'Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying #16)

Episode #16 “Thanksgiving” (click on the “Grippers” tab for previous 15 episodes)

Tracey was standing in her own living room feeling completely lost and helpless. She had managed their meager finances with painstaking care and just like that there was no money, no food and she could not follow through on making her agreed payment with the power company. Embraced by a sense of despair she instinctively hurried over to Judi Parano’s.

Judi hugged her and said, “C’mon Trace, I’ll make some coffee and we can sit down and talk.”

Judi quickly became Tracey’s navigator and began guiding her friend and neighbor on a straighter course. The first thing she did was reach into her purse and pull out $80.00 and hand it to Tracey. “Here, put this in your pocket and don’t tell Bob you have it.”

Tracey tried to say something and Judi said, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to say anything. Now, I want you to call the St. Vincent De Paul Society—“

“Oh no, Judi. I can’t. They just helped us about two or three  months ago. I’d feel so embarrassed asking again. I don’t think I can.”

“You can. I’ll stand right next to you for moral support.  Now, I have this pamphlet I want to give you. I know you have not said too much about Bob’s pill problem but I know he has one and he will need help with that. But you need help dealing with it. This is a schedule of Nar-Anon meetings in the area.”

“What’s Nar-Anon?”

“It’s like Al-Anon which is for families and friends of alcoholics. Nar-Anon is for families and friends of people hooked on drugs. Tracey—I’ve been there. My brother Anthony is a user. He was tearing the family apart.”

“Anthony? The computer guy with the great job. I had no idea–“

“Tracey, he USED to have a great job. He was fired for missing so much work and he blames everyone else and, oh my God, we don’t even know where he is. Haven’t seen or heard from him in two months. I’m sick over it but I have learned that I cannot do a thing about it. We’re here for him if he decides he wants REAL help. But, in the meantime—–Anyway, you need these meetings. Trust me, there are so many people out there with family members that have gotten caught up in this prescription pill insanity you wouldn’t believe it. You need to remember that Bob Slider, your husband, is still the man he was. That person has been taken over by an evil entity that has transformed him. The real Bob will be back. He just needs you and Jake to be there when he begins his journey home. Understand?”

Ron and Jan from St. Vincent De Paul came out again. Once again they were able to assist with the power bill. They also included Tracey in their “Thanksgiving Giveaway Program” and, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Tracey went over to Sacred Heart Catholic Church and was given a holiday “basket” which included a frozen turkey and all the “fixins” including dessert for Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving turned out to be a good day in the Slider home. Bob had his “medication” and was acting normal. He and Jake were watching football together and joking around with each other. Tracey, temporarily upbeat and enjoying the moment, happily prepared the meal. On this Thanksgiving day they all had something to be thankful for.

Next time: Here Comes Christmas

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying #13)

 (click on the “grippers” tab and scroll down for the previous 12 episodes)
Content review:
  1) Intro: “Homelessness and the Grippers”
  2) Episode #1: “Meet the Slider family”
  3) Episode #2: “Bob Slider is laid off”
  4) Episode #3: “Confronting finances over beer & pizza”
  5) Episode #4: “Meeting with the landlord”
  6) Episode #5: “Running out of money”
  7) Episode #6: “Out of money”
  8) Episode #7: “Lights out”
  9) Episode #8: “Here come the church people”
 10) Episode #9:“The Home Visit”
11) Episode #10“Good news & Bad News”
12) Episode #11“What about Jake?”
13) Episode #12“Trick or Treat”

Episode #13: “Getting out of jail–Now what?”

Bob Slider, husband, father, hardworking family man and solid citizen had gone through an unwanted and unexpected metamorphosis. Reborn into a strange world of unemployment, disability and prescription drug addiction, he now found himself being processed into the county jail. After enduring the indifferent, matter-of-fact fingerprinting, mug-shot taking and humiliating strip search, he was placed in a holding cell with a bunch of other guys. Some were laughing, some were crying, some were trembling and some appeared to not give a damn. One thing was the same–they all were wearing freshly laundered orange jump suits with bold, black letters emblazened on the back that said, COUNTY JAIL. As for Bob, his back pain was raging, he was feeling frightened, lost, victimized,  misunderstood and strangely, all he could think of was one thing, I need my pills.

Bob, because he had never been in any kind of trouble before, was released at 10 a.m. the following morning on ROR (on his own recognizance). Judi Pavano had to drive Tracey to the jail to pick Bob up because his license had  been temporarily suspended and his truck impounded. Judi waited in the car while Tracey met Bob at the jail exit.When he saw his wife he began to cry. She could not believe how pathetic he looked. She, too, began to cry. They hugged each other for several moments and then Bob took a breath and asked Tracey, “You got my pills?”

“Uh—no Bob, I don’t. C’mon, let’s get you home.”

“I need the pills Tracey. I can’t believe you didn’t bring them. I’m so sick. You don’t understand, I need my medicine.”

She was a bit stunned that his primary concern was his pills and it was this moment that impacted her with the reality of his addiction “Okay, okay. We’ll be home in 15 minutes. Just hold on.”

Bob’s blood work and urine sample showed that he had more oxycodone and xanax in his system than had been prescribed. His license was officially suspended for six months and he was fined $250.00, the minimum allowed under the law. He also was sentenced to complete a “Law and Substance Abuse” program and  received one year probation which also included doing 50 hours of community service. Since his truck was the family’s only means of transportation it was released from impound for Tracey to use. Being caught up in the criminal justice system was a miserable, unpredictable and downright scary place to be. Factor in two extremely painful, herniated  lumbar discs that almost prevented him from standing up straight and having no money pushed Bob Slider into a deep pit of despair. He was pulling Tracey and Jake with him but Tracey had an unknown  inner strength and resolve inside herself  that would enable her to pull back and fight the forces working against them.

Next time: Episode #14: “Living with Consequences”

"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" #4(how to get homeless without even trying )

Recap: #1, Bob Slider is laid off; #2, Tracey loses her unemployment; #3, confronting finances over beer & pizza (click on “grippers” tab to view previous episodes)

Episode 4: Meeting with the landlord.

It was 8 a.m. Saturday and Bob was sitting in Tracey’s car listening to the singing of an engine not starting, waawaawaawaa. Tommy Parano, Bob’s good friend and next door neighbor, came walking over. Tommy also happened to be  a darn good auto mechanic. “Uh oh Bob, that don’t sound good. Pop the hood.”

It took Tommy ten minutes to figure out that the fuel pump was shot. “No pressure from the fuel line Bob. No pressure. The worst part is the pump is in the gas tank. It’s a big job to replace it. .We’ll have to get it into the shop.”

“Well Tommy, not this week. Bildot closed its doors yesterday. I’m out of work. The car will have to wait.”

“No way, man. I don’t believe it. Bildot closed. You were laid off. Oh man, that stinks big time.”

Just then a bright, red F-350 diesel pick-up with tandem wheels rumbled to a stop in front of the house. Bob said to Tommy, “Hey, that’s my landlord. Look, we’ll talk later.”

As Tommy headed back to his house Greg Margolese slowly walked toward his tenant. Bob’s insides sort of twisted because the usually friendly persona of Greg was nowhere to be seen. “Good morning, Bob.”

“Hey Greg, you’re up and about early for a Saturday.”

“Yeah, well I have to take care of a broken water heater over on 72nd Terrace and I wanted to talk to you anyway so—I thought  I would just stop by. You know Bob, you still owe me $700.00 for May and June 1st is Tuesday. You think you’ll have the money?”

Bob suddenly felt intimidated and embarrassed. He had known Greg for a long time. The man owned 18 houses and Bob had helped him out many times getting him discounts on building supplies and personally doing minor repairs for him. He liked to think that they were friends first. But this Saturday morning was different. Greg Margolese was exhibiting a “business is business” attitude. Bob nervously said to him, “Uh—I was going to call you Greg. Truth is, I have a problem and—look, wait right here. I’ll be right back.”

Bob hurried into the house and wrote out a check for $700.00. He hurriedly went back outside and, handing the check to Greg he said, “I would have asked you in but Tracey and Jake are still sleeping and I though it better if we talked out here. Anyway, here is the rest of May’s rent. Sorry it took so long.”

“Sure, Bob. that’s fine.So, what’s the problem? Will you be able to pay June’s rent?”

Bob felt himself getting a bit annoyed. “Yeah, I can pay June’s rent. That’s not the problem. The problem is Bildot closed its doors yesterday. Went “belly-up”. I’m officially laid off and I was thinking that maybe we could help each other out.”

“Bildot is out of business. I can’t believe it. What are you going to do?”

“Well, for starters, I was thinking that maybe I could do some work for you and credit it towards rent. I know I can get some work but that might take a bit of time. I have the truck so I can do some hauling and clean-ups.  In the meantime, I could start working towards July’s rent now. Whaddaya think?”

Greg took a breath and raised his eyes.”Look Bob, I have four vacant houses and five tenants late with rent. I pay mortgages and insurance on all my properties. I need cash. This economy has everyone hurting , me included  But, I’ll think about it and we’ll talk Tuesday when I come back for the rent. “

“Okay Greg, thanks. See you Tuesday.”

As Greg drove away Bob felt a chill run down his spine. Forking over the other $950.00 on Tuesday was going to leave them in a terrible spot. This is exactly what Tracey was talking about the previous evening.

He slowly headed back into the house. Tracey, sitting at the kitchen table, immediately said, “You know, last night at Carmine’s we never included in the money we owe, the phone bill, the cell phone bill and the three credit card payments that are past due. What about my car?”

“Tommy said the fuel pump is shot. It’s a big job. We’ll  just have to wait on that. You can use the truck. Hey Tracey— I need to have some coffee and think, okay.  Can’t believe it. Never thought about the phones.” He poured some coffee into his mug and walked out to the backyard.

Next time:  Episode #5; Running out of money

"Grippers" #2 (how to get homeless without even trying))

Recap: Episode #1 –Bob Slider is laid off (click on “grippers” tab to view)

Episode #2–Tracey has more bad news

Due to a “fender-bender” on US 19, Bob was a half-hour late and did not get home until 6 p.m. Jake was nervously pacing back and forth in the driveway dressed in his baseball uniform. Bob had not even turned off the engine before Jake was standing by the window, all hyper. “Dad, where have you been? I’m supposed to be at the field by six. We gotta leave right now.”
“Hey Jake, slow down. Slow down. Why didn’t mom take you?
“Her car won’t start.”
“Oh great, just what I need. Okay, wait here. I have to talk to your mother. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“But dad, coach said—“
“Stop it Jake. Just stop. Now, wait here and I’ll be right back. Don’t worry, I’ll talk to coach.”
Jake’s lips tightened, he folded his arms and leaned against the truck. Bob headed into the house glad that Jake was outside. His ever present smile was missing but Tracey did not seem to notice. She just started speaking. “Where have you been? My car won’t start and you’re not going to believe it but it is so nuts and—“
“Whoa, Tracey, slow down. I can always fix the car.”
“I don’t care about the car.”
“Well then, what? What is going on?”
“What’s going on? I’ll tell you what’s going on. They cancelled my unemployment because of that thunderstorm when our power went out and I didn’t sign in on line on time and their computer kicked me out of their system and I don’t even know if I can get it back and—oh my God, what a disaster. I needed that money for grocery shopping. Boy, I wish they would start giving you 40 hours again. This is getting a bit scary.”
Bob was stunned and seemed to go into a bit of a daze. Only six months earlier the two of them had been bringing over $4300.00 a month into the house. Then Tracey’s company “downsized” and a new computer system replaced her and eight other people who were suddenly considered
non-essential. Tracey’s take home pay went from almost $1500.00 a month down to $126.00 a week in unemployment benefits. In less than six months the family’s monthly income had been reduced by over $2300.00. Hack off another $504.00. Now it was over $2800.00 a month less. They were already one rent payment behind, had missed a truck payment and were at the end of a two week extension on their delinquent power bill. The car insurance was due, May was ending and June was only three days away. Inside Bob’s head it was like a “demolition derby” as all of these thoughts crashed into each other in a matter of seconds. All he could say was, “Huh?”
“You heard me, Bob. They cancelled my unemployment.”
Jake came into the house. ” Dad, we have to LEAVE. I’m so late. I won’t even be able to play.”
Bob turned and snapped at his son, “Jake, I told you to wait outside so just do what I told you. I’ll be there in a minute. I said I would talk to coach. Now, don’t worry and just go outside and wait, okay?”
Jake stomped out in a huff and Tracey said, “We really needed that money for food. Your check was going to cover the electric bill and a partial rent payment. Plus, Jake needs his inhaler and that’s $68.00. Mr. Margolese has been real good about the rent but we have to pay him something now. The new month is next week.”
“C’mon, Tracey. We’re in this house 12 years. I have maintained it for him, paid for repairs out of my own pocket, even repaired some of his other houses. It’s like our own house.”
“Oh Bob, that sounds so nice but the fact is–it is NOT our house.”
“He’s a good guy. I’ll talk to him.”
“Look, you better get Jake over to his game. Then come back and we’ll talk about this. So, tell me, why do you have that funny look on your face. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
Bob rolled his eyes upward, tightened his lips and breathed deeply through his nose. She could always see right through him. “Look Tracey, I may as well tell you right now and get it over with.”
“Tell me what?”
“Bildot closed down today. Out of business. I don’t have a job.”
“Oh my God, oh my God.”
Next time: Incident #3 Trying to pay the bills

"Grippers" #1(how to get homeless without even trying)

Episode #1 Meet the Slider Family

Bob Slider is a 37 year old, blue-collar, happy-go-lucky, hard working guy who loves his family, enjoys taking care of his house and yard, plays fantasy football, drives a pick-up truck and loves a “cold one” now and then. He and his wife, Tracey, and their 12 year old son, Jake, live in a modest, three bedroom, one and a half bath house in Pinellas Pines, FL., a town located in the Tampa Bay area bordering St. Petersburg. High school sweethearts, Bob and Tracey have been married for 14 years.
Bob is an assistant manager at Bildot Building Supply, one of the largest suppliers of commercial tools and construction equipment and materials in the area and he has worked for the company for 16 years. However, as the economy sputtered and and construction slowed, Bildot immediately felt the squeeze. As things rapidly got tighter and tighter Bildot, within a nine month period, was forced to lay off 16 workers leaving a crew of 12. But things went from bad to worse and, on this particular Friday, the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, James Bildot called the remaining employees together and, with tears in his eyes, announced that effective immediately, Bildot Building Supply was closing its doors for good. After 55 years, the company was going “belly-up”. Just like that Bob Slider and his co-workers became statistics. They were unemployed. Bildot too, was a statistic–just another company that had failed
Bob had earned $16.00 an hour and, for years, averaged 48 hours a week earning more than three grand a month. Hours had been gradually reduced and for the past two months he had been working 30 hours a week, sometimes less. After deductions he was bringing home less than $400.00 a week. As he and his co-workers drove away from Bildot it was as if everything was moving in slow-motion. Bob gave cursory waves to the other guys and choked back an unexpected tear. This place had been like a second home and just like that it was gone. It was almost like someone close had suddenly died. Fear of the days ahead suddenly grabbed Bob Slider in a choke hold. He could not breathe.
Next time:Incident #2 Tracey has more bad news

"Homelessness and the Grippers" Introduction on how to get homeless without even trying)

There are more than 1.3 million people in the United States that are homeless. One in four of these people are children and many of them have not reached their tenth birthday. (I believe there are many more but many go uncounted). They live in alleyways, under bridges, in abandoned cars, condemned buildings and wherever else they might find makeshift shelter. It is reported that at least 13 homeless kids die every day on the streets of America. This is a national tragedy.

Having been a member of the St. Vincent De Paul Society (www.svdpusa.org) for almost twenty years I have had the honor of working directly with many, many homeless people. I use the word honor because they too are God’s children and they have privileged us by asking us for our help. They are our “masters”. We are supposed to serve and it is humbling to be able to assist them.
Having said that it is important to remember that there are millions more across this great land of ours that are pre-homeless. I call them “Grippers”. These are the folks who are hanging on, still having a roof over their heads, still taking care of their kids, still being productive. But suddenly, due to circumstances, they are losing their grip, slipping and sliding, holding on for dear life. Gripper families have begun their journey into the bog of homelessness and they do not even know it.
Next week I shall begin posting a series of blogs that follow the journey of the Slider family as they begin their pilgrimage from “average American family” to “Grippers”. Whether they will lose their grip and become part of the 1.3 million on the streets or whether they will hang on is yet to be determined. Please note that the “Slider family” is a composite of so many families that I and my Vincentian brothers and sisters have worked with over the years. What they experience is based on fact and are things that happen to people every day across America.
Stay tuned.