"The Kids Need a Bed Tonight"*


By Larry Peterson

Three days a week, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m they come and they wait. Three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday they come just to get a drop of reprieve from the outreach center; a bus pass to the VA or to get to a job interview, a bag of groceries, a voucher to get used clothes at the thrift store, maybe a small amount of money to help pay an overdue utility bill, and sometimes just to talk to someone, anyone who will listen.
The homeless, the disabled, the sick, the unemployed, the downtrodden, the marginalized, addicts and ex-cons just out of the “big-house” all stop by. All are different, yet all are living with one common denominator running their lives—survival.

It was 8:30 a.m. and the sun was already doing its thing, slowly roasting the folks as they waited patiently for the doors to open, some having been there since 7 a.m. Florida, ah yes, palm trees, blue skies and beaches–just another day in paradise.

Andre and Jessica had made the three mile walk to the St. Vincent de Paul outreach office and had arrived at 8 a.m. They signed in and were #11 on the list. At 10:15 a man opened the door and called their name. As they approached he smiled and said, “Hi folks, c’mon in. Sorry it took so long. How you guys doing today?”

He knew how they were doing and they knew that he knew but his friendly, unbureaucratic manner quickly put them at ease. “Okay, have a seat. I’m Joe. At least it’s cool in here, right?”

They sat, sighed and let the cool A/C soak into their overheated bodies. They said nothing.

“Well now,” Joe said looking straight at them, “I can see you have some heavy duty stuff going on. I hope we can help. So, what exactly is happening?”

They were a mixed race couple and they could feel inside themselves that whoever this man was it did not matter at all. You can just sense some things. They loosened up. Andre began to speak and tears quickly fell from Jessica’s eyes. “Look, man, we got two kids, six and eight years old, and we’re getting kicked out of our place at 11 a.m. if we don’t come up with $58.00, and we ain’t got a dime.”

“Where are the kids now?” Joe asked.

“With a neighbor. Look, we don’t care so much about us but the kids need a bed tonight, know what I mean?”

“I do Andre, I do. And for what it’s worth, you guys need a bed too. Where you staying?”

“Barkley Motel over on—“

“Oh yeah, I know the place well. Here’s the thing, Andre, we don’t pay rent monies from this office. We just don’t have the funds. But let me make a call.”

Joe picked up the phone and pushed the numbers for the Barkley. He knew them by heart. He smiled kindly at them and, as he waited for an answer, twirled his finger in the air as if to say, “C’mon–pick up already”.

After several moments went by he said, “Hello, hey Sam, this is Joe over at the St. Vincent de Paul outreach office. I have a couple here, Andre and Jessica—–What? What are you talking about? You have to be kidding me. They have until 11:00 a.m. Look Sam, these folks need that room now–not a new one tomorrow. You should have called me. Now, just “unrent” their room. I’ll be over myself about 12:15.”

Andre’s and Jessica’s hopes had risen and fallen in a matter of moments. Andre, a big man, said, “Man, what we gonna do?”

Joe asked, “What happens after tomorrow? Getting through today is almost like a stay of execution.”

“No, no, tomorrow I know I can get some work. Just gotta get through today. Plus, we got a place lined up for next week. Her mom worked it out. She’s up in Jersey and she knew someone and, anyway, come Saturday we’ll be okay. She’s even sending bus tickets for the greyhound over on 9th St. We leave Saturday afternoon. Next week is 4th of July and we plan on being in Jersey and celebrating. We just gotta get through till Saturday.”

“No kidding, Andre. That’s awesome. But today is only Wednesday. Well, we can’t have the kids without beds tonight….and tomorrow too. Now, here is a food voucher. Go across the street to the pantry and get some groceries. Then bring them home with you.”

“They ain’t been too nice to us over at the motel. And if I ain’t got the $58.00 they won’t let us in.”

“Don’t you worry about that. Trust me, okay. You go back there, everything will be all right.”

It was almost 1 p.m. when they arrived back at the motel. They walked to the front desk  and Sam, the manager, smiled at them. “Okay, I have good news for you. You’re paid up through Saturday.”

Jessica almost collapsed from relief. Andre held her up and a happy tear rolled down his cheek.

Back at the St. Vincent De Paul office Joe finished up the paperwork from the 23 clients he had served that day. As he filed Andre and Jessica’s sheet into the folder, he held it up for a moment, looked at it and smiled. And a well-deserved smile it was.

* An edited version of this appeared in Aleteia on July 2, 2016

                             ©  Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

"Being Thankful for Thanksgiving-"

I’m a holiday kind of guy. I love the Christmas season with its “peace-on-earth” and ‘”joy-to-the-world” messages and Santa Claus, and elves and Christmas lights and all that comes with the excitement leading up to Christmas Day. Most of all, I love the “reason for the season”—acknowledging the birth of Christ.

I also am fully aware of the pressure and stress Christmastime can bring to so many. This year, besides the homeless, the unemployed and  those with serious illness, we must factor in the death and devastation brought by “Monster Storm Sandy” on so many of our brother and sister Americans. Christmas for many will require much Faith in the ‘reason for the season’. 

Then there are the many  parents with no money who desperately want Santa to visit their house on Christmas Eve.  Let’s face it, kids are kids and Santa is Santa; to them the “real world” has no place in their little, anxious hearts. The stress this can cause for a mommy and daddy who might be struggling just to make rent can sometimes be overwhelming. And what about the single parents with only one income, generally small. Providing a Christmas for their kids can be one of the most stress filled times of the entire year. That is a whole other issue.  But first comes Thanksgiving—and Turkey and stuffing and pie and full bellies.

I LOVE Thanksgiving. To me it IS the best day of the year. Why? Because it is the one day of the year when we pause and simply give thanks for all that we have even if it is just a little. A job, good health, a cancer in remission, connecting with a long lost relative, the birth of a child, so many things that we can be thankful for. People from every economic situation can have a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day. Homeless shelters and soup kitchens and prisons serve turkey. Folks who have little money are able to receive turkey baskets from various charitable organizations so they can have a turkey dinner at home with their families. No-one in America needs to go hungry on Thanksgiving Day. You do not need to purchase gifts. All you have to do is show up, hang out, eat and enjoy the uplifted spirit of family and friends that are with you, even if they are strangers in a soup kitchen. This year even the victims of “Sandy” will have a turkey dinner available to them no matter what their situation. It will be something to be thankful for that day and will generate a spark of hope in otherwise despondent hearts. We should all be Thankful for Thanksgiving. It is a beautiful thing.

“If the only prayer you said in your WHOLE LIFE was,”THANK YOU”, that would suffice.”
Meister Eckhart 1260-1327, Theologian and Philosopher

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying #12)

Episode # 12  “Trick or Treat” (click on the “grippers” tab and scroll down for the previous 11 episodes)

Summer and the balance of September were gone and October had taken the time baton and charged forward. It was Halloween and the Sliders were  now full fledged “Grippers” financially drowning and just barely “treading water” as they tried to avoid being sucked under and lost in the abyss of abject poverty. They had been tossed one lifeline which Tracey grabbed onto. Through her friend Judi’s recommendation she had been hired as a part-time cashier at the local supermarket. She was working 20 hours a week and being paid $12.00 an hour. Her first bi-monthly paycheck had come in and she had received $390.00. At $780.00 a month they were now $256.00 a month better off than when receiving unemployment. The extra good news was that the possibility of being promoted to full-time was very real.

Bob, unable to collect unemployment, was moving around very slowly because of his injured back. He had qualified for medicaid through the Department of Children & Families and he was going to physical therapy three times a week. He was also taking oxycodone pills three times a day and had  been prescribed xanax to help him “relax” . It had taken less than two months for him to become addicted to these pills. The once happy-go-lucky, vibrant, hard working husband and father had turned sullen and quiet and was absorbed in his own personal “pity party” telling his wife, “You just don’t understand. You have no idea how much pain I’m in.” He was wrong. She understood much more  than he thought she did. She realized the pills had changed him dramatically and that  all he seemed to be concerned about was having enough of them.

It was 8 p.m. on Halloween. Tracey was next door at Judi’s and they had been greeting  all the little “trick or treaters” since six o’clock. The onslaught of monsters and ghouls and super-heroes and various other creatures was almost down to a trickle so they went inside to have some coffee and chat. Tracey thought she heard Bob’s truck start and hurried to Judi’s front door. She was just in time to see his  truck going down the street. Wonder where he’s going, she thought. Hope he’s all right.

He wasn’t all right. Having taken too many xanax along with his oxycodone had caused him to “fall asleep” as he pulled into the convenience store a half mile from the house. He proceeded to unceremoniously  smash into the side of a new Toyota Corolla. By 9:30 Bob was in handcuffs and on his way to jail. Charges were DUI with property damage. Tracey would not hear from him until 11:30. By then she was frantic about where he might be. When she heard her husband tell her that he needed to be bailed out of jail her mind went momentarily blank and she almost fainted. Fortunately, Judi and Tommy were both  there. Judi, standing next to Tracey,  quickly put her arm around her and helped her to sit down. She took the phone and began to gather the information from a nervous voiced Bob. Tommy quickly sat next to Jake who had started to cry. More dark days were ahead.

Next time: Episode # 13  “Now what?”

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying # 11)

Episode # 11 What about Jake  (click on the “grippers” tab and scroll down for the previous 10 episodes)

Lest we forget 12 year old Jake. What has been going on with him through all of this?

Jake, an only child, (he did not know that he had a sister that had been still-born two years before he had been born) had been the “shining star” in the lives of his parents. However, he had not been overindulged. His parents assigned him certain chores that were his ongoing responsibility and they checked his homework every night. He received a bi-monthly allowance and if he had not completed his assigned chores part of his allowance was withheld. He was being taught that there are consequences to what you do and do not do, an extremely important lesson for the character development of any child.

Bob, a blue-collar, fix-it type of guy, had Jake by his side anytime there were house or car repairs to do. Jake knew all about hand tools and power tools, could change the oil in the car, pull the spark plugs, maintain the lawn mower, mix concrete, and had, under his dad’s watchful eye, replaced the broken belt in the electric dryer. Bob had Jake out in the back yard at four years old teaching him how to throw, catch and hit a ball and Jake had been in Little League since he was six. Jake loved his parents deeply and his dad was his hero.

Bob and Tracey had decided to be honest with their son about the family situation. They did their best to explain the unemployment situation, why they had sold mom’s car and the two TV’s (they still had the big TV in the living room) and why new clothes and shoes for the beginning of 7th grade were going to have to be put “on-hold”. Jake understood it all the best he could and was happy that his parents had trusted him with this “grown-up” information and had confided in him. What he did not understand were the changes in his parent’s moods, their new abruptness, their ongoing  pre-occupation with things inside themselves and the sudden lack of laughter as the joking around and good natured teasing that used to seem to always fill the air was mysteriously absent. Bob had no idea the effect his new found cranky quietness was having on his boy.

Bob had always taken good care of his family and was proud of it. But his ego had taken a hit when he was laid off even though it was not his fault. Suddenly, not having the necessary monies available for paying bills and taking care of other things was new found territory he was traveling in. He could not turn around and go back to where he had been and this provided another heavy shot to his ego. The two roofing jobs and work for his landlord gave his ego a temporary reprieve. It had felt good to be sweating again. Then came the back injury. Making things more stressful than they had been was the fact that he had been cut from unemployment because his injury had caused him to be temporarily unable to work. He had been humiliated once again when he was forced to apply to the Department of Children & Families for emergency medical assistance (only poor people get medicaid) and that application was still pending. The fact that he had applied enabled him to get some medical help contingent on the application being approved. It also allowed him to acquire his new monthly prescription of 90 oxycodone pills for “pain management”. Quickly and unexpectedly those pills were becoming his “new best friend”. He was supposed to take three a day. A few times he took four. The problem with that was a person would run out of their “meds” prior to the renewal date and with strict rules in place about prescription renewals, especially on “controlled substances”, being out of an addictive medication  two or three days before it could be refilled could present quite the dilemma for the patient. The fiend called withdrawal would rear it ugly head.

Jake, bewildered at his father’s behavior, did not and could not understand. He began to withdraw into himself, his grades began to slip and he was suddenly feeling insecure and unhappy. Tracey was beginning to notice the changes in her boy. As for Bob, he did not have a clue.

Next time: Episode #12  “Trick or Treat”

"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”