I had decided to go to Durham. Not sure why, just a vague feeling that I wanted to go home. Maybe it was just the last vestige of the child within who wanted his mother. I don't know. All I knew was that the notion manifested as just a Really Good Idea.
However, that could wait until the weekend. Friday, February 10th was a day to try and get some help. The wife and I worked the phones for hours that day, and made a startling discovery: nobody seriously gave a damn about the homeless.
Oh sure, there are organizations abounding in the Triad area of North Carolina that claim to want to "end homelessness": Habitat for Humanity, the Greensboro Urban Ministry, the Salvation Army, the Greensboro housing Authority, the Greensboro Housing Coalition, and other, smaller, lesser-known ones ad nauseum. They expend shocking amounts of time, energy and goodwill to rake in millions in grants, donations and taxpayer funding. But when it comes time to step up to the plate and swing, they often hit airballs. The Greensboro Urban Ministry is the worst in this regard, in my humble opinion, but more on that later.
Renting a car for our trip*, we went to pick Nessie up from school on our way out of town. I was told her teacher wanted to talk to me before we left. Nessie's teacher informed us that word of our plight had gotten around the school and, because of Nessie's popularity**, a few offers of help had come our way. The teacher offered to drive Nessie to and from school herself if that would help. The school guidance counselor referred up to a place called the Greensboro Interfaith Hospitality Network (which up until then we'd heard little about) and the grandmother of one of Nessie's best friends offered to put her up with her family for a few weeks to help us get things sorted out.
The say we were grateful, and overwhelmed by the generosity, is an understatement.
Arrangements with the grandmother were quickly made. As Nessie and I were leaving the building, the teacher ran up. We thought Nessie had forgotten something inside, but instead the teacher thrust her hand toward me, explaining that some of Nessie's other teachers wanted to help out as well.
The hand contained a total of $115.
I believe if I hadn't been so socially conditioned to do so, I'd've cried. As it was, I could only stand there stammering for a few seconds, and then thanked the teacher profusely and asked her to please convey our gratitude to the other teachers as well.
I had always respected teachers, but that one act showed me in stark detail just how selfless, and unflaggingly dedicated to their profession they are. God bless our teachers.
We headed eastward for advice, the psychic bolstering of family, and not incidentally, a free place to sleep at my mother's house. We spent the weekend planning, getting advice from family members (none who'd been in this situation before, but a few had come close) and reconnecting. We had brought along a large sheaf of rental listings and narrowed these down to a few targeted places we wanted to try.
Our visit was pleasant, and we even got in a little sightseeing (although we're from Durham, we're always amazed at how the place has changed) and checked out what rentals were available in Durham, in case we had to make a Full Retreat. What we found was that Durham, like Greensboro, has an abundance of rental housing that's not being occupied.
I'm sure the reasons why are myriad, but one thing we've discovered that more and more landlords are using credit checks to weed out those they suspect won;t pay their rent. The trouble is, these checks are also excluding people of strong moral character who just happen to have weak finances. As such, they are little more than a weapon, used to bludgeon the poor in general. Of course landlords have a right and a duty to ensure they'll get paid like anyone else, but considering they are in an enviable position to direct affect the homelessness rate, why not display a little compassion and allow a poor-but-honest family a decent place to live without all the high-finance b.s.?
Anyway, on our return to Greensboro, we were ready to begin tackling the problem of our own space to sleep.
We had no idea that it would be harder than we thought.
NEXT: Briarpatch. The family discovers that securing a new place to live isn't as simple as it used to be.
*Perhaps not the wisest thing to do, given our situation, but the rates were cheap, we needed breathing space, and neither the wife nor I had seen our mothers in over a year. It was overdue.
**I know this just sounds like parental bragging, but the wife and I are constantly amazed as to the depth of feeling Nessie's peers and teachers have for her, and the number of friends she has within the school. We're certain it's contributing greatly to the excellent grades she brings to us.