Thursday, October 29, 2009

Darwin at Work

One of my favorite stories from a fellow blogger: Man standing at the freeway exit waiting for a handout. He's holding a square of cardboard... with nothing written on it. Subliminal message? "Will work for Sharpie."

How many times have you wondered - where do the cardboard sign people get those nice black markers?

For about a month, I have been involved with helping someone get off the street and into some sort of life - a life that the most of us would regard as sorely inadequate. Just a warm, safe place to stay. Food to eat. An address.

A number of years ago, I attended a dinner party that included a well-to-do real estate broker and his wife who were clad in matching Planet Hollywood sweatshirts. The conversation turned to prisoners in state custody and the education in social skills and job training provided to them on the taxpayer's dime. Said real estate broker maintained, hotly, that our money was being wasted mollycoddling prisoners. Make 'em do their time, pay their debt to society, and then kick them out and let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps and if they pulled hard enough, by golly, they could be just like him! (hopefully, without the sweatshirts) But, I digress. Sort of.

The person I've been helping isn't an ex-con. This person just made a lifetime of dumb choices that put him where none of us ever expect to be. A dear friend of mine, concerned for my sanity and pocketbook, told me, "Don't get involved. There's always someone who will take care of these people." But, you know what? It's not true. Here's what happens if you are homeless, penniless, ill, and have no transportation. You can stay in a shelter for the night, 1. if you know where to go, 2. you manage to sign in between the hours of 5:45 and 6:30, 3. you have a TB card, and 4. your name gets called in the nightly lottery for beds. You can be seen in the free clinic if you can be there on Thursday night between 7 and 9 pm. (Hmm, we need to do some tests! Come back in a week, and try to not die in the meantime.) A wonderful entity called Northwest Pilot Project (seriously, they are a blessing for some) will help you find housing if you are willing to come back day after day and wait for 5 hours in the hope that you'll be one of the four people they can see that day. Oh wait, they can't help you find housing if you have no income. You might be able to rent an SRO (single room occupancy - got to learn the jargon) if you have $40 for the application, no criminal record, and good credit. The waiting list for subsidized housing is over a year long unless you're a pregnant woman, HIV positive, or in a recovery program (note to self: plan ahead!).

And don't ever, ever, ever lose your I.D. Nothing happens without identification.

I don't have any answers. The real estate broker would probably tell me this was evolution doing its job and I'm messing up the program by not allowing the weak member of the herd to be taken down by the wolves.

(Note to self: buy Sharpies)