Everyone is Freaking Out but Remember… Community.

Today was BUSY at the center.  People were bringing us their things and we were trying to keep up with the latest news.  We had to convince some folks that even though the shelters won’t take couples, they absolutely cannot stay in a tent in the woods during this time.  I got cussed out over the phone for not being able to provide hotel rooms for folks- it was a lot.

We gave a way SO MANY SOCKS today.  Last night was sort of a taste of what is to come.  Blu’s phone was ringing off the hook because people thought that the hurricane had already started, but it was just a typical thunderstorm.  It may have worked to our advantage, because it definitely lit a fire under some butts.  Folks got their meds refilled, just in case.  People gave us important papers to keep.  We have bags of belongings, labeled and placed on top of tables to keep them dry.  We’re definitely doing the best we can here to provide support for everyone.

I had a couple of texts today asking if people could sleep overnight at the center.  We’re pretty sure that it is going to flood because it’s a basement, so I think that’s a bad idea right now.  It floods in parts when it simply rains, much less during a hurricane.  We’re taking precautions by making sure nothing is on the floor and all of the electrical equipment (computers, modems, appliances), are up on a surface and nowhere that they can get wet.

We bought a ticket today for someone who has a friend in Gastonia who is willing to not only let her stay there, but give her a place to stay for an extended period of time.  I feel really good about that because not only will she not be sleeping outside, but she will be with friends who care that she was sleeping outside- I can’t say that about all of our folks for sure.  They grew up in the same group home together, and have been looking for one another.  She got a phone and they found each other this week- this is why Facebook is an amazing tool.  He had no idea that she was living outside, and she had no idea that he was searching for his foster sister.  He just bought a house, and has extended an invitation to her to join his family.  I hope that it works out, for both of them.

Not everyone is so lucky, however, I found out today that a lot of people saw the video that I made yesterday, so that gives me hope that we can keep everyone alive.  We had a lot of new faces today, and I got to speak to a LOT of new folks about what their plans were for the next few days.  It was HECTIC, and we’re going to need some help in the near future, but it’s worth it.  It really is.  If you spend one day with us, you’ll see it too, the joy of a clean pair of socks, a new tent, a hot meal, a clean t-shirt, a bar of soap, connecting with an old friend, all of it.

The Alarm and the Cost of Poverty

We started today 1 person down on staff, so we prepared to be busy.  Then the alarm went off.  This alarm is part of our fire/security system, but specifically, it was a warning that either a breaker tripped or that the transformer was down… except it wasn’t the breaker.  It makes this shrill beeping about every 10 seconds.  It’s loud.  It would drive anyone crazy.  Today it was beeping in a center full of people with all kinds of difficulties.

I tried every phone number on the box, all lead me to tech. support that couldn’t help.  Tried the number on the security panel, disconnected.  Luckily my friend who works for 911 happened to stop by and was able to find out when the last time the alarm was tripped, and who came to set it back.  From there, we actually got a hold of the person we needed to, and could end this hellish beeping that had now plagued us for 2 hours.  It was shaking my nerves.

The story is actually longer and more tedious than that, but I don’t have the energy to write anymore on the subject.  Needless to say, alarm systems are loud and annoying for a reason.  They’re made to make you shake, want to get away from them, and to scare people off.  In the meantime, the needs were great and continuous, and there were moments when I was on the phone, while getting something for someone, while someone else was calling me on the other phone, while the doorbell rang.  It was that kind of day.

I saw my awesome therapist today, and we had a delightful conversation where I recanted this hellish day, and then sang my husband’s praises as a human being for the rest of it.  My therapist does a lot of couple’s counseling and said it was nice to hear that there are couples who are really working out.  I told him that I wouldn’t know how to teach that, but he’s my hero for trying to teach others how to do that.  I feel like too many couples don’t allow each other to be human beings.  Maybe I’m just lucky, and found the perfect one.  As I say, lots of people have husbands, but I have the best one.

I then solved the mystery of “why my registration hasn’t come in the mail”.  The answer to that is: it was time for a new license plate.  I didn’t really  know that was a thing, and no one sent me any kind of notice, but I was glad that I found out and had the cash to pay for it, because it could have been a shock had I not been prepared.  I’m the proud owner of a plate that won’t get me pulled over by being an outdated plate now.  Adulting- level up!

That leads me into this: has anyone ever noticed how incredibly difficult it can be to keep all of your balls in the air as a grown ass person?  The car payments, insurance, maintenance, inspections, plates, registrations, taxes?  The rent/mortgage, insurance, termite inspection, all the bills, stuff break down, taxes?  The career/job, performance review, 24-7 responsibility, deadlines, taxes? The kids, childcare, school, the dog, the cat, the bird, the yard, the trash, the housekeeping, taxes.  How do we all do it?

One thing that I’ve noticed is that it’s easier to keep all of these systems going than it is to lose one and try to get it back.  That’s the cycle of poverty; if you’ve never lived it, it’s built so that you lose one of these things, and it takes heaven and Earth to get it back.  Being poor is incredibly expensive.  We see it with our people all of the time.  Why are homeless people homeless?  Easy, someone steals your stuff at the shelter, and suddenly you’re a person with no ID, birth certificate or social security card.  Then you can’t work until you get it all back, but all of it costs money, that you don’t have, because you can’t work.

Let’s say you have a car.  Now you don’t have a license to drive your car, you get pulled over, you get a ticket for not having a license and whatever else is wrong with your car (like your headlight).  Then you have to pay a fine or go to court.  Both cost money.  If you do neither, you have fines following you around or you get a “Failure to Appear”, and that costs even more money.  Everything then costs more, and finally you lose your car.  Now you have nothing.  Then the shelter kicks you out for being late for curfew.  Now you really have nothing.

I hear stories like this every single day.  Bank accounts overdrawn that then put a $35 overdraft fee on them, with another fee on top of that, and so the next money you put into your account is gone before you can pay a bill.  Why use the account at all, then?  So you pay to get your check cashed elsewhere, pay extra for the money-order, and pay off the bill that way.  Now you’ve spent an extra $18 to pay a bill, but that’s better than the $45 you owe the bank.

The parameters required for being a functioning member of our capitalistic society are so very small.  You have to be on top of your game 24-7, or have the money to pay for that thing you let slip.  It’s built to make it as hard as humanly possible to succeed, and to then add additional hardship on top of that.  Ever had a credit check and realize you have no credit even though you’ve been paying bills for years?  I have.  It happened to me.  Paying your bills is good, because that just means no credit.  Not paying your bills means bad credit.  Notice how there is a penalty, but no reward?  Borrow a ton of money?  Instant reward on levels.  You get money, and if you pay it back timely, you get credit.  Why does it work that way?

I see people, every day, who just can’t dig out of the hole they’re in.  They had family members who took out credit cards in their names when they were teenagers, maxed them out, then never paid them.  They started life in debt with terrible credit.  They started life disabled, with nothing but a disability check and no one to help care for them.  They started life with a mental illness that alienated the family they did have, and are too young (or too mentally ill) to make it without some serious adult support.  They went to jail as a teen and own money to the courts out the ass.  I see all of these things all of the time.

Know that the decisions you make for your kids can truly make a difference in if they become homeless or not.  If you kick out your argumentative teenager, there is a good chance that the next few decisions they make will define the next decade of their lives.  If you want to simply watch them crash and burn because you “want to be right” SO BAD, then you may actually get your wish, it could happen, but is that truly what you wanted as a parent?  Does that really make you happy?  Did “you show them”?  What if I told you that your little girl was turning tricks for crack?  What if I told you that your son just asked me for clean needles?  What if, in a split second, your withdrawal of general support breaks that young person.  It’s something to think about.

 

 

You don’t have to be God people to be Good people.

I fell in love with this phrase when my friend, who grew up Mormon, said it one evening when we were talking about the Center and life in general.  One of the most interesting things about my job (aside from almost everything lol), is that I work daily with a LOT of people of all different kinds of faiths.  Everyone may be of different religions, or variations of a religion, or no religion at all, but they’re working towards a common goal; to concretely help people living in the most extreme poverty.

I don’t have a specific church that I’m a member of, but because I work in a Methodist church, people ask me, almost daily, if I’m Methodist or a member of that specific church.  I grew up going to a Baptist church, which was close to my house when I was a kid.  One of the advantages of not having a specific church is that I’m don’t feel biased over any specific religion or group, and can work easily with people of all faiths (or no faith), and as long as everyone is striving to do good in the world, I’m in their corner.  Everyone wants the opportunity to do some good in the world.

I often refer to the energy or force of faith as “The Universe”.  It excludes no one.  I’ve seen the amazing things that The Universe can do, and I’ve witnessed first hand the way that the things that we put into it can come back in beautiful (and sometimes terrible) ways.  I love the teachings of Jesus Christ and take to heart that we should love one another, show kindness and generosity to the poor, and be as much of a force of good as we can be.  They’re lofty goals, but again, callings typically have lofty goals.

Today was one of the busiest days I’ve seen at the center in a while.  We had so much going on that I didn’t have a moment to answer emails, take pictures, post to social media- I’ll be tackling those emails after I write this blog, but I’m trying to write daily, so I’ve promised myself that I will, in some form or another, write something.  I do have one of the few jobs in the world where by 2 pm I’ve already had “a day, whew” while other people are still at work.  Today was “a day”.

In good news, our Bombas socks came, as well as our stove to replace the one with the electrical problem.  The bad news about the stove is that the plug isn’t the right one, but we have someone coming to look at it.  St. John’s MCC made and brought lunch today, so that gave us some reprieve on cooking.  Our friend, Randy Evans who runs “Walking Tall Wilmington” came today, hung out, and then spoke during church service.  It was awesome to see him, even though it was so busy that we barely got to talk.

The saddest news that I heard today was that one of our community members, a young man, got the call that no parent ever wants to get.  His daughter had been playing on a jungle gym, had a seizure and passed away.  I sat with him outside in the smoking section and literally just sat with him.  There was nothing I could say, nothing I could do, but give him a hug and let him know that Pastor Robert was on site that day if he wanted to talk to someone who specializes in grief.  Pastor Robert worked in hospice for a long time, and loss is a subject that he doesn’t shy away from.  I then just sat with him some more and checked in on him throughout the day.  It reminded me of something Rev. Hugh Hollowell said, “I can’t pay your light bill, but I will sit with you in the dark”.  We do a lot of sitting with people in the dark.

Our friend who sees Demon Fairies was very calm today, and I hooked him up with some gear to replace the Marshall’s shopping bag (the handles on those shopping bags break easily).  I got him a donated book bag, canvas tote, and one of those small drawstring book bags, that way he can separate his things out as he needs to.  He apologized again today, but for the first time, when I gave him the bags, I saw a hint of happiness flash through his eyes and it gave me hope.  Hope for him, hope for the center and hope for all of us.

We were able to get two more tents to people who lost theirs in the flood!  One guy cracked me up and said his tent looked like “Jurassic Park in there”.  I also saw one of our young friends who we haven’t seen in a year!  She was 30 days sober, walking better with a cane (last time I saw her, she was in a wheelchair and had been hit by a car), and she looked very healthy.  She is a person who has been diagnosed with multiple personalities, and one of her personalities is 5 years old, so I found her 5 year old a toy dinosaur to replace some of the toys she lost in the flood and I hope that it makes her happy.  Her inner 5 year old had been acting out since the flood, and her therapist had said that this may happen.  I know all of that sounds really far out, but I’ve learned a LOT about actual multiple personality disorder, and I always take the requests of her other personalities very seriously.  If she shows up as a 5 year old, I respect that too and don’t expect her to do things that 5 year olds can’t do.  Luckily, she has a very supportive boyfriend to help her navigate the world, she needs that support and understanding.

One of our friends had to go to court for loitering.  Have you ever seen a rich person arrested for loitering?  That’s just all I have to say about that.  It’s a “homeless people charge”.

We see a lot of things in a day at the center.  I spent a lot of time on my feet with my attention pulled in several different directions.  I was VERY happy to see my therapist today, as he is a person who has also worked in a daytime facility, specifically for people with Schizophrenia.  It was the PERFECT person to talk to, because as he said, “There were times that I would get together with old coworkers, and we all felt like no one else in the world could understand some of the things we experienced.”  He’s definitely a person who “gets my job”, and that’s excellent because I know that not everyone is going to get that.  I mean, some of this stuff, you just couldn’t make up if you tried, so having someone else who has been there to talk to after a crazy day is cathartic.

Now, I guess I’m going to go tackle all of those emails.  Stay good people!

 

Forgiveness is Huge

This morning, our friend who sees Demon Fairies, came up to me immediately and said “I’m sorry, I’m an asshole.  I had a total nervous breakdown yesterday.  Sometimes we hurt the people who help us the most, and I’m sorry.”

I asked him if his medications had been in the bag that got stolen, and he said they were, and that he had an appointment on the 3rd to have his scripts refilled.  I told him that if there was anything we could do to keep him calm and out of trouble until his appointment to let us know, and not to let it build up to yesterday again.  We’ll help you out however we can, but we have to keep the place safe for everyone.  He agreed to that, and I gave him a hug.  He said “I haven’t had a hug from anyone in a long time.”

He was quiet and went about his business for the rest of the day.  He ate at lunch (a good thing), and I got him a bag to replace the old, black trash bag that he had been hauling his worldly possessions around in.  It wasn’t much, just a Marshall’s reusable shopping bag, but he looked really happy and said “That’s a great bag, thank you.”

Grace is hard, and forgiveness is huge.

The rest of our day was busy, 62 people for lunch!  Billy and I reorganized the meat cooler and were in awe of how much pork we had in comparison to everything else.  One thing that we have learned very quickly is that a LOT of people don’t eat pork.  When we make pork (and we pretty much have to every lunch because it is the most donated meat in our area), we always have to make something to go with it.  We have St. John’s Methodist church doing our lunch tomorrow, so we’re planning Thursday’s meal.  So far it’s pork shoulder, and turkey neck gravy for the non-pork folks over rice.

Our hall was swamped with clothing and bedding donations, so I and our friend, Dave, took a stab at clearing it all out.  We have a lot of women’s clothing, a lot of men’s dress pants, and a lot of assorted bedding.  More bedding than we can use right now, so if you’re looking for sheet sets, pillow cases or a quilt, stop by and help yourself, we have plenty!

I’m trying to write something every day, so some days there will be more than others, however, I definitely thought that this deserved an update.  Tomorrow we’ll be starting the day with sausage, eggs and grits, so if you’re up and about at 9:30, join us for breakfast!

 

 

 

 

You’re Welcome to What’s in the Fridge

Today I was messaging back and forth with some of our unhoused community members, trying to put together a list of who lost tents, how many, and where the the most damage happened.  During one of my conversations, I learned that 4 of our folks who lost everything had no way to get to dinner and were hungry.

Dinner is served in 2 locations that I know of; the Salvation Army Center for Hope on Capital Blvd, and a church off of New Bern Ave.  I realized in this moment that the best way to get them fed without them being stuck anywhere, especially now that they have no home base, was for me to just make and bring something.  I didn’t have much in the fridge.  I had just eaten a ham sandwich, so I asked “mayo or mustard”, and made up 4 ham sandwiches, and 4 bowls of ramen noodles, putting the hot noodles in take out containers that I had saved, and headed to meet them on Fayetteville St.

Our folks don’t like to beg.  I don’t either.  I don’t enjoy begging the Universe for what the center doesn’t have, but I know that I have to use my amplified voice to advocate for people who can’t.  This very simple meal was well received, and everyone was definitely very hungry.  It wasn’t fancy, but making that simple meal gave me joy.  Why?  Because it was made here, in my home, out of my fridge and cabinets with my hands, and I had it to give freely.  I didn’t have to beg anyone for the makings, and they didn’t have to beg anyone for dinner.  Today no one had to expend that extra energy to ask the Universe, and instead we could simply enjoy our friendship, our sandwiches, and our noodles.

You might be thinking, “But you do that every day, why did this feel different?”  It feels different because it is intimate.  It’s not cooking for 50, there is no serving line, and it was just a small enough meal to be quick and manageable to pack up for 4 people.  I don’t bring people meals in the evening that often, and maybe one day Love Wins will be able to be the type of organization that serves a meal again in the park, but it won’t be like this.

When people serve on a large scale, it’s back to asking for donations, planning the meal, dealing with criticism (there are plenty of people who will be quick to tell you that ramen noodles are unhealthy to serve to homeless people, even though that is what I had for supper).  This is a different experience, like folks dropping by unexpectedly and having whatever you scrounge up for dinner.  It’s like family, and in that moment, I’ve never been happier to make a ham sandwich for anyone.

 

Strumming the Non-profit Blues

I just said “Goodbye” to my mentor for the past year- I’ve been preparing for this for almost as long.  I don’t really cry like “normal people”.  I have a tough time with that.  I reassure myself that he’s only a text or a phone call away, and if we have issues at the center that I haven’t seen before, I can at least ask for advice.  Some days it feels like I’ve bitten off more than anyone can chew, others, it doesn’t.

We’re going to make it through the month.  After payroll tomorrow, both of my employees will be paid (I will not), and with a check I got today, we’ll make rent, so that’s good.  It’s survival mode.  It takes so little to run the center; $6,500 per month, but we’re not there yet, so everything is touch and go.  We have a Peer Support Program, but funny story, Blu IS THE PROGRAM, it’s peer support.  She is the peer.  She is literally the program.  We deal in the business of investing in humans, and people no longer seem to understand that as, well anything.

The other day, someone asked me if the opening of the new Oak City Outreach center would “impact our business”?  I laughed.  “You mean another place to help poor people?  No, build 2 more.”  He said “Aren’t you afraid that you’ll go out of business.”  I said “Sir, you’ve mistaken us with a store, that sells things, for a profit.  We give things away for free, for no profit.  If anything it means that in a year you’ll all be eating steak and getting name brand deodorant”.  He laughed, and maybe, I think he got it.

A non-profit is not “a business”.  It doesn’t run like a business.  It runs like a house.  You pay the bills.  That’s how that works.  You start a program and you fund it.  Our programs center around people.  We have a nutrition program that I can get food for, but there is an unhoused man who runs it that I can’t afford to pay, and that breaks my heart.  The difference between him being housed and not could be this part-time job- a job that he can do, that’s rewarding work, and that a person with disabilities can do and maintain dignity.  I wish that I could give him the title of “Kitchen Manager” and the little bit of money it would take every month to keep him housed.  It’s literally $800.  For $800 a month, I could give this man a job, and he could use it and his disability to move out of Pullen Park and into a rooming house.  This is the big picture.  This is what I want to do.

These are the hard choices.  Right now we can’t even afford a director (that’s me), but we have to have one, because I do our book keeping, social media, website, fundraising and daily operations.  I also work in the business, it’s a LOT like being a waitress in a very busy restaurant.  People need things, and then you try to help them find what they need.  It’s like being the personified version of Google for folks who need extra help to navigate it.  Luckily, I worked in a bar for a year while I was working at LW and saved every penny that I could because I knew the hard road was ahead.  It can be stressful, but I’m glad that I could save what I could to be able to go a month or two without a salary of any kind.  How I’ll ever get anyone in the future to take my job?  I’ll never know.  It’s a hard sell.

People who run organizations can typically get “better jobs elsewhere”, with large, funded organizations.  This is why a lot of these organizations are run by pastors and ministers, they have a job with the church, and then their mission work is the rest of it.  If you aren’t any of those things, you don’t have that title or income to survive, and while I’ll be fine, I’m unsure, down the road, how this could all work.  We have to build it up.  It’s working.  The place is AMAZING every day.  We do so much, but from a “business” standpoint, it’s tough.  No one wants the stress of the entire existence of a non-profit on their shoulders, and the worry of not being able to pay their own bills.  I’m okay for now, I’m a lucky one.  Not everyone is that lucky, and if I have to, I can always still bartend at night.  I’ll be a zombie at work, but I’ve done that before.

It’s a calling.  It’s definitely nothing else.