are angry, but we need to channel that energy into solutions.”

His students learn about the subject starting with conversation, then seeing videos and learning stories. “It breaks down preconceived notions that they didn’t even know they had.” They go on to do service-based projects, not only on homelessness but others that expand the concepts they have learned in his class.

Not So Simple” has been well-received so far. He has had four public readings, at libraries and bookstores in addition to his book release party at a local restaurant. It has sold 500 copies, more than he expected; he goes back to his refrain of “…at the end of the day, we all love stories.” With these stories, he hopes to “…change how others think about some things.”

The streets can do that to a man

The mentality it must take to survive,

Convince your body not to give in

To hunger

To demons

To death

How would you keep your soul alive outside?

All proceeds from sales of the book go to Project Understanding. They are available at Bookends Bookstore, Palermo Coffee Shop, and Bank of Books. Brian’s email is [email protected].

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