Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

There are things that go on behind the scenes every day that I'm dying to tell everyone about, but for various reasons, I can't. What you read here is maybe half of what actually transpires on any given day. Sometimes less.

Usually the reason I can't spill the beans is because doing so would violate some level of confidentiality, either implicit or explicit. For example, astute readers will notice that I keep names out of the blog as often as I can, with the exception of my immediate family and public figures. Also, there are several projects I'm working on that require tight lips until they're complete. I'll also keep my little mouth shut because I don't want to screw up interviews; I don't divulge the companies involved because that might adversely impact my chances of getting hired*. Sometimes keeping quiet avoids or reduces conflict, legal or otherwise. And sometimes, as we say in the South, dear readers: " 'tain't none a' yer business**!"

It's actually a feat for me to even be putting my thoughts out here like this, becuase the people that know me will invariably describe me as a very private person. But I'm told from many quarters that my doing so is actually helping, so I'll keep on keepin' on.

There have been many that have suggested I write a book when this is all over. Not a bad idea. Maybe even by then I'll be able to divulge some of what went on backstage at the time. Those are stories that need to be told.

*More and more companies are actively monitoring bloggers and their blogs. Several high-profile firings have occurred as a result of some bloggers venting everything negative about their jobs/bosses/companies. Other companies, in their background checks, Google candidates' names to see what pops up. I know for a fact mine gets several hits now, so I have to watch my p's and q's.

**There are bloggers that put their sex lives out there for the world to see, among more personal matters. I'm no prude, but I ain't a porn star either. I like...er, intimate relations just that: intimate.



Taken Wing

They're gone.

The birds outside our window have disappeared. Mother Dove had just hatched her babies, too. At least the other day I saw a little fuzzy brownish-gray head peeking out from under her wing. But when I went to check on them the next day, they were gone.

I looked around the ground under the A/C unit, thinking that maybe the babies had fallen out of the nest and Mom had simply left, knowing she couldn't help, but I saw no little bodies in the grass. I guess a hawk might have gotten the lot of them; we have several red-tailed hawks around here*.

Too bad; watching the babies grow up would have been an interesting science project for the kids.

*There was one near our old place I used to call "Shayera" (you comics fans will catch the reference). Anyway, I saw a flock of ravens divebombing her one day while she was out for a fly, minding her own business. I didn't think ravens had those sort of cojones.


The Polaris Imperative

Several of you have suggested that I move up north in order to find work and generally put our lives back in order. While I appreciate the suggestions, well...brrr!

It's cold up there!

I know it gets warm in summer, but winters up in Minneapolis, Pittsburgh or Waukesha are a tad brutal for my taste. North Carolina has its flaws -- a lot of them -- but it stays warm. Mostly.

Now, I'm not averse to working up north; in fact, before the...ahem...Late Unpleasantness, I was exploring ways to make that work. We had a neighbor back at our old place (very nice man) that worked in New York City but lived in Greensboro. He'd commute to NYC, stay up there for six or eight weeks, then come back here to stay for a week or two with his wife. He kept it up for about 20 years until he retired last year. Wore out many a car doing it, but I know he made a pile of money.

Of course, he didn't have kids, and as any parent out there worth their diaper pails can tell you, you don't want to get too far from your kids. Still, graphic designers in NYC make about twice what they do down here. If you can handle the competition, that is, which I imagine is beyond fierce.

Still...there's gotta be a way to make that happen...


Mark of the Beast

It's. Driving. Me. Crazy!

Searching for a meaningful job in a field that I love is like being being led into the Playboy Mansion bound and blindfolded. I'll probably bump into something I like a lot, but there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.

Just spent the past hour or so traveling the web trying to find work as a designer. The Triad area is blessed with a surfeit of design firms, yet none seem to be hiring. Of course, all their websites have photos of their creative teams: hip young professionals smiling, having fun and reveling in the fact that they're getting to do something that I'd give my eyeteeth to do. A few days from now, I'm sure I'll find out that someone just got hired on at So-and-So Agency and he loves it, or Suzy So-and-So just opened her own agency and hired a bunch of people. But that does me no good after the fact, now does it?

Maybe they're not so much smiling as gloating. At me. "Lookee at the job we get to go to every day. What's that you're into -- retail? (Cue derisive, uncontrollable guffawing)

Yes, yes, I know the old dictum of 80% of all available jobs not being advertised, and I plan to go to the library later to see what I can shake out of the bushes, but over the past three years, I've shaken a lot of bushes, trees, hedges, thickets, fens and flowerpots. All I've gotten is chlorophyll stains and something on my hands that smells suspiciously like...ewww! Still, I send out resumes and follow up as best I can. Resumes I send out cold are never seen or heard from again, and resumes I send as a result of a job posting end up in competition with those same hip, young, smiling professionals that end up doing what I'd love to do, while I'm on the outside looking in. Again.

Meanwhile, I'm being pressed from all sides to "Take a job. Any job." I've lost count of the times I've been admonished that I may have to "go outside your field." Just yesterday, It was suggested to me that I take a job as a car salesman*. I've finally learned the art of not giving people that tell me I may have to go outside my field the death stare. I realized long ago that I'd have to "go outside my field." Hell, I seem to be getting forced out of it. The fact remains, though, that in order to afford a permanent place to live, I've got to make more than minimum wage; or failing that, the job has got to allow room for growth and improvement. Naturally, it's got to be something I'm qualified to do.

I also keep hearing "keep trying," "don't give up," or variants of that saw. But some days... I just want to know how many times I have to beat my head against the wall before I get to stop.

Meanwhile, I see those smiling faces on the websites and imagine those carefree lives, those cool creative jobs and the cameraderie that comes with working with equals and I get frustrated all over again.

Frustration. Hm. Seems the Beast has found a new weapon.

*A car salesman?! I was going to comment on that here, but my feelings about car salesmen would take an entire post, plus. Let's just say I'd make an astonishingly lousy one and leave it at that. Car salesman. Sheesh!




I am ashamed.

I don't spend enough time looking up from what I'm doing to see what else is going on, and I should be.

First, Cara Michele has corrected me (very quickly, I might add; you go, girl!) and let me know that she has linked to Colby Smith's obituary, complete with a picture. You can find it in the Comments to "Just Desserts".

I realize that I don't recognize him now, but I probably passed him a million times and took no notice of him back then. If he was at UNCG in the '80s, I might even have bumped into him once or twice there, too.

Small world.

Anyway, looking at the list of organizations he'd joined on behalf of the homeless, it made me think of how little I've done. Maybe gerard v was right; maybe I haven't actually done a damn thing for the homeless, other than type this blog, which frankly, anybody can do.

(Hmm, perhaps I'd better finish this quickly; I feel the Beast stirring in the back.)

Second, I'm also ashamed on a visual level. Cara's blog is so much more...vibrant...than mine. And I'm supposed to be a Graphic Designer! The trouble is, the design for this blog is so well known now, I'm afraid to change it.

Third, I'm ashamed that I haven't sufficiently acknowledged the fact that there are others out there who are just as homeless, and just as quick to articulate their day-to-days in their own blogs. I seem to recall reading somewhere as well that up North there is a group of homeless men that publish a weekly newspaper. I'll try to find the information on that again and pass it along.

At least the third thing I can do something about. Cara's blog links to several other homelessness blogs. Through one of those links, I came in contact with the Homeless Blog Webring. You may have noticed the set of links to the left; these are links to other sites within the ring. I've checked some of them out -- apparently Canada and England are struggling with the problem on the same scale as we are. I've linked View From the Sidewalk there myself, but I don't think the link will be active for a few days yet.

Anyway, what all this haas taught me is that I need to get crackin'. Maybe later, though. First I've gotta get the Beast back to sleep.


Points of View

I think there's a homeless person working on staff at the News & Record.

There must be, because the paper has focused a lot of attention on homeless issues of late, including Yours Truly's blog.

While linking to the article about Colby Smith (see previous post), I found this, a Homelessness Simulation run by Guilford College.

GC gets it; they are very outspoken about social conditions and justice. For them to even pay attention to the plight of the homeless is a huge feather in their cap. I think the only other college around here that speaks to homelessness is UNCG, occasionally*.

I wish I'd known about this simulation beforehand; I could've given them some firsthand accounts about the difficulty we face in trying to get that initial help. Still, it's good to see that these students are learning something about it. They may come out of the experience a little wiser, a little more compassionate, a little more willing to accept that not everything is as it seems. maybe those of them who go on to social work will remember this little exercise when facing that newly-homeless family across that desk.

I'll go even further: I'll say that anyone contemplating a career in social work should be required to undergo the same travails as the families they purport to help, just so they can have a genuine sense of empathy for them. even if those travails are artifically created, like GC's Homelessness Simulator. They should have to undergo losing their home, watching income dwindle to nothing while the bills mount, having to choose between heat, food and medicine for a child or elderly parent, and other such things as the rest of us have to do, day in and day out. Maybe some of them will be a little less haughty and will work a little harder to make sure that poor families get what they need.

But again, it's good to see that the students are looking at the flip side of the coin for a change. Maybe it ought to be a required project at all colleges.
*An aside: some weweks ago, I was on the UNCG campus, where I attended back in the age of dinosaurs, to look into finishing my degree. Of course, I had become homeless since then. I felt like I was an intruder there. And I still never got the information I was seeking.


Just Desserts

Colby Smith departed this vale of tears on March 17, 2006.

I didn't know Mr. Smith personally, but according to the News & Record article about him, he had become a tireless advocate for the homeless after himself enduring that state for five years.

Judging by the comments from some in the community who work with or advocate for the homeless, Mr. Smith was apparently a well-known figure who wasn't afraid to speak up with ideas on how to help the homeless. No photo accompanied the article, but I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that perhaps I'd passed him on the streets several times during those heady days when I thought I was doing well.

Mr. Smith is gone now, and he got what he deserved.

("What?! How horrible! What a terrible thing to say! He's lost his mind!")

Ah, but let me finish...

Mr. Smith deserved to escape the grip of homelessness with his wits and most of his health intact*.

He deserved to become a loud voice on behalf of those who traditionally have no voice because of that experience.

He deserved to learn from that experience and use that knowledge to pave a way for others while becoming a better, stronger person for it.

He deserved to gain the attention and respect of those on the front lines of the fight against homelessness.

He deserved to have his thoughts and ideas on fighting homelessness heard

And he deserved to be remembered for his efforts long after he himself had passed on.

Done and done.

By all accounts he got what he deserved, and more. Because he got his just desserts, Mr. Smith forced open a door that I and others in my situation can simply walk through.

So requiescat in pace, Mr. Smith. I daresay your efforts on our behalf were not in vain. Would that I could prick the social conscience with half as much aplomb as you did. If nothing else, you've given me a grain of hope: if you could escape this woeful state, so can I.

*I say "most" because Mr. Smith is no longer with us due to having succumbed to Amylotropic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease".



Slats Missing from a Picket Fence

Was going to post today, but the entire time I'd allotted myself to post was spent answering gerard v's charges. You can read up on them on his blog here.

What I'd like to ask all my readers is that has anyone found gerard's advice helpful? Let me know. If so, I'll happily retract what I've said.

And if anyone believes that I've bashed people, made them feel inferior, or perpetrated any other indignity, let me know, and I'll happily retract and apologize.

Actually it's occurred to me that the guy's actually kept up with the blog, even if he ruffled feathers. To him and others of you who've stuck with me this long, thank you.



Stripped to the Bare

A hypothetical question, Gentle Readers: suppose you met Bill Gates. Would you ask to see his paycheck stubs?

Or suppose, while talking with financier Warren Buffett, you were to ask him a series of highly personal questions about his spending habits?

Or let's say you asked Condoleezza Rice to tell you what she bought at the store that day, how much it cost and why she bought it?

Chances are, if you even found yourself in a position to ask these questions, Gates, Buffett or Rice would laugh themselves sick, while beckoning for Security.

Yet, the poor have to suffer little indignities like that each and every day.

Anyone who's ever had to go to Social Services (Welfare) for help because they'd been backed into a corner knows exactly what I'm talking about. I've been asked every form of invasive question about my finances, my household composition, my spending habits, my purchases, ordered to supply my bank records, my paycheck stubs, my receipts. Most times, these items have to cover three to six months prior to me asking for help. And not just my information. Mama also has to come up with many of the same things. Just to get help. And each piece of information has to be backed up with forms that must be sent to employers, landlords, bankers, and other authority figures, filled out and sent back to the assistance providers.

It's not just Social Services that perpetrates this. Charities and organizations of all stripes can, and often do, ask for this kind of information by dint of their potentially helping you. Of course, if they subsequently refuse to help you, you've laid your life bare for anyone who wants to see it and go poking through it.

Sounds a lot like being sloppy drunk at a frat party, doesn't it? The end effect is much the same.

It seems that the poor are asked every day to prove that they are poor, to have ready at a moment's notice for whomever asks the evidence that yes, we are on hard times; no, our jobs don't pay us enough to pick us up, and for God's sake, we didn't want to wake up and find ourselves in the gutter.

This goes back somewhat to an earlier post, where I allude to the fact that the poor/homeless are not treated the same as everyone else. We are held to a different standard based solely on the fact that we don't have two nickels to rub together. We've assumed on initial glance to be lazy, stupid, filthy, or wastrels; unworthy to be seen, dealt with or treated in any manner even approaching humane. John Scalzi gets it; in his essay "Being Poor," he brings the condition of being poor home in a way that is succinct and incisive.

To be fair, many organizations and agencies have found themselves burned by people in the past who just want to get over the system, and they've insituted these rules to help weed such people out. But most people who need this kind of help are not criminals. They're not con artists. And, despite what Ronald Reagan said, they are not wearing furs and driving Cadillacs. Or if they are, the fur is a ratty old polyester they got from a thrift store and the Cadillac hasn't had an oil change or bodywork since Reagan left office. There is no need to socioeconomically denude everybody you run into.

I'm reminded of "The Emperor's New Clothes," where at the end, the Emperor is strutting around naked. Today, however, it's not the Emperor that's naked, it's the poor.

And it's awful cold out here.

*I was born poor. I fervently wish I hadn't been.


Bataireacht Sail-Éílle

Apologies to all for allowing myself to get distracted, but I need to, as Barney Fife would say, "nip this in the bud!"

Gerard v seems to have returned, and he seems to be in rare form. I'll let him have the floor, so to speak, for the nonce:

Ahhhh, I'm back! I've was sick as a dog last week, hence my absence (I'm a
little bi-tch when I get sick... And yes, I know I'm setting myself up for a
joke here!)

Now, as for this "What to write in the Salary Requirements"
field on a Job Application form... NEVER, and I mean NEVER, write in
"Negotiable", "Open" or "Will Take Market Value" when asked what your salary
requirements are. NEVER!

First, let me tackle the "on the surface" flaw
in this approach...

1) Will Take Market Value - Really? OK, what's MV?
$40,000? Well, since I have 4 other possible candidates that are only asking for
35K I can filter this guy out. Or, maybe if he's willing to work for MV than
maybe he's willing to work for peanuts...

2) Open - Good, because I'm
going to low-ball this guy if he's really good so I can get more for less, and
if he's not so good then it doesn't really matter how Open he really

3) Negotiable - That's great! We were willing to offer up to $35,000
a year, but since he's willing to negotiate even LOWER than that...

you can put a positive spin on these three examples? If anybody feels the urge
to try, then do so... Just understand that if you reply with anything that you
can think of that "proves" that you would come out a winner in this situation it
will defy logic, common sense and intelligence. You'll also be the same person
that thinks I'm arrogant! Which leads me to the second flaw in this

99% of those looking for a job think and feel that they
NEED the job they are interviewing for while 99% of interviewers think and feel
that you are NOT the right person to fill that position. So, as the potential
candidate you start off at a disadvantage. The company holds ALL of the cards
and you're just lucky to be watching the game from a distance. The interviewer
has ALL of the facts, knowledge and experience of the company, position,
culture, needs, budget, etc. You know that you need this job! Yeah, you might
have researched the company, but that and a dime will get you a cup of coffee.
So how does one go about screwing themselves even further? Well, not only do
they come across as desperate for a job but now they'll work for LESS than we
were willing to pay!
He also has more to say -- in much the same vein -- on the topic of Wal-Mart by way of answer to secondstarr's comment, but I'm not going to post that one. I'll leave it in the "comments" section for awhile; you can locate it yourself.

OK, gerard, you've had your say -- now a question. Ready? If, as you say, using "open", "negotiable", or "will take market value" is a bad idea, then what is the good idea?

Your answer? We'll wait...

I read that entire comment over several times and not once did I see anything that may have helped someone, or given them an answer they may have been seeking. What I did see was an attack on something I learned in my workshop (led by an instructor with over 25 years of Human Resource Development, by the way) that may -- just may -- have led to that one break that might have gotten me the job that would pull me out of this mess. Now, I did the civic-minded thing and passed the info along; based on the comments I got as a result, the information may have helped a few of you. But gerard comes along and declares the whole thing flawed, yet he offers no alternative plan; no reason why using "open", etc. might work, even under limited circumstances; no encouragement whatsoever.

I put it to the audience that one of the reasons many homeless/poor/uneducated cannot get ahead is due to the gale forces of arrogance and bombast hurled by such would-be advice givers as gerard. For every piece of hardscrabbled information and encouragement we get, there is always someone like gerard ready to use the shillelagh of their "superior wisdom" to assault our hopes and dreams and beat our spirits into submission.

Just imagine if Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi, or Martin Luther King had spoken to people in that fashion; simply giving their listeners' spirits a good drubbing instead of offering some sort of hope that things can and would get better. using their great intellects to tear hope down instead of building it up? The socioeconomic anemia that permeates our culture now would've been increased a thousandfold.

So, gerard, perhaps you can actually help someone by breaking down their conscience and their spirit. I don't know. All I can say is buona fortuna to you, and hope that someone, somewhere, regards you as the towering figure you seem to believe you are so you can continue feeling better about yourself. You once posted on your own blog that you'd worn out your welcome here. I invited you back, not wanting to suppress opposing views, but attacks like these are not helping anyone, and are in fact counterproductive.

Perhaps your own blog is a better place to espouse your views. I'd rather build hope up than tear it down.



Odds and Ends

Just a few quickie things to report on that I'd been neglecting lately:

Mike has apparently devised his own strategy to his Beast: read it to death. This is good, since he retains most of what he reads, but bad, because he doesn't do a lot of interacting with the IHN volunteers, who are really nice people.

Our host church this week is Friendly Avenue Church of Christ, which has the most ethnically diverse congregation we've met so far. They even have a Hispanic ministry; we met the minister Sunday night, a very nice man. Mama got to showcase her Spanish skill, and he gave her a very nice compliment.

I've learned to network for job leads at each church, and I've gotten several. There were two nice ladies at St. Pius X* that pointed me toward job leads, and there are several people at Friendly Ave. CoC that have promised to make inquiries on my behalf.

The dove outside our window at the Day Center is sitting contentedly on her nest full-time now. One day last week when she flew off for a break, I took a peek into the nest. Looks like she's expecting twins. I have no idea when they'll hatch. Papa Dove seems to have decided to seek his fortune elsewhere, because we haven't seen him around. Of course, I suppose it's equally possible a local cat simply got lucky one day. I hope not.

One of the rules of IHN is that we can't spank the kids when they misbehave. Nessie seems to have gotten hip to this as she's acted out a few times when I wasn't around. Of course, she knows if Daddy gets wind of the goings-on, she'll be invited out "for a walk". She usually takes the hint.

Lucky had an idea that I'll be trying to work on, and one I should've come up with myself: offer to redesign JobLink's presentation materials. The only drawback I can see is that JobLink is a state agency, with the attendant bureaucracy...you see where I'm going with this. Still, a good suggestion. I'll see who I can buttonhole for a meeting.

There were several good suggestions to the problem I posted of starting an online portfolio. I hope none of my respondents takes this the wrong way, but I did something I should've done in the first place**; I Googled for a solution (duh!) and got several possibilities. As soon as I figure out where I put the @#$%& disk with my PDF files, I'll start one.

*That was the first time I'd ever set foot in a Catholic church. I wish I'd attended Mass Sunday so I could see what it was like for real, and not the stylized version TV presents.

**I seem to be getting a little slow on the uptake in my old age. They say the mind is the first thing to go...


Dancing With the Shinkansen

I have to report today that I've been guilty of forming a negative assumption.

("What?! Gasp! Horrors! Throw the bum out!")

Whe I walked into Guilford JobLink late last week, I thought that I had reached the bottom of the barrel in my job search. I thought that the one-stop career center* was for perennial losers, ex-offenders, ex-druggies, and people who couldn't get a job any other way if it were handed to them.

I couldn't have been any more wrong.

JobLink* is actually a very sophisticated operation dedicated to doing one thing well: putting people to work. Within the center (which looks like it used to be an old elementary school) are all kinds of resources, books, videos, computers, a fully equipped and staffed computer lab, and representatives from several human service agencies. All in a fully staffed resource room.

The instructor for the workshops knows her stuff. I've learned quite a bit about job searching, resume writing and interviewing in the past three days. I'm actually looking forward to the last two workshops. She looked over several resumes that some of us turned in since Monday. She made corrections and recommendations on those that needed them. She didn't have much to recommend about mine, which meant that it was already pretty strong. However, adding what I've learned in the workshop and the few recommendations she did make, I plan to make it even stronger.

She's also not afraid to make us think, with an eye toward getting us to think on our feet during an interview. And some of the classroom discussion have been lively indeed. I've even made a couple of valuable contacts and met some really nice people. All of us have one thing in common: We want to work; we're not sitting around waiting for welfare checks to drop out of the sky.

I'm actually starting to feel pretty good about continuing my search, and possibly even getting training to change careers. I was bummed out about it before, but now things actually look a little brighter. For the first time in a while, that light at the end of the tunnel isn't the oncoming headlamp of the shinkansen**.

Plus, there have been several commenters and e-maill correspondents that have made valuable suggestions to me. Thanks to all of you who do; even if I don't immediately get back to you, trust me, I run down as many leads as I can. There are also things going on "behind the scenes" that I can't talk about yet (because they involve names), but I will.

So this is what...hope...feels like. Cool.

*I'm sure there are local centers like JobLink in other cities/states/countries. They may be called something different, but Guilford's calls itself a "one-stop career center." I just Googled the phrase "one stop career center" (don't forget the quotation marks) and got hits from several states, although I only briefly skimmed the listings.

**The shinkansen, of course, is Japan's famous bullet train.



Win, Place and Show in the Rat Race

Went to my required workshop at the job training center this morning. I hadn't registered last wewek due to the fact that the place closes early on Friday?! So, I had to go in early this morning to get registered. The workshop is required before training can begin.

Onoce there, I received two shocks: one, the "workshop" is actually a series of five workshops, one taking place each morning all week (something we hadn't been told in the orientation, as confirmed by several other people there -- good thing my mornings are free this week...) and two, that it wasn't going to be the idiot waste of time I thought it was going to be. The last was a very pleasant surprise, as the workshop instructor -- an extremely knowledgable lady -- has already clued me in to several items I hadn't previously known about*. She's going to take a look at my resume for free. I can't wait to see her recommendations.

The other participants aren't a bunch if dummies, either. Many have degrees. Most of us have been on the business end of a termination or a downsizing. One has a criminal record. I'm pulling for this guy -- he seems to earnestly want to get himself back on track. He asked the most questions of anyone there. Another lady has been at her job nearly 20 years and is seeking a career change. I secretly envy her; I can't claim to be on most of my old jobs for more then twenty months.

Unfortunately, the workshop brought home one sobering fact: It doesn't matter what you know or who you are or your status within a company. You can be fired/downsized/outsourced/sidelined/boned in an instant. Keep your eyes and ears open, and if you love your job, fight for it like you would your spouse. I wish I had, but that's a tale for later.

*For one thing, did you know that on a job application, where it says "salary desired," if you don't know the typical salary for your industry, you can use not only the venerable "open" or "negotiable" responses, but "will take market value"? I didn't. Also, a common trick interviewers use to screen you out of the job is to listen carefully to your answers to their questions. If you use "uh," "er," "well," or otherwise stammer, that's an excuse to screen you out becuase they think you're hiding something or hedging your response. Trouble is, most people do it. I guess that's why they say always rehearse your interviews.



The Familiarity of Unfamiliarity

I seem to have hit a rut of late. Things are so routine and so...quiet, that I couldn;t think of anything worthwhile to post. I'll just report on today's doings and try to find something more interesting to post tomorrow, neh?

Had to visit the storage unit today. I wasn't looking forward to the trip (it was cold, and part of the trip involves a half-mile trek on foot) but decided to just up and "git-r-done".

While on the bus I noticed that the Wal-Mart they had been promising for the northeast side of town finally was well underway. The northeast sector is currently experiencing a dearth of jobs and shopping opportunities, and Wal-Mart's presence there is badly needed. Say what you will about them good or bad, they do tend to revitalize depressed areas.

Got off the bus near our old neighborhood in order to buy a small bin to store some of Nessie's clothes in*. This neccessitated walking past our old neighborhood to get to the storage unit. I was tempted to swing by the old house and take a look, but the Beast shifted in his sleep at the back of my mind. No point in giving him any ammunition. I moved on.

A train was crossing the overpass to Cone Boulevard as I approached. The trains typically hit that bridge doing about 40-45 mph, and of course, you can hear them coming. As I went under the bridge, I looked up. Yep, there was an old blanket up there; looked to have been there for a while, but I can't imagine anyone sleeping under that bridge when a train passes overhead. They cross with some frequency and make quite a bit of racket.

As I passed an old abandoned grocery store, I grabbed a shopping cart that someone had taken from the store up the street and left there for my own use. I realized that this now made me look homeless, but I had no choice. I'd probably need the wheels to cart some of the items back to the bus stop.

The strange juxtaposition of familiarity and unfamiliarity hit again as I opened the unit to our possessions, crammed into a strange space. Letting the feeling pass, I spent an hour gathering what I'd come for and repacking some items to take up less room.

When I returned to the Day Center, a crew from one of the local churches was remodeling the living areas. I thought for a moment that maybe we'd all been evicted, but that wasn't the case -- they apparently just wanted to spruce things up. They did a good job. The space looks more open than it did.

*Lots of people have given Nessie clothing since we've been homeless. Most are from friends and relatives, but some are from staffers and volunteers in IHN and some have been from well-meaning strangers. She now has more clothes than she had at the beginning of the year.



The Pride of Knowing

I am a Graphic Designer.

Yes, I know I've said that before; I just wanted to say it again. Besides, I couldn't think of a better line to begin this post with.

I like the sound of it. When I tell people what I am/do for a living, I'm filled with pride. It's a skill I've spent over a decade using and honing, and (May I be permitted a bit of hubris here) I'm damn good at it*. It's what I like to do. I've spent hours at jobs where all I do is create advertisements, signs, flyers, posters, postcards, catalogs, and all the other little visual things people take for granted on a daily basis. And I've enjoyed every second of it. When someone asks me what I do for a living (or what I'd like to do for a living), I tell them, and try not to pop every button off my shirt when I do.

That's why I didn't want to do what I did yesterday. I signed up for state-funded job training.

"But Mike, that's what'll get you into a job that'll get you a place to live, pay your bills and let you go back to eating buffalo wings and watching Battlestar Galactica on Friday nights."

I know, I know; I ran the same arguments (with variations therein) past myself all day yesterday. But that still doesn't remove the sting of possibly having to leave a career I adore for one that I will in all likelihood end up despising. Again.

It's kind of like giving up a Jaguar for a Buick**. Yes, the Jag is expensive and hard to maintain, but it's sexy and makes you feel good while driving it, and who knows who's willing to hop in and ride with you. But I digress...

I attended Orientation yesterday, and frankly, the whole presentation was so disjointed that all I got was a headache. It would seriously have used a PowerPoint element to it. But I found out what the sequence of events would be and what jobs the state will fund the training for. Maybe I'll try to get something where I won't have to deal with the public at least. I have to attend two workshops (both covering skills I already have and use every day: Resume Writing and Job Readiness) and take some sort of test that covers seventh-grade math, english and language arts before I can begin training.

What the hell am I doing here?

*I'm currently exploring ways to post my portfolio on the web that doesn't require paying an arm and a leg or taking up lots of time -- while seems to be in shorter and shorter supply these days.

**Apologies to you Buick owners out there.



The Id War

He came close.

The Beast jumped me yesterday with a force that he hadn't used in a while. Even a few bars of "Faith of the Heart" and "Magic" didn't stop him Posting to the blog only slowed him down slightly. I almost gave up on all of it, packed our belongings and headed for Durham. I'm still feeling the aftershocks today.

My emotional shields went down faster than a skydiver without a parachute, and every negative emotion I'd had since embarking on this journey hit me like a tidal wave. I was mad that I'd been evicted in the first place, afraid I wouldn't complete our program and be able to move us into permanent housing, depressed that so many others have so much while we had to beg for help from strangers. Indignant at being treated as though my IQ were several dozen percentage points less than the general population*. Disgusted that the homeless problem is so big and the resources to address it are so small. And sad that the IHN volunteers at our church this week, St. Pius X, are working so hard to make us comfortable and I'm in my room locked in emotional combat.

When I went to bed last night, I was feeling to onset of a headache. When I woke up this morning, the Beast was slumbering in his corner, but my psyche was the worse for wear.

Must've been a helluva fight. Wish I knew what I did to win.

Or maybe the Beast won this time and I just don't know it yet.

*In point of fact, a test I took several years ago puts my IQ somewhere in the 150s. Nessie's may be even higher. I hope so.


The Tyranny of Recriprocation

Many years ago, when I was far less cynical than I am now, my ex-wife and I lived in a small duplex in southeastern Greensboro*. I used to pass by North Carolina A&T State University's campus on a regular basis when I'd walk downtown. One night, on my way there, I chanced upon a young man trying desperately to gather a billow of notebook paper out of the street. His job was made difficult by cars passing by, their drivers either oblivious or uncaring to the man's plight. Each time one would approach, he'd stop his gathering, step to the side, let the cars pass in a flurry of more papers, and try to continue.

I couldn't help but feel sorry for him, so I stopped to help. Between the two of us, we managed to gather up all the papers (I glanced at a few; they looked like parts of a term paper he'd been working very hard on). As I handed him my share, I told him that I regretted that I couldn't get them in order. He didn't seem to mind, as he breathlessly thanked me for my help.

I can hear the questions at this point, "Well, whadja get outta it? Money? What was in it for you? Whyja stop?"

I didn't get a damn thing.

Because I didn't ask for a damn thing.

Sure, I could've kept moving to my destination** without breaking stride. Or I could've done like so many others these days and stood there and laughed and jeered at the poor guy, making sport of his mostly futile efforts to rescue his schoolwork. Instead, I chose to stop and help. For free. Because he needed help. Without conditions.

So what's my point? My point is that we as a society buys too heavily into the notion of the tyranny of reciprocation; the concept that "Now that I'm helping you, you have to do as I say. I know what's good for you." This ofttimes manifests itself as businesses that think because they happened to sell you something you needed, they get to collect your personal data, or intruse upon your dinner with telemarketers. Or guys who take a girl out to dinner and think that the girl then "owes" them sex. Or jobs that pay you a pittance but then expect you to work overtime***. The government is the worst offender, when it says that since you're getting public assistance (Work First checks, food stamps, disability, etc.), we can ask you whatever intrusive questions we like, come into your house anytime we want, and generally do you without lubrication anytime we get ready for it.

Had I employed the Tyranny of Reciprocation on that poor college student that night, I would've expected, what? Money? A look at his papers? The phone number of his sister? And if he hadn't supplied it, what then? Should I have scattered his papers back into the street? Gone to his professor and reported that the guy couldn't even keep his papers straight; maybe he deserved an "F"? Then what would that have made me? Just another Reciprocal Tyrant.

But I did get something out of helping that young man that night -- I got a chance to help a young man that night.

*The southeast sector of Greensboro is a world unto itself. Most of the city's poor are concentrated there, and of course, that leads to, and is caused by, all sorts of problems. I'll explore southeast in a future post.

**I don't remember where I was going that night; I only remember I was on my way downtown.

***I once worked for a company -- now happily defunct -- that used the concept of "mandatory overtime". You had to come in, work when they wanted, for as long as they wanted, even on weekends and holidays, or they'd fire you. And what was my remuneration for all that work? A lousy $5.75 an hour! Before taxes!



The Speck in Your Brother's Eye

I'd like to apologize in advance for this post. I'm in a full-on battle with the Beast, and he's winning hands down. Therefore, this will seem like a disjointed rant to some of you. That's okay. I'll try being rational tomorrow.

American society is the most hypocritical in the world.

It wants you to succeed but resents you and tries to slap you down when you do. It wants you to be self-sufficient, then tells you what to do and when to do it. It wants you to be a leader but then won't take your advice. It wants you to pursue life, liberty and happiness, then thinks you're crazy for daring to do it. It wants you to be intelligent, then treats you like an incredible dummy. It wants you to be rich, but then comes up with a myriad of ways to take your money. It wants you to ask for help when you get into a jam, then considers you weak for doing so.

It wants you to be human, but treats you like an animal.

And frankly, the whole thing just makes me so very tired.


So, Tell Me About Yourself...

Had a job interview yesterday with a large marketing distributor here in town. I think it went really well; of course, I've had other interviews that went really well and then I didn't get the job, so until I get that phone call, I'm not getting my hopes up.

I'm usually nervous in interviews, but now I had a new level of anxiety. What if this guy finds out I'm homeless? I don't volunteer that information, of course, but I wonder what'll happen if the subject comes up. I have a P.O. Box that I use right now, and I'm free to use the address of the Day Center as my street address, but I'd prefer not to. Still, the question will come up sooner or later, or someone will recognize me from that newspaper article*, so I wonder what my response should be.

One thing I do know; letting that particular cat out of the bag will probably hurt my chances more than help**, so I'll just keep my mouth shut about it for now.

*So far, none have, or if they have, they're keeping mum about it.

**Employers like to know their employees have stable housing histories, as well, although they won't (or can't) ask about it. Plus, they like to have street addresses so they know where to send checks and correspondence if need be.



Come Sunday Morning

Left the Day Center earlier today to grab a newspaper and go through the Sunday want ads. I figured five minutes to the paper rack downtown and five minutes back. It was a warm morning, the city hadn't awakened yet, and everythingwas freshly washed due to a severe thunderstorm we'd had the night before.

Yeah. Right. Like my life is ever that easy...

I discovered that, curiously, no Sunday papers were to had in any of the downtown racks I checked. Granted, I didn't check all of them, but there are a lot of racks downtown. And let's face it, I ain't getting any younger. Thinking for a few minutes, I decided the only thing for it was to walk down to Cone Hospital, a little over a mile away, and pick up a paper in one of the racks there, or perhaps the Gift Shop.

Oh, well, like I said, it was a good morning. Traffic picked up a bit as I made my way toward the hospital, as people arrived for church. (There are several in the immedate area of the Day Center), but it wasn't yet a hazard. I could concentrate on a few other things as I walked.

The Fisher Park area of Greensboro, as I've mentioned before, has some excellent examples of architecture from the first half of the 20th century. I'm no expert, but I'd say that most of it probably represents the '20s and '30s. I paused to rest for a few minutes across the street from one monstrous manse. It's a large, three-story brick-clad house that has frankly seen better days. Still, it's a far cry from what we once lived in and is larger even now than the Day Center.

I tried to imagine being a member of the family that lived in that house, back when it was new and clean, and probably one of the talks of the neighborhood.Waking up in one of its spacious bedrooms, getting washed and dressed, and reporting to the kitchen downstairs, where a sumptous breakfast would be waiting. We'd banter across the table at each other over our bacon and eggs, and finally walk out the front door for a brisk walk to church a few blocks away.

The Beast chortled in his sleep somewhere at the back of my brain. Time to go.

Continuing north along Elm street, I came to the bridge that took Wendover Avenue overhead. As I passed into the bridge's shadow, I scanned the girders. I didn't see anything right away. Then I had a crazy thought*: let's see just what it's like to actually have to climb up the concrete rise to get to a prospective sleeping area.

It wasn't too bad. Of course, over the past twenty years, I've been blessed with two bad knees and forty extra pounds, and of late my elbow has been bothering me, but I did it. The top of the concrete rise was surprisingly clean -- I had expected a lot of dust and pigeon poop, but none was to be seen -- and the only sign of previous habitation I spotted was a ratty old towel and t-shirt. They looked like they'd been there for years. I sat for a few minutes trying to imagine trying to sleep while cars rumbled by just a few feet over my head and others whizzed past on Elm Street below. I decided I didn't like it. Thank God I haven't yet fallen so low that I'd have to put up with that. Of course, I now see how others have to, just to survive. It's not a pleasant thought.

Time to get down. I then had to think about how to accomplish it. Should I try to slide down, bracing with my feet, but risking burning holes into the seat of my pants, or turning around backward and crawling down much the same way as I came up. I finally decided on the latter choice. My knees disagreed and my elbow contemplated staging a revolt, but they grudgingly did their parts as I made my way back to the sidewalk. Looking back into the girders, I had a new appreciation of those that had to do that every night and every morning.

I arrived at the hospital, got my paper, and left, going by Olive Street. There was an abandoned house there that I knew of, but I'd never gotten to take a good look at it in strong morning light. Now I had the light and the time. Arriving at the house, which was still obviously vacant, I gave it a good once-over (or as good as I thought the neighbors would let me have before summoning Greensboro's Finest). It looked to be a three bedroom, with a basement (a big plus in my book), and has a carport. The house hasthe typical wear of a structure that hadn't been taken care of in a while, but it would probably be okay with some work. I remembered the movie It's a Wonderful Life, where George and Mary Bailey (James Stewart and Donna Reed) take over an old house that had been abandoned since they were kids and fixed it up again. I wondered whether or not that would be possible in this instance.

By the time I returned to the Day Center, I knew how that little house felt. Good thing it's Sunday. Nothing ever happens around here on Sunday.

*Were I a younger man, this idea wouldn't have been so crazy. I used to do much nuttier things, heedless of danger, legalities, or what others thought of me. How times change...



Voices Carried By the Wind II

I make it a point to read all comments I get on the blog. Even though I don't respond to you right away (due to time issues), rest assured I will, and thank you for commenting and keeping up.

Aside to gerard v, keep commenting, dude. Remember, all perspectives are useful in dealing with the problem. If the Republicans and the Democrats (and the Libertarians and the Reforms) would talk to one another intead of past one another to their ideologues, maybe things would get done, neh?

Anyway, I couldn't resist posting this from avolokitisvara. I think I should print it out and put it on the wall somewhere:

"Hey! I'm promoting cannibalism here so when we're all poor and standing in front of a trash can trying to keep warm I can feast on your souls like the government is doing to us right now."



Part of the Problem

Saw this in yesterday's paper. It bothered me. It should bother anyone with any smidgeon of conscience.

It's bad enough that Dallas and some of these other cities are banning the homeless from doing anything at all in public*, but to then come out and say they're doing because they want to get the homeless some help? Isn't that a bit like saying you're going to shoot someone so they can learn to handle a gun?

And they think that they can just legislate the problem away, like a bad pork barrel project.

I'm sorry, but this level of stupidity shouldn't exist at any level of government.


In other news, I've heard from several people that say they can see the Google ad at the top of the page. Maybe it's just this computer that I'm using that's making it difficult for me; it's the most cantankerous one I've ever dealt with. Regardless, thanks to all who care to donate, through Google Ads or PayPal, and don't forget the needy just down the street from you. "How can you love God, who you've never seen, but not love your brother, who you see every day?"

*The print version of the article listed a number of behaviors proscribed by city, and I noticed that most of them are ones that feed the prevailing stereotype of the homeless. Still, these cities should have a heart. Thankfully, Greensboro isn't on this list, but there but for the grace of God go we.


Hearts of Ice

A new family joined our program yesterday, a young mother with a precocious 3 year old girl. I met them after I'd made my way to the church after work. The little one is full of energy and innocence, and reminds Mama and I of Nessie at that age. The mother is a young girl (I'm guessing not too far into her twenties) and has that same air or disconnectedness and unfamiliarity I’m sure we had when we entered the program. We haven’t talked with her much, except to the extent necessary to make her feel that she’s not in this thing alone (a counselor is best for that), and we certainly haven’t asked her any questions. But we’re here if she needs us.

As I watched the littlest one play with Nessie and the other girls in the church gym, I was struck by only one thought: what kind of person would allow such a precious child to be turned out in the street like that? Granted, we haven’t asked her mom what brought her to these circumstances (it’s none of our business). It could be that their home suffered some calamity, or was locked up due to some sort of environmental concern. I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet the farm that their being here was actually just the result of somebody flexing their financial muscle at someone of lesser means.

I guess I’d make a lousy landlord. I care too much. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing some action I took meant that a little child barely out of her infancy would be spending her nights God knows where. Maybe the job description for a landlord requires having a chunk of ice the size of the Titanic’s iceberg lodged firmly in your chest.

I often wonder why landlords, who could do more than anyone else to make a dent in the area’s homelessness, decide the welfare of their banker is greater than the welfare of the children whose families rent from them. Yes, landlords are as entitled to make money as anyone else, but why can’t a modicum of social conscience be applied to families who want to rent? Why can’t landlords look past a bad credit rating to see a father working hard to provide for his brood, or a single mother trying to put her life back together after a divorce, or children who need educational stability? Why not look past a balance sheet to see a family struggling to stay afloat, or a man trying to stay one step ahead of an addiction, or a woman trying to make sure her daughter doesn’t make the mistakes she made? Why not have a heart, instead of a cold ledger sheet where a heart should be?

America is a brutally capitalist country, and maybe I’m wishing too much. Maybe some would call what I’m advocating socialism. That’s their lookout. All I’m saying is that landlords could – could – look past their pockets just for a moment at that family across the desk and consider for a moment that he is may well be the only thing standing between them and a life on the brutal streets. He may be all that stands between them and a life continued in the grip of poverty, miseducation and addiction. He may be the one thing that helps keep this family together. He may be just who they need to keep from contributing to a growing problem.

He may be able to help.

And there’s not a bank account in the universe big enough that can match the feeling you get from helping someone in need.



Geared Up

I'm fascinated by the facilities at the churches we've been guests of so far. As a child, I attended small churches, often off the beaten path, and I never imagined a church would have more than a sanctuary and maybe a room set aside foir meetings.

For instance, Westminster Presbyterian has a huge wing that seems to be set aside solely as an educational area, and it's as well stocked as any school in the county. Guilford Baptist has a full-fledged library comparable to many school libraries that Mama and Mike would've given their right arms to get into while we were there and a gigantic fellowship hall; and Muir's Chapel has a restaurant-scale kitchen and an honest-to-God gym with basketball goals and everything. Looks like it had been lifted straight out of a high school somewhere.

In addition, these churches are multi-floored, and have rooms designated for specific functions. Quite unlike all my previous churches, which were generally one floor* and if they had extra rooms, they were multipurpose areas. I've previously noted that Guilford Baptist seemed very well-equipped for whatever mission it cared to undertake.

*One was even in a old storefront on Summit Avenue, until it grew large enough to occupy its own space.


That Which You Do Unto the Least of These

When you're poor -- and especially when you're homeless -- some of the people you encounter seem to buy into a huge fallacy: they believe that somehow, low income equates to low intelligence. The problem comes when these same worthies, believing you to be generally lacking in wit, endeavor to give you the benefit of their superior wisdom and experience, completely discounting the fact that you may have some of your own.

Unfortunately, all too often, there is a thin line between "sure, I'll help you out" and "here, let me do that for you" with the implication that your mind isn't of sufficient calibre to handle such mental gyrations.

Of course, once that mindset is established, then comes the belief that since the would-be patron is already doing things for you, then they can treat you with as much disrespect as they like. Snide comments, condescending lectures, and an ersatz parent-child relationship soon follow. Meanwhile, your sense of decorum* dictates that you quietly pay attention and perhaps even smile politely while undergoing these ministrations. But inside all the while, you're seething and wishing you could simply tell this person off. Yes, they're helping, but how dare they patronize you in such a manner. This is especialy irritating when the helper is only some fraction of your age and experience.

Even governments get into the act. Before North Carolina finally passed legislation to allow a state lottery, one of the chief arguments against it was "it'll hurt the poor." Of course, this is the same poor that is trusted to drive, vote, raise children, indulge in vices, work and act responsibly in emergencies. The politicians talk loftily over the heads of the very people who they think they're helping as if these people suddenly have lost all capacity for independent thought just because they want to play a game that citizens of other states enjoy.

Another way such patronization manifests is the extra rules and regulations that are heaped upon the poor whenever they want to engage in an activity that members of the upper classes take for granted. For example, poor people who want to buy a house (those few who get in a position to be able to) are often subjected to heaping helpings of "homebuyer education" that no rich person would ever have to suffer through.

There is also the tiresome qualifier that poor people often must endure whenever they are forced to ask for help. Such help is often coupled with such statements as "okay, but just this once" or "you only have [x] times to do this" or "I'm not in the habit of doing this" or "okay, but only until [some specified near future date]". Or some variation of the foregoing. Such qualifiers are demeaning because, let's face it -- read them over and then ask yourself if they sound like something you may have used on a kid at some point. Remember, you're dealing with adults; the qualifier need not be mentioned, it's expected.

The people at our host churches (such as Muir's Chapel UMC, our current church) are examples of the contrary. Every IHN volunteer has treated us with the utmost respect and consideration that we are just as smart and capable as everyone else. In fact, they seem to go out of their way to let us do our own thinking and come to our own conclusions. And that's always a welcome breath of fresh air.

Would that more would-be helpers would do the same, without lectures, without begrudging, without preconceived assumptions of our intellectual state.

*Southern translation: "keepin' the peace."



Fun With Numbers

There was a Letter to the Editor in yesterday's News & Record from Beth McKee-Huger, the director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition. Very insightful, although I can break her math down into an even simpler formula. Take your monthly rent amount. Multiply by 3. If you're not making at least that much per month, you're in trouble. And that's not even including utilities and fees.

Another math formula is to take your monthly budget (you may have to come up with one; there's all sorts of information in the library and online to help you), add up everything, and divide by either 160 or 80. These are of course the hours you'd work in a month full-time or part-time, respectively. Note the resulting figure; this is what you would have to make per hour in order to maintain the lifestyle indicated by your budget. For most of us normal human beings, this figure will be at least 8 or 9 dollars an hour; far above what most "service" jobs are willing to pay*. At least in the South. And we won't even talk about the minimum wage** (3).

There's been much made in the news lately about Americans' poor saving rate and it's fun watching all the lofty economic experts sitting in their magnificently appointed offices cluck their tongues and stroke their beards and ponder why we aren't putting money aside in the banks. Duh! If you've already sent that money on to the landlord, the utility companies, your workplace (in the form of gas, fees and maintenance for your car so you can get to work), the government, your doctor, and all the other niggling little places that money has to go "or else", it's kind of hard to put money aside, isn't it?

*I last used this calculation just before I got my job at the ad agency in 2000. At the time, I calculated I'd have to make somewhere around $8.50 an hour just to get by, even after cutting expenses to the bone. Things have only gotten more expensive since.

**Currently standing at $5.15 an hour. After an intense fight in Congress. Now when was the last time you could afford anything at $5.15 an hour?

(3) gerard v will no doubt jump all over me for my computations I've included here, but I had to go through them quickly -- I've got to go to work soon.


Combat Conditions

Spent most of yesterday chsing down several job leads. Most were pretty juicy; maybe they'll lead to something I can use to get out of this mess.

Several commenters have suggested I add Google ads to the blog so that they can donate. I thought I had, but for some odd reason, the ads aren't showing up. Tried to resolve the issue this morning, but the computer I'm using has decided to fight me tooth and nail. Looks like I'll have to get outside help to resolve the issue. The problem is that I can't see the ads from my computer. If anyone else can, please let me know; and also let me know what browser you're using to see them. That will give me more clues as to what to look for. I plan to add a "Google Search" bar and I've already updated the page to allow posts to be sent via e-mail (didn't see that option before when I set things up.)

On another front, the Beast has turned to more subtle tactics. He's been lashing me with an old weapon I thought I'd taken from him some time ago*. So far, the attacks are just an annoyance, but all it would take is an unguarded moment to become a full-fledged ego attack.

Mike's Beast has apparently been attacking him, too, but his manifests more subtly, making him withdraw into his own little world rather than feeding him doubt and fear. We're on top of the situation, though, and are getting him some professional help.

*I'd rather not say what it is, no. Let's just say it's something that it's a mental thing I've struggled with on a low-key basis for years.



The Dark Horizon

I've finally settled down enough to think clearly and give some concrete advice about what to do if you're facing homelessness. Bear in mind that all of this advice is "battlefield education", and will probably have to be adjusted for your particular situation. Also remember that this only covers sociological disasters, not natural ones, although with modern weather forcasting techniques, you'll often have some warning there, too.

The first and most important thing to do is calm down. Keep a clear head. Yes, the situation is dire, but it's not yet a catastrophe. America does have (some) social safety nets, and you're smarter and more capable than you think. You won't hit rock bottom unless you have a substance-abuse or mental problem*, or you -- for whatever reason -- want to rough it in the great urban outdoors.

If you're facing eviction, like we did, you have a little time to act. Check the resources here, or Google "eviction" modified by your state. North Carolina, for example, requires the landlord to take you to court, then wait ten days (assuming you don't catch up the rent before then) before executing any judgment, then it's at least 3-5 more days before the sheriff sends notice of when he'll be by to padlock the door. But don't dawdle. Time is of the essence.

If your landlord is definitely booting you out (and s/he will surely let you know if that's the case), then you'll want to just hang on to any rent money you have on hand. You can either rent a new place (if your credit is good and you act quickly before the judgment hits the record books) or pay expenses with it. If you can get into a new place quickly, excellent. My work here is done. But if not, keep reading...

Take stock of all funds you have on hand, in the bank, and coming in. This is critical. You'll have a lot of emergency expenses coming over the course of the next week or two. The more cash you can lay your hands on, the better. If you can swing loans from your friends, do so, but write down who loaned you what so you can pay them back later. Assuming you want to keep them as friends, of course.

Block out a couple hours' time (at least), get a pad and pencil, and a phone book. You'll need to research storage centers, moving van rentals or portable storage options such as Pack Rat or PODS, and if you have pets, kennels or veterinarians. Most vets will board pets for a reasonable fee. Write down those businesses that seem promising based on your personal criteria. For instance, when I rented the storage locker, I used only two criteria: price and location. Be prepared to make some concessions. I found a storage center with a very good price, but it's not convenient to get to. I was willing to give up the convenience for the price, however. At any rate, once you have these numbers, call, call, call. Talk to many different vendors to get a range of prices and services. Once you have you preliminary list, whittle it down based on your requirements and preferences until you've picked one or two of each. Then dip into your funds to rent, reserve or otherwise retain these services.

You will also need to research as much about your local homeless programs as you can. Of course, if you have a family, you should look into your local Interfaith Hospitality Network, but if you're a single, other homeless shelters may be an option for you. Be sure to look into their entrance criteria and what their safety level is like. I have heard horror stories of people being robbed or otherwise taken advantage of at some of the less-reputable ones. If you can't find much information about local programs, or get the runaround (as we did) at least contact your local Department of Social Services. But don't quit. Some programs are not very well known. Stay on top of it. Buttonhole those who don't want to talk to you or want to hide behind regulations and other foolishness. Get referrals from school counselors, clergy and career counselors. Go after info on these programs the same way you'd go about getting a job you really want. Sooner or later, you'll mine useful information.

If you have kids, keeping them in school is of paramount importance; they'll need the structure of that routine. The federal government passed something called the McKinney-Vento Act, which is supposed to mandate school services for homeless kids. How each community enforces its act may vary, however, so talk to your central school administration office. Ask for the Homeless Liaison. You will need to know as soon as possible where you'll be going so you can arrange school bus transportation for them.

You will need to rent a Post Office Box, or ask a friend or family member to receive your mail. Get a change of address form from the Post Office and have your mail sent there as soon as possible. Don't delay with this, because it'll take about ten days to have the mail rerouted, and you don't want to have to spend part of your precious time checking two (or more) mail drops.

Once you've got your P.O. Box (or alternative mail drop) selected, your storage unit rentes, your moving van reserved, and your pets taken care of, you're ready to start packing. We engaged in a huge flurry of packing and stuffing almost at the last minute because I was busy fending off the Beast, but try to spread your packing over the course of about a week at least. You want to be able to put everything into the van in good order once you pick it up. Enlist as much help as you're comfortable with. You should be able to focus solely on packing since you've done all the renting and reserving up until this point.

Remember to make a little time for yourself, to fend off any Beasts you have. You still have to eat, bathe and take care of business. You still have to be entertained; you may want to leave one TV or radio as the last thing to pack. You should leave your rental unit reasonably clean; if you've had a good relationship with your landlord up until this point, it may help him/her give you a reference somewhere else. resist the urge to trash the place, even if your landlord's a jerk. And you still have to take care of your family; remember, they're in this mess too, and just as distraught as you are. Keep up with family and friends, so they can pass along any advice or other help they may have.

By eviction day, you should be ready to simply drive your stuff to the unit, return the truck, and report to your homeless program. If you have to stay in ahotel, try to get the safest, cleanest one you can while remaining in your price range. Extended Stay hotels are helpful here, as the rates are by the week instead of the day. The Suburban Extended Stay Hotel was our home for a week, and it was pretty good. Just remember to pay them promptly, because they don't have to give notice to evict you if you don't.

Finally, remember to have your utilities disconnected at your old place, and negotiate any final bills you may have.

The aftermath may feel to you like a loss. Allow yourself to grieve (as appropriate) and adjust. Get counseling if you have to, but don't let your emotions at this time overwhelm you. Remember, your Beast will choose this time to strike. Don't let it stand in the way of getting your business done.

This is a lot, and I'm pretty sure I may have forgotten something. Forgive me if I sound a little pompous or seem to be teetering on a soapbox, but hopefully these basics will help someone avoid some of what I went through. In a perfect world, of course, none of us would need such advice, but Eden's** a long way from here...

*In which case, stop reading this, get up from your computer and get help now. Check your phone book for sources, or contact your local Department of Social Services.

**I mean the Garden, not Eden, NC...



I've read that in any endeavor, it's important to set goals. Until recently, I'd been operating in "survival mode" and hadn't really had time, but now, the picture's becoming clearer.

According to the IHN website, the average stay in the program is seven weeks. That's a good goal to shoot for, although I'd better get to it. I've been here two weeks (or so) already. As John Wayne said in The Cowboys, "We're burnin' daylight."

Motivations help, and I've learned to take them wherever they present themselves. One motivator is the fact that we're living in close proximity to another family with different outlooks, disclipline levels and agendas. Sometimes these agendas clash (as they must whenever any humans are put in close proximity to one another), but so far things haven't become too bumpy. But a big motivator is graduating out of the program so the only agendas I have to worry about are those of my family.

Another motivator is regaining the little lifestyle perks we used to enjoy when we were independent. We spend nights as guests of whatever host church that has agreed to take us in that week. Of course, as guests, there are certain rules that we must follow while we are there. That's only fair and reasonable. The only things that get to me is that staying in a church puts a big damper on my speech patterns. I'm used to finding choice epithets to use whenever I get angry, irritated or frustrated, and I feel I can't do that in a church*. I'm terrified to think what will happen if I ever accidentally slam my hand in a door or something. Another perk is getting up at a time more of our own choosing. Each morning the van comes to transport us back to the Day Center, but one of the other children must be on her school bus by 6:30. That means, the rest of us must be up, dressed, fed and out no later than 6:15, neccessitating a wakeup of no later than 5:30. Before we were evicted, I wouldn't have gotten up at 5:30 if the house were on fire, since Nessie's school bus didn't arrive until a little after 7:00 and we had the routine of getting her up, dressed and ready in 30 minutes down to a fine art. Yet another perk is getting to watch what we want to on TV. Again, we're guests in a church, and we're constantly worrying what the volunteers and staff would think of our enjoyment of "the Simpsons", "Family Guy," "Supernatural", "Lost", "Invasion", "Smallville", or Mama's enjoyment of "Desperate Housewives", "CSI: New York", "Ghost Whisperer", and "Medium". And those are just the broadcast shows; we have many more shows on cable that we enjoy.** I have a tiny portable TV that a friend donated to us, so we can keep up with some of them, but we keep the sound low and make sure not to make much noise.

Mama's biggest motivation is getting her own space to practice her yoga in. She's getting a little irritated that she feels she can't put down her yoga mat (which is in storage anyway) and do her daily routine at will.

The final motivation is not having to mediate conflicts between children of two disparate discpline levels. Nessie is more refined and demure than the average eight-year-old girl (for which I'm eternally grateful), but the other children are, well, typical children. The usual squabbles erupt when the other little girls do something with abandon that we've taught Nessie not to do. When Nessie turns to me for help, I try to find a solution that preserves the peace yet doesn't give the impression that I'm intruding into someone else's affairs. But I confess, the caveman in me wants to simply favor my child over someone else's. I've got to watch my P's and Q's on that score, as that way lies expulsion from the program.

There are no doubt other little motivations that don't present themselves to me right this moment, but I'm sure they'll prick me and spur me forward when I most need them.

*Blame my grandmother, God rest her soul, who was a devout, fiery Christian woman who attended church every Sunday come hell or high water, and who made sure I did, too, whether I wanted to or not. Usually not.

**I've missed several episodes now of "Battlestar Galactica", "The Boondocks", and "Ghost in the Shell". I think I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms.

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