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When It Gets Cold, People Die

The Winter Makes You Colder Than You Are

It’s been a warm fall for us here in North Carolina so far. Last night was the first really hard freeze, hitting the twenties.  Over the next eight days, that will happen five times.

I know – it probably gets colder than that where you live. I know – y’all have “real winters.” I know all that.

But I also know that hypothermia kills people, and hypothermia can happen when the surrounding air gets to 50 degrees or lower. When it gets cold, people who are living outside – especially people who have compromised immune systems from the trauma their bodies have endured, who are at subpar nutrition levels, who are insufficiently rested, who have drank alcohol, or who lack sufficient clothing or cold weather gear – those people sometimes die.

It happens every winter. Every single winter I have done this work, someone I know dies outside.

Before you ask – yes, they do open the shelter doors to everyone on those nights it gets below 32 degrees so, theoretically at least, they can go indoors and be warm. They call those White Flag nights. I say theoretically, because there are a number of reasons you may not want to go into the shelter.

For example, you may not want to seek shelter if:

  • You are part of a heterosexual couple, as there are no co-ed emergency shelters. Maybe you are fine with going into a shelter 2 miles away from your partner, that they have to walk to get to on the coldest day of the year so far, but most folks are not. So they stay outside, where at least they can be together.
  • You have PTSD (which is extremely common in the homeless population) and people screaming in their sleep, being crowded into hallways to sleep on glorified yoga mats and zero privacy is triggering to you.
  • You have lost everything you own multiple times (which is pretty much everyone in the homeless population) and the last three times you stayed at the shelter, your stuff was stolen because there isn’t secure places to lock up your things – especially on a white flag night when they far exceed capacity.
  • You are afraid to leave your things at your campsite unattended, because you have had everything you own stolen the last time you did that.
  • You have a history of trauma (which is everyone who is experiencing homelessness) and as a result, are plagued by insomnia on the best of nights. You believe that you are more likely to actually sleep if you stay in your tent, and remember, there is no sleeping in, or taking a nap later to catch up. In the City of Raleigh, it is illegal to sleep in public.

Those are only a few. In the last ten years, I have heard dozens of reasons, and all of them make sense to the people who name them. Heck, most of them make sense to me.

But still, none of that changes the fact that when it gets cold outside, people die.

The City Council Approves Purchase of the Oak City Center!

Supporters were asked to stand, and nearly two thirds of the room rose.

Supporters were asked to stand, and nearly two thirds of the room rose.

We did it!

Tuesday afternoon, the Raleigh City Council met, and approved the purchase of the building for the Oak City Center. In doing this, the City of Raleigh kept a promise it made back in 2013, when it promised the establishment of a one stop center for those experiencing homelessness. It now goes to the County commission, where it is anticipated to pass without issue sometime in January.

The huge turnout of supporters who came to the meeting to show community support for the Oak City Center was astounding. We asked people who came to wear green, to show their solidarity with our cause, and even the Mayor was wearing a green jacket! Before the Council voted, the Mayor spoke, and said that while it was not up for public comment, she would like it if those who were here in support of the Center would stand – and easily two thirds of the room rose as one.

If I live to be 100, yesterday will be one of my proudest days. We asked for you to stand with us on behalf of those whose voices are all too often silenced, and you did – in a huge way. Calls, emails and letters poured in from across the country, and even Red Hat, the software company, wrote a letter of support of the Oak City Center.

This is a victory for those who are experiencing homelessness, making it easier for them to have access to food and services and a place to be. And it’s a victory for the City of Raleigh – the unanimous vote in favor of the city keeping its promise speaks of the progressive city it is, and that it aspires to be.

And yes, this is a victory for us, at the end of a long fight that began a Saturday morning three and a half years ago when we were threatened with arrest for doing a thing that the City has now agreed to spend three million dollars to promote doing.

But the big winners in this are all of us. We spoke up, we exercised our voices, we showed up – and we changed minds, we changed hearts and we changed how a city addresses homelessness and food insecurity. That is huge.

There are people who will tell you that the way things are is just the way things are going to be. They will tell you that your voice does not count, that you have no power to effect change, that the fix is in and the best we can do is try to survive in a broken world.

Do not listen to those people. When we work together, our ability to move the marker toward the better world we all dream is possible is near endless. If the last three and a half years teaches nothing else, I hope it shows that.

This is not the end of the fight to make Raleigh more fair and just. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. But to quote Churchill, who was talking about another fight, when things seemed far more hopeless, it may just be the end of the beginning.

There is still the fight for affordable housing. The fight for access to healthy food, the fight to streamline the bureaucracy that prevents people from accessing services, the fight for a living wage.  So this is not over.

But I am not quitting, and I hope you won’t either. Because together we can make this City far more just and equitable for its most vulnerable citizens, and make it a city that is truly great.

Will Raleigh Keep Its Promises To The Homeless and Hungry?

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They Made a Promise

In August of 2013, the City of Raleigh used the Raleigh Police Department to try to stop us, and people like us, from sharing food with vulnerable people. And we asked you to help us get the City’s attention, and you did. And as a result of that attention, a task force was formed of concerned citizens, and that task force made recommendations to the City, which they enacted.

One of the recommendations of that task force, agreed to by the City on December 3, 2013, was the development of a “temporary” location to share food. That was the Oak City Outreach Center.

But another recommendation, also agreed to by the city on December 3, 2013, was that of a long-term solution, a “one-stop shop” location to deliver services to people who are experiencing homelessness or are food insecure. This was designed to be the successor to, or the fulfillment of, the Oak City Outreach Center.

In the years since, many of us have worked tirelessly to not only make the Oak City Outreach Center a success, but to bring about its successor, the Oak City Center – a multi-services intake center where vulnerable people can access the help they need, where community can be built and where meals can be shared.

Now its Time to Keep That Promise

And we are really close to making that place a reality. It’s important that it be near downtown, and its important that it have a lot of space. The biggest hold up has been finding the right spot, in a place that can be purchased, at a price that is workable. After an exhaustive search, that place has been found.

Tuesday, December 6th, nearly 3 years to the day after the City promised to move toward this long-term solution, they are meeting again, and this time on the agenda is whether to approve the purchase of the proposed site.

We had been assured many times of the City’s commitment to this project, but over the last few weeks, we have heard murmurs of weakening of that support, with one councilor, Kay Crowder, going on record as being against the location.

Since that article, we have reached out to a number of members of the City Council, asking them to affirm their support. Some of them have been super-supportive, others are noncommittal and some, like Ms. Crowder, are downright opposed.

I am asking you to help me remind the City of Raleigh of its promises, and to ask them to keep that promise.

Here is what you can do to help: Reach out, show up, and share.

Reach out

Contact the Mayor and members of the Raleigh City Council, and ask them to vote yes to approving the purchase of the location for the Oak City Center. If you are local, mention that. And if you are not located here, please let them know if their decisions around how they treat the most vulnerable citizens here will affect your future vacation or business plans.

The mayor’s office and city council members share a phone line: (919) 996-3050.

Here are their email addresses, Twitter, and Facebook pages. Be kind, but firm. If they don’t answer, leave them a voice mail and try back later.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Russ Stephenson

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Kay Crowder

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Dickie Thompson

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member David Cox

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Corey Branch

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Council Member Bonner Gaylord

Email   Facebook   Twitter

Show up

We need people to show up on the afternoon session of the City Council at 1:00PM on Tuesday, December 6th . 

The address is 222 W. Hargett St., Raleigh, NC 27601. If you are coming, we ask that you wear a green shirt to show your support.

The session begins at 1:00PM, but we really need you there at least 30 minutes before hand, and 45 minutes before would be better. How many people show up in support of this matter, and we need to show the Mayor and the City Council that we are watching to see if they keep the promise they made three years ago.

 

Share

I need you to share this with your networks – all your networks. Please forward this link via email, via Facebook, twitter. Share it with your church, your small group, your Bible Study, the kid working the counter at McDonalds.

And that’s it – We need to get the word out, get people there on Tuesday, and let the City Council know that we are watching to see if the City is willing to keep the promise it made three years ago to it’s most vulnerable citizens.

Three years ago, when men with guns forbade me to feed to hungry people who were waiting on the food I had brought, I made a promise – I told them I didn’t know what was going on, but that I would fix this, and make sure they would never be denied access to food in this city again.

I take that promise very seriously. I hope the City takes its promise to those same people as seriously.

Miz Katie Does the Dishes, and Loves Us

Sink with clean dishes

She is perhaps 60, and she has a mother with Alzheimer’s disease and a daughter with a daughter of her own, but Miz Katie doesn’t live with any of those people regularly. Instead she will stay with either of them for a week or two, especially in inclement weather, but other times she stays outside, or at the shelter.

Early in her adult years she was married to a man who was a career soldier, who is her daughter’s father, but she left him because he was abusive to her. As a result, she doesn’t tend to trust men, especially men in power.

She sometimes has manic episodes, and sometimes she is paranoid and suspicious of people, and sometimes she thinks that a person she has never seen before is spying on her for the government, because her ex-husband once worked for the government, and he has connections.

And sometimes talking to her is disorienting, because she will begin to share a conspiracy theory with you, and it will begin to ramble, and then she will stop, look at you and say, ‘but you were in the military, so you know what I mean” and then will walk off.

Everything I just told you about her are facts, by the way. But none of that tells you that she is perhaps the most genuinely nice person I know, or that she worries about hospitality and propriety in a way I have never seen before, or that she sees washing the dishes at our Community Engagement Center to be her special gift to us.

None of it will tell you that she remembers birthdays with an aggression that would make Hallmark proud, or that if she ever hears of your desire for anything she will find you a coupon for it.

I once was riding the bus, and she got on at the next stop. She asked why I was riding the bus, and I told her it was because my wife and I only own one car. She brought me every car dealership flyer she could find for months.

And none of it will tell you that she loves sweets, and will go to the food pantry to get a cake that she then brings to the Community Engagement Center to share with everyone there. And that she loves to hug people, “as long as they aren’t creepy.”

If you weren’t actually in relationship with her, you wouldn’t know any of those things. You would just see a black lady in late middle age that sometimes mumbles to herself.

And that would be a huge loss, and your life would be poorer for it. Because she is amazing.

But the reality is, there aren’t many places she is allowed to be herself, where she feels safe enough to tell people about her fears, where she can contribute and is appreciated. Where she can express love, and feel loved back, and share her gifts. Where someone like you could get to know her.

In order to have those relationships, we first need to have spaces where those relationships can happen. Places where people like Miz Katie, or perhaps people like you, can belong, can be themselves, and can be known.

I wish there were more places like that.

Dealing With Loss

Homelessness and loss

I have often said that homelessness is best understood as a series of losses. Even so, our community has been dealing with so much loss this week it takes my breath away.

There was a hurricane that wrecked devastation on our friends who are living outside. We have spent the week handing out blankets and tent and sleeping bags, and listening to stories of that which was lost and cannot be replaced.

Or our friend Danny, who was once a regular part of our community before he moved to Portland, came back to be with his Mom, who is in intensive care after having a stroke.

And, perhaps most devastatingly, the death of our friend and community member Mike.

Doing this work – relational accompaniment of those who are experiencing homelessness – is the sort of thing that is extremely simple, but is not easy. Building relationships is not hard work – almost all of us do it all of the time. But to accompany people who live in dark places, who have more than their share of troubles, requires a commitment of time and emotion that can be exhausting and, if you are not careful, debilitating.

So, it is inevitable that some of us connect more with certain community members than others, in the same way that you connect more with certain people in your church or school than others.

Mike connected best with Laura, the Director of Operations of our Community Engagement Center. So when we learned earlier this week about his death, it rocked us all, but especially her. This is what she shared with our worshiping community on Wednesday at our prayer service.

My friend and our community member Mike ( AKA preppy Mike) died of an overdose Thursday, October 6th.

I am beginning to believe one of the saddest things we do to one another is talk about or label or refer to or think about one another as one thing, often a not so good thing. We so often don’t let each other stand as representatives of really beautiful stuff, or even better – find the complicated mix of it all beautiful. We wait until folks pass to add that into the picture. We let each other’s shadows overcast the sheer miraculousness that is a living human being. To be born, to breathe, to grow, to learn, to fall, to triumph, to fall in love, to work, to hurt, to need, to get lost, to be found, to need to escape, to create, to desire, to be held in community…

Mike loved cars, Mustangs particularly. He also – often to my dismay – loved Axe Body spray. He hated having the wrong shoes on for the wrong event. He was serious about looking nice – hence the comment distinguishing him as “preppy” from the other 30 Mike’s around here. He wanted to go to school to learn to build and work on the cars he loved. “All you need is a big exhaust, bigger tires, and get it a little lower” – he’d say about every vehicle we saw.

On our many trips to the dump over this past summer getting our community center here in better shape, he’d talk about longing just to have a little place of his own, be able to join a gym, keep a job, get back in school. He missed his family in ways, often feeling hopeless about ever earning a spot back. He loved nice things. It was a daily, complicating matter with his life in the shelter.

There were many times over the last year I saw Mike proud. Two that are worth noting are when he had finally received Triangle Family Services emergency funding, gotten himself a bedroom of his own, and showed up to church in a fully ironed yellow polo shirt, tucked into some nice clean jeans with brand new stylish thick plastic frame glasses… Finally, Mike was getting to be Mike.

The second time was when he had been helping out our friend Pam at her garage and out of the blue there was a snake in the shop. Mike was called upon to “solve the situation” – I’ll spare you the details but the conversation involved continual phrases like “only one willing” “showed em who’s boss”…

As Hugh reminds us each time there’s a death in our community – there are always 2 deaths – the one when a person breathes their last and the one when we stop saying their name.

May we remember Mike for all his AMAZING miraculous human-beingness and may we be reminded to think more about one another that way, now.

As Laura notes, it isn’t just those who are experiencing homelessness who deal with loss. Being in community with them means that losses are shared, and sometimes – all too often – we are the ones who mourn.

Image via Creative Commons

Help Us Recover From Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew flooding near downtown Raleigh, NC

Photo by Randy Bryant, via Facebook.

On Saturday, the 8th of October, North Carolina was hit by Hurricane Matthew. We didn’t get it as bad as South Carolina did, but it was still significant. Raleigh is a good 2 hours inland from the coast, so mainly what we got here was rain.

Lots and lots of rain.

Somewhere around 7-8 inches across most of the city. That picture at the top of the page was taken about a mile away from our Community Engagement Center.

Creeks flooded their banks. Intersections flooded. Power went down in patches, and in some parts of the city is still out 24 hours later as I write this. Seven people died in North Carolina as a result of the storm.

And for some of our friends who live outside, it was devastating.

My friend Danny and his girlfriend Mary had just went to the thrift store this week and bought blankets and clothes to replace the ones destroyed in the thunderstorm from a few weeks ago.

It’s all gone now, washed away after Hurricane Matthew, when the creek overflowed, taking with it the tent we gave them and pretty much everything they own.

Gone.

Danny just sat on the bench this morning at the Oak City Outreach Center, covered in mud from where he had been trying to drag things out of the creek this morning, weeping to himself. Mary said he had been like that for the last few hours, and that they weren’t sure how they could go on.

“You just get tired of fighting, Hugh,” she told me.

I made sure Danny and Mary got hooked up with some folks who could help them today, but I know over a dozen folks in exactly the same situation, and will no doubt hear more stories when we open up Monday morning.

Help our friends recover from Hurricane Matthew

Here are our biggest needs right now:

  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bags
  • 2 man and 4 man tents
  • Or the cash to buy them ourselves.

If you are in the Raleigh area and want to bring these items by, please bring them to our Community Engagement Center, located at 824 N. Bloodworth St, in Raleigh. (map). If you are out of town, it is probably more efficient to donate funds so we have the flexibility to purchase the things we need to most effectively help people. This is also dramatically faster than your shipping it.

You can make a financial donation by clicking here

Thank you for helping us to help our friends and community members. Thank you for sharing this post on your social networks. Thank you for your prayers. And, of course, thank you for helping us prove, once again, that, well, that Love Wins.

The New Operations Manager for the Community Engagement Center

Lauras Arrest

Rev. Laura Michelle Foley’s arrest on April 25th, 2016 at the North Carolina General Assembly while standing in opposition to the discriminatory HB2 ruling.

As we announced back in the spring, we spun off the operations of our hospitality house, and formed The Love Wins Community Engagement Center as a separate organization. The next step was to hire the right person to lead it.

We launched a nationwide search, and interviewed more than a dozen people, but it turns out, the right person was in our backyard all the time. Or at least, right down the street.

I am proud to announce that we have hired the Rev. Laura Michelle Foley to serve as the Director of Operations for the Love Wins Community Engagement Center.

Her impressive resume includes a Bachelors of Arts from Appalachian State (cum laude), a Master’s of Divinity from Wake Forest, nearly 10 years of youth ministry work, extensive work in communities that navigate homelessness, a proven commitment to justice (including being arrested in protest of the discriminatory “bathroom bill” here in North Carolina) and most recently, serving as Minister with Youth and their Families at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

But the most impressive thing about Laura was simply this: Our community advocated for her. I hadView More: http://cynthiaviola.pass.us/lovewins several people who live outside come up to me in the process and say something like, “I heard Laura applied to work here. You should hire her – she’s a badass!”

We agree.

In fact, Laura did the bravest thing I have ever seen an applicant do – she listed four people who are part of our community who do not have homes as references.  Not PhD’s, not coworkers, but people who are experiencing homelessness.

Laura brings with her a passion for the Beloved Community, a commitment to justice, and a wealth of experience and relationships. We are lucky to get to work with her, and cannot wait for her to start.

Her official start date is the 13th of June, and toward the end of the month, we will have an open house event so you can meet her in person. Stay tuned for that, as well as other hiring announcements in the weeks to come.

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

 

A Whirlwind Year

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This year has been a whirlwind, and we aren’t even quite halfway through it yet. There is so much I want to share with you, but I am also sort of swamped. So, in lieu of a story, here are some quick updates, all the “need-to-knows” of our community:

  • We announced our decision to spin off the hospitality house into it’s own entity, and formed The Love Wins Community Engagement Center.
  • We put out a search for the right person to lead it – and we found her! Expect the announcement next week.
  • We have moved our Sunday worship services to Wednesday. If you want to be involved in those, please sign up for the worship email update list.
  • Starting next week (June 1) we will have a community meal at 11:30 AM. After all, communities eat together, mourn together and celebrate together. We need volunteers to help us feed these people – until we get a dedicated volunteer to manage that, just send me an email at hugh@lovewinsministries.org if you want to help us provide food for meals.
  • On a related note: Do you have amazing organizational skills (or can fake it) and want to help us organize Wednesday meals? Again, please email me to let us know.
  • Baby Christopher was born, and both baby and mama are doing fine – 5 pounds and 6 ounces!

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Last but not least: This is an excellent time to tell you that the summertime is all upon us here, and that means that our donations drop to a trickle.

Like most nonprofit organizations, we receive a majority of our money at the end of the year and operate out of our reserves. And like clockwork, every year those reserves run out around June. From then on, we are counting pennies to decide if we can buy stamps to send thank you cards.

Would you consider making a one-time gift to help carry us through the summer, so we can continue to do this work, and to show love and relationship to some very awesome people the rest of the world has written off? If so, click here.

That is how the year has gone so far. We are busy and tired and grateful and hopeful and a little bit scared.

But we are still here, and that is what counts.

 

Related: A Lighter In The Whirlwind

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Love Wins Worship Is Back

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When I first began doing this work, I noticed that, day to day, the people who seemed most interested in engaging people experiencing homelessness were church folks. And as I am a church person, that made me happy.

But I also noticed that the way they did it was atrocious more often than not – mandatory prayers; pressure to tell your story to people, when those people had no obligation to share theirs with you; shaming you of your choices that make perfect sense to you; and pronouncing God’s judgement on you because you don’t have the life they do.

Yeah, I saw all of that.

In swept the mission teams. I saw them all wearing the same shirts. All taking pictures of “the poor people.” All handing the tray of food to the “hungry homeless person” who was, in reality, being served their 7th meal of the day because it was, after all, Mission Sunday. All the churches were standing in line to touch a real, live homeless person. It was all completely devoid of context, of facts, of relationship.

Lots of doing things to people, a little of doing things for people, and virtually nothing of doing things with people.

All in the name of God.

The final straw was the weekend in late 2007 when I saw a friend of mine, a trans* woman who was waiting for a tray of food, be assaulted by a church woman who tried to cast a demon out of her without consent. That was followed by another friend being told his chronic alcoholism was God’s punishment for his rebellion. And the cap on that weekend was my friend Traci being told by a well meaning church lady that Traci’s experience of rape was “all part of God’s plan.”

Enough.

The hard drinking, foul-mouthed Baptist preach Will Campbell was once asked why someone like him became a preacher, and he replied, “Well, I was called, goddammit!”. That weekend I knew I was called to this work – not just to start an agency, but to start a ministry – to do this work in the name of God, in a way that lifts people up, that provides dignity.

To bear witness to the goodness of God to people who have legit reasons to doubt that goodness. To let people know that contrary to what you may have heard: If you are on the margins – God is on your side.

In other words, it was important for me to not only do this work, but to do it from a faith-based point of view.

And to do it from a position of Love. God is love. From a position of inclusiveness because God does not discriminate. From a position of attraction, because God does not coerce.

The Best Critique of the Bad is to do the Good

Because of the low key nature of what we do – without, ourselves, being low key people – you may not know that we have a weekly worship service. For most of the last five years, it was on Sunday afternoon. Beautiful things have happened there. Baptisms. Baby Dedications. Storytelling. Weddings. Funerals.

My friend Ben wrote about it one time, if you were wondering what it’s like.

We have always been reluctant to invite outsiders into our little service because none of us want to be spectacles, or objects of curiosity. But first and foremost, we are committed to community, real community, and that only comes when we eat together, celebrate together, and mourn together.

So, we are making some changes to invite you in, so you can get to know us, and we can get to know you, and maybe we won’t be afraid of each other any more.

Starting Wednesday, May 25th, our new service plans will consist of a community meal (you are invited!) followed by a worship service at 12:30 (you are also invited!). The meal will be in the fellowship hall of the church we share space with, and we will hold the worship service in the sanctuary upstairs.

This is a big move for us, and it scares us a bit. But the prospect of not broadening our definition of community scares us more.

Learn More

If you would like to know more about our little service, want to know how you can help or just have questions – feel free to send me an email. The worship service also has its own email newsletter that we use to make announcements, let attendees know about upcoming events, let them know of service opportunities and so on. If you want to subscribe, you can do that here.

We hope to see you there.

Related: Dave And Communion

If you’d like to be in conversation with us, please make sure to comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, or shoot us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

George Has No Place To Go

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George has no place to go.

He is in his mid-fifties, but mentally something like 12 years-old. He is illiterate and has a slight speech impediment, all of which makes him hard to understand. He is Black, more than six feet tall, and when you don’t understand him, he deals with it by raising his voice. So some people see him as aggressive.

None of that makes it easier for him to navigate society.

He grew up in the Bronx, with a mother who loved him. He had a job unloading trucks, which he could do, and do well. He lived with his family. His world was confined to a few blocks, except for the time they visited his family in North Carolina once and the trip to Montreal. He went to church, where Reverend Kerry was the pastor.

Then his mother died.

When she died, she left him some money – as near as I can tell, about $40,000 –  in trust at the bank. He came to North Carolina to stay with his family here. No one is really clear why that didn’t work out, but the end result is – George has no place to go.

So he eventually ended up at our Community Engagement Center, because whatever else we are, we are a place to be for people who have nowhere they are allowed to be.

So George has been part of our community for almost a year now. He is incompetent to handle his own money, so he blew through it really quickly. The bank would send him money in $500 increments, which he would spend on a hotel room, drugs, and sex workers (again, imagine he is 12). Then he would be out on the street until he called the bank and asked them to send him more money.

People on the street figured him out quickly, so when he would get his money, he had a crowd of people who would follow him around, sponging off him until the money ran out.

A few weeks ago, the money ran out.

He is living at the shelter, where he gets a bed, but he gets confused and leaves things there, and they get lost. He calls the bank in the Bronx every day to check his balance, only to be told there is no money there. I know this, because every day, he asks us for the number for this bank, because he can’t remember it. We now have it written on a piece of paper we made copies of, so when he wants it, we just hand it to him.

He can’t understand where the money went, so he tries to make sense of it. He will come into the office.

“Hootie?”

Oh yeah. Because of who knows why, he calls me Hootie. I have given up on correcting him.

“Yes, George?”

George: What is $1800 plus $250?

Me: $2050

George: Plus $250?

Me: $2300

George: Plus $250?

Me: $2550

This will go on until he gets confused, or I get tired. Then he will look me in the eyes and say, “I done spent all my money, and now I don’t have anywhere to go. I can’t handle money. I need a payee.” And then he will walk back out into the community room.

I think that is perhaps the most frustrating thing for us who know George; he will tell you exactly what he needs.

At least once a day, he will tell us, “I need a payee. I need to live in a group home. I need someone to help me take my medicine.”

And he is right. He needs all of those things.

But what he really needs is someone whose full time job is to help him access services so he can get those things. He needs, in the language of my field, intensive case management.

But that really doesn’t exist much any more.

For months I have been trying to connect him with various organizations. Some of them make him promises they have no way of keeping, (we will get you in a group home next week!) and he gets discouraged and doesn’t trust them any more. Others are far more honest, like the organization that uses wrap-around teams to work with people like George, who told me the other day that in 4-6 weeks, they would have someone free to talk to him, to see if he even qualifies for their services.

Meanwhile, our friend George wanders the streets at night, wondering where his money went, and during the daytime hangs out with us, asking us to do math, asking us when he is moving into a group home, asking us if we will talk to the lady at the bank so she can tell us where the money went, and telling me that maybe he ought to move to Montreal, because it is pretty there.

I bet it is.

Related: We Are Not Fighting Homelessness and So Tired

 

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