"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying # 10

Episode #10  Good News & Bad News (click on the “grippers” tab and scroll down for the previous 9 episodes)

Tracey Slider had always had an affinity for managing money. Consequently, she had been able to dispense the meager funds they had in such a way as to keep all their bills current except, of course, the credit card debt. That was a totally different issue and, being several months behind in payments,  collectors were virtually calling them every day leaving Tracey and Bob both at a point that when the phone rang they would get an instant flip-flop inside themselves. However, combined with unemployment kicking in during the third week of June, the Sliders were temporarily managing their lives okay.

At the end of June,  Chris Jackson, one of Bob’s former co-workers at Bildot, called Bob and asked him if he would be interested in doing a roofing job. Chris’s neighbor needed a roof replaced and offered the job to Chris who had experience doing roofing. Bob jumped at the chance and by the middle of July had pocketed $1200.00 in cash for his labor. Chris and Bob had done such a good job they were hired by  another  neighbor down the street to do his roof and Bob earned another $1400.00 by the middle of August. In addition, Greg Margolese had come up with some painting and repair jobs at several of his rental  homes and Bob did that work as a trade-off against September’s rent.

Early in September, Greg called Bob on a Sunday evening and asked him if he could do some dry-wall finishing for him on Monday morning. First thing Monday, Bob stopped at Home Depot and picked up a five gallon pail of joint compound. He headed over to the vacant house on Darby Rd., got out of his truck and lowered the tail gate.He removed the bunji cord that was holding the pail of  “mud” in place, reached across his chest with his right arm, grabbed the handle on the pail and pulled. The pail of “mud”, weighing 50 or 60 pounds, did not move, its bottom edge caught on a bolt in the truck bed. Bob thought he had been struck by lightning as pain shot across his lower back, shot down his legs and exploded in his brain. He could not move.

For a moment he stood there, totally stunned and motionless. He did not understand what had happened. He took some deep breaths and tried to stand up straight. The pain in his lower back and down his legs was excruciating. It took almost ten minutes to close the tail gate and then slowly, inch by inch, work his way down the side of the truck and into the cab to get himself seated. He literally had to lean against the truck seat and pull himself into the truck by holding onto the steering wheel. The pain was so intense he was sweating profusely and tears filled his eyes. As he sat and got himself positioned the pain subsided a bit. Bob knew he was in serious trouble.

The nano-second pull on the pail of joint compound and the subsequent back explosion resulted in the “domino principle” taking effect. The first thing was that when Tracey lost her job nine months earlier and Bob’s hours were cut they had dropped their health insurance putting an additional $372.00 per month in their pockets. They did not want to do this but they needed the money.  Secondly, to collect unemployment a person had to be “ready, willing and able” to work. In addition, it was required to document that you had applied for at least five different jobs per week. (The work Bob had been doing was “off the books” and the cash payments he received were “under the table”.) Finally, Tracey immediately took Bob to the emergency room. He signed papers attesting to the fact that he was responsible for payment. An MRI was done and it was discovered that Bob had two herniated discs in his lower back, L4 and L5 in the lumbar region. The hospital gave him pain medications and referred him to a local orthopedic doctor. When they called to make that appointment and told them that they had no insurance they were told that they would need $175.00 for the initial consultation. The hope that had been resurrected inside them quickly had become “hope deferred”.

Next time: Episode #11 “What about Jake”

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying) Re-cap Episodes 1 thru 9

Re-cap: Episodes 1 thru 9  (Episode #10 will post next week) click on “grippers” and scroll down for previous nine episodes.

The great American paradox (Episode #6) of today is that there are  millions of people across this great land that are simultaneously rich and poor. They are “rich” (materially) because they have most everything money can buy; a car, big-screen TV, appliances, clothing, air-conditioned homes, video game systems, computers, cell phones, cable TV, etc. They are “poor” because they have lost their jobs, cannot find a new job and are, literally speaking,  rapidly running out of money. They are losing their grip. These are the pre-homeless folks I call  “Grippers”, people hanging on for dear life to what they have, hoping and praying that the economic tsunami that is engulfing the nation does not sweep them away and plunge them into the nether world we call “homelessness”, a place that might be in a car or under a bridge or in an alleyway or abandoned building requiring no forwarding address.

Episodes #1 thru #9 of the “Grippers” follows the journey of the Slider family, Bob, his wife Tracey and their 12 year old son, Jake. Kind, decent, law-abiding, hardworking  folks their whole lives they unexpectedly go through a downward spiral that includes both of them losing their jobs and rapidly running out of money. They buy some time by holding a huge yard sale and, combined with the sale of Tracey’s car,  manage to garner over $1200.00. Combined with some assistance from the St. Vincent De Paul Society in getting their electricity turned back on they are caught up with their obligations (except credit cards)  through the month of June. Bob is trying to find some work and they both have applied for unemployment, Tracey for the second time because she had been “kicked out of the system” when her computer failed during a thunderstorm and she could not sign in on time.

Next time: Episode #10  Good news and Bad News

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying # 9)

Episode # 9  The Home Visit  (click on the “Grippers tab and scroll down for the previous 8 episodes)

Their newly discovered sense of helplessness had Bob and Tracey drained and exhausted. They had $40.00 to their name, the electricity had been turned off, the inside of the house was hovering at about 90 degrees, the refrigerator was rapidly losing its coldness while the hot water heater was losing its hotness, the stove could not be used, and the anxious look on 12 year old Jake’s face spoke volumes about their situation. Bob’s family included a brother in North Carolina who was raising three young children on his own because his wife had passed away a year earlier from cancer and his mom and dad who had no other income except Social Security and had serious health issues. Up until six months earlier it had been Bob and Tracey who were helping them out.  Tracey was an only child and both her parents had passed away. The Sliders needed a break, a temporary reprieve, to help them gather their thoughts and breathe a bit. They received this from perfect strangers.

A man and woman from the St. Vincent De Paul Society at Sacred Heart Catholic Church came by to visit. Unpretentious, friendly, and not mentioning religion, they had managed to quickly put Tracey and her skeptical and defensive husband at ease. They managed to share some common ground about people and places in Pinellas Pines and even managed to have a few laughs together. The Vincentians were able to have the power restored by 6 p.m. and got a two week  extension on the water bill, guaranteeing payment if Bob and Tracey could not come up with the money. This technique helped Bob save face as he told them, “Don’t worry, I’ll have it covered by then. Thanks for backing me up. I really appreciate it.”

The Vincentians left and Bob and Tracey began planning a huge yard sale for the coming weekend. Bob had posted signs in strategic locations around the neighborhood and by 7 a m. Saturday morning their front yard was filled with “stuff”. They managed to take in over $1200.00. There was a trade-off however. Besides selling their sofa, two bicycles, two TV’s and a computer desk plus a ton of lawn maintenance equipment, tools and clothes, and all sorts of housewares, someone had offered them $800.00 for Tracey’s car, even with the blown fuel pump. They accepted the offer. They were able to pay the water bill, car insurance, the cable bill, phone bill and internet service and even took $150.00 and had their computer reformatted by their friend, Gary. They were good through June and into July. All Bob needed to do was to find some work so they could keep “above water”.

Next time: Episode #10  Good News and Bad News

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying # 8)

Episode # 8 Here come the church people— (click on the “Grippers” tab and scroll down for the previous seven (7) episodes)

“C’mon, Tracey, please. Call these people right now. You need your power back on. My God, you’ll lose everything in the refrigerator plus it’s 92 degrees outside and it’s already hot in here. C’mon, trust me. Make the call.”

Bob had his back to them and was making believe he was not paying attention but he was. “Call what people? What are you talking about?”

Jake, who was quietly taking everything in was, for the first time in his 12 years, sensing an insecurity inside himself. He did not understand the feeling.  “Hey, somebody want to tell me what’s going on around here. Why don’t the electricity work?”

“Look Jake,” his mom said,  “I’ll explain it all in a few minutes, okay. Everything is fine. don’t worry.”

Bob, getting exasperated, turned around, looked at Tracey and asked again, “What people are you talking about?”

Judi answered him, “The St. Vincent De Paul Society at my church. They might be able to help you out. That’s who.”

“I love ya Judi and your a great friend but sometimes—– no way. What are we, some kind of charity case. Just forget that whole idea.”

“You know Bob, I love you too but sometimes you let that damn pride of yours really cloud some good, old fashioned, common sense. Right now, at this moment in time, you need a bit of help. So why don’t you just get over it and let Tracey call. Trust me, it is not a big deal.”

Tracey, thinking about the “arm twisting” she had to do to get Bob to go to the unemployment office said, “Judi is right Bob. She’s right. I’m calling and I don’t care. What do we have to lose except maybe a bit of pride. So what. I’m calling.”

Bob threw his hands in the air and then threw them down. He said nothing and headed back to the garage.  His abruptness and hand waving was simply a way for him to save  some of the dignity he felt was being ripped away from him. Down deep, he was glad Tracey was going to the make the call.

Tracey shook her head and punched the numbers into the phone. She waited and said to Judi, “I’m getting a recording.”

“Don’t hang up, Tracey. Leave a message. They’ll get back to you.”

Tracey waited and then spoke, “Yes, my name is Tracey Slider. A neighbor gave me your number and told me I should call you. Anyway, our power was shut off and,” she paused to stifle a sob, “we need a little help. My number is 555-3790. Thank you.”

As Tracey hung up, Judi smiled at her and said, “Good for you, Trace. Good for you. Just say a little prayer and things will work out. It’s kind of late so I hope they can get to you today.. Anyway, I’ll call you later and see how it’s going.”

They hugged each other and then Judi left, waving and smiling at a pensive looking 12 year old who waved back only using  his hand as his arm rested across his leg. When Judi was gone Tracey said to her son, “Jake, I just want to get some ice-tea. You’re not a baby anymore so I’ll explain to you exactly what is going on. Do you want something to drink?”

Before Jake could answer the phone rang. Tracey flipped it open and a man said, “Hi, is this Tracey?”

“Yes, who’s calling?”

“Oh, hi Tracey,  this is Ron from St. Vincent De Paul. We got your message. So tell me, how long has your power been off?”

Tracey was a bit taken back at how quickly the return call had come in and said, “Wow, I only called about five minutes ago. That was fast.”

“Just good timing Tracey. I was picking up the messages and yours had just come in. If I had checked five minutes earlier it would not have been on the machine. Might not have gotten back to you today. God’s just watching out for us, that’s all.” The guy let out a slight laugh and continued, “Anyway, we have to come out to see you and can do it in the next half hour. How’s that sound?”

“You have to come HERE? We don’t come to you?”

“Yup. It’s the way we do it. It’s called a “home visit” but it is no big deal. Now look Tracey, usually we are not able to do a visit so quickly. In fact, most times it takes a day or so depending on people’s schedules. Being it is so late in the day and things seem to be falling into place maybe we can get something done today. I’m not sure but it is worth the shot. What do you say? Can we come over?”

“Well, sure, I guess so. That’s fine.” She gave Ron the address and he simply asked her to have her power bill available. As she hung up she felt no sense of intimidation or nervousness. Ron’s voice and down to earth manner had already put her at ease.

Bob came back in. “Well, what’s going on? Did you actually call those people?’

“I did Bob. I did.  They’ll be here in a half hour.”

“Oh great—So, here come the ‘church people’. Whatever, whatever. I’m going outside.”

Next time: Episode # 9 The Home Visit