Category Archives: unemployed

"The Kids Need a Bed Tonight"*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

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 #18)

Episode #18 “Christmas” (click on the “Grippers tab for previous episodes)

A year earlier Bob and Tracey Slider both had full-time jobs, health insurance, two vehicles, a nice house, and were bringing home over $4300.00 a month. Their success as an average American family was obvious as the twinkling lights from the Christmas tree sent out tiny flashes of color that bounced off the wrapped gifts below. There was peace and contentment in the hearts of the Slider family. Two days later, Tracey was laid off.

In February, Bob’s hours were cut and on the Friday prior to Memorial Day his company, Bildot Building Supply, closed its doors and went out of business. In September, Bob hurt his back and was unable to work at all. Ignoring the warnings about the dangers of prescription pain pills and constantly seeking pain relief he began taking more meds than were prescribed and became a “prescription junkie” using the last bit of the family’s monies to buy pills on the street. Then he was arrested for DUI. He wound up on probation, had to pay heavy fines and was required to do community service. Tracey, who had been hired as a part-time cashier at the local super-market, was fighting the good fight to make ends meet but the pressure to pay bills and Bob’s addiction problem were pushing her to the edges of despair and resentment.The only time that Bob seemed like the “old” Bob was when he had a few pills in him and had a supply stashed somewhere. However, being an addict it never mattered how many pills he had because it would never be enough. An addict is always scheming about how to get more drugs even if their pockets are filled with them.

 Christmas morning arrived and the usual joyful atmosphere that accompanied the day was absent. Jake was inside a vacuum he did not really understand. His dad had changed and his mom seemed so unhappy. Tracey did her best to make sure her boy received some gifts but it was impossible to live up to the standard of past years. Jake, whose grades had slipped and who had become somewhat withdrawn and distant, had reached inside of himself and had planned to do something special for his mom for Christmas. In addition, he had asked his folks for nothing for himself. The 12 year-old had been greatly underestimated. He pulled her aside Christmas morning and gave her a card. In it was $100.00 in cash. Jake had quietly been working after school hustling lawn jobs and cleanup jobs around the neighborhood. Tracey did not have a clue. “Mom,” he said, “I’m not a baby anymore. I can see what’s going on around here. This is between you and me. I don’t think you should tell dad. Merry Christmas, love you.”

Tracey looked at her son and just began to cry. It was the greatest Christmas gift she had ever received. She hugged her son so tight he thought he might break. It was the best feeling he had ever had.

Next Time: “Here We Go Again”

"The Kids Need a Bed Tonight"

Three days a week from 9 a.m to noon 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 hose bib. 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 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’s going on?”

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.

“In school. 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—“

“Yeah, I know the place. 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.”

He picked up the phone and started punching numbers. 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, “Yeah, hey, this is Joe over at the St. Vincent De Paul outreach office. I have a couple here who–What? What are you talking about? You have to be kidding me. These folks need help right now–not tomorrow. I have no time for this. I have to go. Have a nice day.”

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 Saturday. Her mom worked it out. She’s up in Jersey  but knew someone and, anyway, come Saturday we’ll be okay.”

“No kidding, Andre. That’s awesome. But today is only Wednesday. Well, we can’t have the kids coming home today to no home at all. Now, here is a food voucher. Go across the street and get some groceries and bring them home with you.”

“They ain’t been too nice to us over at the motel.”

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

When they arrived back at the motel and walked to the front desk the manger 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 was smiling and handing someone a bus pass.

"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) 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