Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The last day!!!! One night to go.

So, we have come to the end of this adventure.  It was really very interesting and I learned a lot more than I thought I could or would.  In the future, I will update this blog every week, but that is not to say that there is not a lot going on.  In fact, the fact that I am moving it to a weekly thing shows that there is a LOT going on and I do not even have the time to write this on a daily basis.

I may have seen too much.
   The goal was attained, I guess.  I was able to see what really goes on out here and I wonder how much I can put into this posting without offending people.  This is something that must be said and these are things that must be known.  I have seen people shoot up, smoking crack pipes...I have seen people offer and accept $10 for oral sex.  Dumpster diving, robbery, I have seen a lot but I do not think I have seen it all.  Some days the sadness is overwhelming and I think I have seen too much.  So when I read about people spending one night out, or two, I tend to think maybe more than a night or two  is needed.

   The idea behind Winnie Mae's and The Waiverly Project as a whole is to find links and find solutions to problems.  Real solutions.  Winnie Mae's and social entrepeneurism in general is about.  The idea is simplicity.  That means using realistic and sustainable means to advance the cause.  Donations do not seem to be the way to go for the future.  People seem too constrained by the economy and for that matter, their own ideology about homelessness.  If we want to find long term, serious solutions to this problem, we have to find ways to tie into the economy.  Donations and social programs may not be the means for a long term solution, in my humble opinion.

Give a man a fish...
    Giving two or three dollars to those we pass on the street is not the solution either.  The old maxim about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish is quite literally true here.   When you give a person a few coins on the street, they may be able to eat lunch or something cheap but hours later, they will be hungry again.  That was the main thing that people on the street want everyone to know, it seems, is that Thanksgiving and Christmas are nice, but the next day and maybe even hours later, they are hungry again.

   One person advised me not to even go to shelters.  I have heard nothing but bad things about shelters for some reason.  People say that they have been robbed and attacked in shelters because the bad guys tend to go where the weak and vulnerable are to take advantage of them.  The people who run them work hard and have the best of intentions, but the fear that the homeless have is what goes on when the guards and the police turn their back.  Those who would do harm, know that those who would do good cannot look out all the time.  One person told me that he was robbed for his phone at gunpoint.

   Some people have been out here for years.  They sit and they talk about the younger people who are out here and they see themselves when they were young.  They wish someone had grabbed them before they became part of "the life".  It is such a devided group...good guys, bad guys...those with homes, those without and sometimes, there are those who have decided that they will be out here for the rest of their lives. 

   There are those who have mental problems and these need to be addressed and it is sad to have seen so many.  Survival is hard enough without the spectre of dealing with a world that does not make sense.

If I can sum it up...
   If I could  just sum it up it up, I think what is needed is aggressive attack on homelessness.  People who want to help need to get out there and dedicate to it.  We need a concerted effort.  We need to attack the causes of poverty.  Ironically, I think a down economy is the best time to do it.  As this tide of recovery rises, it has the power to lift some of the smaller ships that are bobbing on the water. It is not going to be easy.  Nothing worth doing ever is and that which needs to be done rarely is...In my humble opinion. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"We were hungry the next day..." Day 28, Two to go!

I talked to a lot of people this weekend.  When they find out what I am doing and why, they tend to get pretty excited.  When I spoke to people on Friday morning, though, they were happy for the "feed" on Thanksgiving day and very thankful.  The major sentiment of that next day was, "We were hungry the next day..."  Shawn was upset that it was a Friday and he could not rake leaves to get money for food, nor could he go to the day labor place and get a job there for the day.  I think the main thing that we need to remember is that there 363 other days in the year aside from Thanksgiving and Christmas...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Light...! Day 26...5 to go

I see a light at the end of the tunnel and I can only imagine how that would feel for someone who is in the same boat as I but worse.  I mean to say that if there is someone out there who somehow and for some reason fell, I can only imagine what it would feel like to know that you are on the verge of a life off of the street.  To be able to return to a place that is warm and comfortable and all your own, would have to be fantastic.  
With everything that we have done this month, in these 26 days, I have been motivated by the bad and seeking to keep others from having to go through what I have gone through voluntarily, but now I see that I can be motivated by the good of wanting to see someone go through it and come out of the other side. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taking Thanksgiving Off...Day 24 continued...

I hope that everyone is enjoying their turkey day.  When I first started this, I did not give a lot of thought to what I would be doing on Thanksgiving.  To be honest, the thought didn't even really cross my mind when I committed to this. Most Thanksgivings I can be found in front of the TV full of food and happy.  Not so this year.
   Still, I feel as though I have worked really very hard and if nothing else, I am going to take the day off and reflect on what has happened, and what we would like to see happen.  I have no doubt that we can make Winnie Mae's happen.  Using companies like Fare Start (http://www.farestart.org/) and Street Bean Espresso (http://www.streetbeanespresso.org/)  as templates, we can do the same with Winnie Mae's.
   The major thing to keep in mind is that we are not reinventing the wheel.  What we would like to do is not incredibly unusual and it has been done a thousand times before.  When we add the relatively new component of hiring homeless and at risk youth, we see that something as basic as a first job, can make a world of difference in a person's life. 
   So, that being said, we want and need your support to get this done.  Please help. "Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

The good, long day...six days to go.

   So, we are figuring things out and we are doing some good today on this day before Thanksgiving.  Last night, I slept in the park in the crook of a tree's roots.  Cloaked in the fog and haze of the night, my sleep was only broken by the occasional drop of rainwater or the sound of voices passing in the darkness.  Still, I slept.
   I heard this morning, as I was sitting drinking coffee, someone saying that all the homeless are scamming people.  I heard the story about the guy who makes $45,000 a year and just begs for money in his spare time.  The guy who got robbed by people at the shelter that he volunteered at.  I think at this point, I have heard it all. 
   I am not saying that there are not some scammers out there.  I have been robbed since coming out here, though I was not around when my stuff was taken.  Perhaps it was even the people that I was trying to help.  Who knows.  Who cares.  It is only stuff.  I guess my point is that the homeless are just like every other group of people on the planet.  There are good and there are bad.  Spending the night in the wind and rain like I have, leaves me with only one conclusion:  whatever your belief about what is going on, there are people suffering.
   It is horrible out here.  That is all.  There are people who aer out here for various reasons, bad economy, drugs, alcohol, but whatever the reason, we are talking about human beings and our fellow human beings are sleeping in puddles of cold water.
   We have a long day ahead of us, interview with Fox5 and then dinner at Standup for Kids!  I am going to post twice today to keep people updated on what is going on because these are the reasons we do it. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Momentum...Day 23...one week to go.

We are drawing to the end of this and I am thankful.  I am nowhere near giving up.   I like meeting people and getting out on the street, but there comes a time when  we have to sit behind a desk and make some phone calls, mail some things, and do the annoying paperwork! This morning I met with the city planner of Doraville, Scott Haeberlin.  We are moving forward.  Progress is being made at every turn and we have that greatest of things...momentum!  So, with seven days to go in this, we can see that this is not the end but just a passing the next phase. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cans…Day 20, 11 to go
Ok, yes a simple metaphor and delightful double entendre, but I could not help it. We are drawing to the end of this whole thing and yes we can. I will not hit my original goal. I believe that goes without saying. The great thing is that we are now bold of spirit and I think that is more of the issue.

I now hate the site of beer and beer cans. I hate the smell of stale beer, soda, and overly fruity energy/alcoholic beverages that have been lying around for days or weeks. Still, I know that each can that I pick up and crush goes to a good cause. If I don’t get it, it will be wrapped up in a plastic bag and buried under tons of garbage. I could give up. I could do without the smell of stale beer at the end of the day; and the annoyance of having to cart them from spot to spot. Every ounce counts, though and every can that I can get, I will.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Simple...day 19, 11 to go.

Today is simple...I am alive and well and all is good.  It is good to be thankful for the simple things.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Apex and the Nadir...Day 18...12 days to go.

We are at the apex, or the highest point of this whole thing, and simultaneously, the nadir, or lowest point.  This weekend will be hideously busy and the following week, will be incredibly meaningful.  This whole thing, every minute, every hour has been meaningful to a lot of people, but for many more, there is an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality.  I have touched on this before in my other posts, but I think that thing that gets me most is simply the fact that we tend to forget things and people when they are not right in front of us; that without some extreme action bringing it to light and nearly stinging our senses with its reality, we lose sight of what is going on.  The homeless do not disappear because you do not see them,
   So, as we enter the last phase of this, the point where it is all downhill (for me anyway), I am trying to keep that in mind.  The next weeks will see some amazing things.  Let's not forget what made the apex so great.  Let's not forget that there are people in their nadir.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cynicism...Day 17, 13 days to go.

We can do this.  Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.--Margaret Mead.
I am tired of people saying there will never be a solution. 
I am tired of people saying this cannot be done. 
I am tired of people saying that I am wasting my time.
I am tired.
We have shot ourselves in the foot before leaving the gate is we believe that people are only out to scam us.
Join me out here.
We can do this.
We must do this.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In the wake...Day 16 on the street, two weeks to go.

   They say that the entire compendium of human knowledge now doubles every five years or less now and things become faster and faster every moment.  This thought came to me as I wondered about how we might educate people and get them into better jobs.  I thought about the gap that exists between myself and my older brothers as far as computers go, and how my daughter has to now remind me of things that I have forgotten or never knew.
   I am a techy, too.  So what about those who are homeless?  One would be hard pressed to get more out of the loop.  I sit here, with my netbook and my smartphone and I tap and twitter, while just outside the door there is someone who has little or no idea what I am doing or how. 
   The scene replays itself over and over again, all around the country, everyday.  Most libraries open at nine or ten a.m. and there is a mad rush for the computers.  People will check their e-mail, catch up with loved ones, news, and music, etc.  Most places only accept job applications on line now.  So, when, at most, one has about 2 hours on the computer, how do you keep up with the world?  The clock begins to tick as soon as they sit down and they are probably kicked off after the first hour and then they have to wait again, at the end of the line for their next hour.
   Even this scenario assumes that they have a library card.  Most places require that you have some form of mail that proves you live in the county in order to get a library card and that precious two hours on the computer. 
   Assume that you have your own laptop and you are homeless.  The chances are that you will have to find Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi and power are often very scarce when the library is not open. Even when it is open, there is a shortage of power and signal strength. 
   I tend to take these things for granted.  My router sits in the corner of my dinky little studio apartment, but it is there.  I can check my e-mail on my phone.  I can keep up with twitter and even watch tv shows commercial free.  It is imperative that we be able to get more information to those who need it.  It is that simple, otherwise, they are left in the wake as the wealth of human knowledge doubles.

Cold and rainy...Day 15 and 16...14 days to go.

I skipped blogging yesterday because it was rainy and nasty outside.  One of my largest problems was keeping everything dry, namely, myself.  Water is so pervasive. It gets everywhere and into everything and when things get wet in a moment, they get cold and they stay wet for a long time.  The shivering stays...the cold invades.
I think the thing that frustrates me most is that we let people do this.  We let people huddle in corners, trying to stay dry and warm.  I saw so many people running through the night with all their posessions in a trash bag.  I sat there, waiting for the sun to rise.  I had about an hour of sleep.  We are waiting for the sun to come out, in more ways than one.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pride goeth...Day14...16 to go.

Pride goeth before destruction...and a haughty spirit before a fall."  Proverbs 16:18
I rarely quote the Bible, but today I found that this one proverb was very appropriate.  The reason being is that I have spent the majority of the morning digging for cans.  Starting early this morning and leading on late into the night, I am and will be digging through the garbage and filth for cans to turn in to further advance The Waiverly Projects and Winnie Mae's.  Pride goeth before destruction is pretty self explanatory.
I don't expect a lot of cash from my efforts.  It is more based on principle than anything else.  Looking at the facts aluminum is infinitely recyclable and it requires 95% less energy to recycle the cans than to find and process new aluminum.  Moreover, every ounce of aluminum that I get, that we bring in to be melted down, would have gone into regular trash; buried beneath tons of other garbage.  I mean it when I say that every ounce counts. 
I get some strange looks from this whole thing.  They are looks that I am sure that a lot of men and women get when they are on the street and they are not good.  They are looks of pity and revulsion.  How do many men and women on the street deal with that?   It takes some getting used to.  It takes some strength of the individual to look at how others perceive you, and work out how much of their perception feeds into who you are, and then to say their perception does not matter.  On a daily basis, you have to perceive yourself as a person of value or the streets will eat you alive.  Your pride must go.  You have to let go of your pride to ask for money, for food, for help.  Your pride must go.  When people look at me that way, as I emerge dirty and disheveled from behind the building, I want to scream that I am a highly educated man!!!  I speak 3 languages and I know a lot about wine!!!  I am a witty dinner companion!!!  I want to find them when this whole thing is over and say, see?  How many of us would lose our minds if we did not have ourselves to tell us we are people of value.  How many of us would be able to go on?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wellness...(day 13, 17 days to go)

I never really thought about getting sick or hurt, at least not on a daily basis.  Of course, people think about something, maybe, happening, but rarely something big.  Yesterday, while collecting cans, I tripped and twisted my ankle.  Sure, it is fine now, but just to think, how would I or an other homeless person, deal with a twisted ankle.  There are services out there, but they are not as immediate, nor are they as in depth as they could be.  From all reports, it's a bit like a triage mentality where the goal is to patch them up and get them back out.  So, for the remainder of this adventure, I have one motto..."Don't get sick!"

Friday, November 12, 2010

This Thanksgiving will...? (Day 12, 18 days to go!)

This Thanksgiving will...?  I am trying to figure out how I will fill in that blank.  I know that it is a little ways off and with the heat, it does not really feel like the Holidays quite yet.  When we started planning this thing, I hadn't really thought about it.  I knew that Thanksgiving would be on the horizon, but I had really just thought about doing dinner at Standup For Kids the night before.  Still, until I started remembering what I was doing last year, I did not think about what I would be doing this year. 
   Last year was a blur for many reasons.  First, I was living in Seattle and planning my move to the East Coast.  I was planning on spending the majority of December with my daughter, moving out of my apartment, and really just focusing on saying goodbye to all of my friends by Thanksgiving party hopping.  I felt the true essence of the holidays at that point.
   It goes without saying that this year will be quite a different experience, but I still think that I will feel the true essence of the holiday.  Where ever I am, I will be thinking about the things for which I am thankful, my daughter and all of the friends who have helped me through this.   I have come to appreciate what it means to have something, to own something, to be relaxed and secure in one's own skin. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"How are you doing?" Do we really want an answer?...Day 11, 19 days to go.


"Hey, how are you doing?"
I say this so many times and in response to every greeting that I get.  I rarely think about what it actually means.  It is often such a rote, rhetorical response but lately, I have been considering what it actually means and what it actually means to say this to a person who has no home and no food. 
Someone asked me this today and they really meant it.  They knew what I was doing and why, and they asked me with genuine care.  I explained everything that I was going through and how it really feels to be homeless.  It is uncomfortable and not just in the way that makes one mildly annoyed but in a way that could potentially drive one crazy.
The military uses sleep deprivation and temperature extremes to test its soldiers, and moreover to torture inmates.  I am not trying to make light of the situation, but try going two or three days with a light on in the room with the window open so you can hear the traffic all around.  Then wake up at 5 a.m., knowing that you have to be away from your position before the "enemy" can see you.
I have now done both and it is really eerie to see the similarities between being in the Army on an FTX, and being homeless.  Sleep deprivation, carrying everything you own/need on your back, changing position for fear of being discovered.  Homelessness tests you and makes you hyper aware of your surroundings.
So, the next time someone says, "hello" to me, I will make sure to take stock before I simply reply, "how are you doing?" so flippantly, because when we ask, we also have to ask if we really want an answer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is Not Sexy...Day 10, 20 to go

Last night, I was walking away from my television intereview and I was thinking about how much this experience has changed me and where it is headed.  I was struck by who I was at one point.  Well dressed and clean cut...Dapper, even.  There has been a definite change in me and I am no longer "sexy".
I was informed that the interview was not going to air that night and may sometime in the future. There is an addage in the news business, "if it bleeds, it leads" and there was nothing exigent about what I was doing, so I did not make it on TV.  The irritation came in the fact that there are people suffering and there is a need and we can do something about it.  The problem is, that it is not "sexy" enough. 
This is hard work.  There are people who do this, day in and day out.  For those who work in this business, it is hard work.  The day to day things that people do to help people is hard work and because it is boring, it does not get on TV.  Unless someone is getting shot, or set on fire, they do not make the news.
Jon Shirek is a nice guy and made me feel completely at ease during my interview and truly cared about what was going on.  I think that I got the point of what I was trying to do across on camera.  i was disheveled and tired, but that is to be expected.  The problem is, that there was nothing happening.  The day to day of what we are trying to do is not sexy.  Does someone have to set themselves on fire to get the point across?

But this is why I do what I do...because someone "lives" here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking around right outside the door...Day 8, 21 days to go.

Looking around.
Yesterday, I went looking for cans and talking to people in the Chamblee area.  While looking around, I saw my apartment and was tempted to go in.  After 8 days on the streets, I am in desperate need of some rest and recuperation.  I was reminded that would be cheating and that I need to stay focused.
I let my mind wander and wonder about what it would be like not to have the keys at all and walking past your old home and seeing someone else in it.  Someone watching a tv where your couch used to be.  I have always had some sort of home.  I have always had some place to go.  What would it be like to stand outside of a hose that used to be yours.
Then I thought about my neighbor, sitting watching tv and having no idea that I was on the sidewalk outside.  How many of us forget about the people outside and what is happening beyond our front door.  I have seen some strange things just this week alone. 
I have seen someone light up a crack pipe...
I have seen someone shoot up, something and fall shivering into sleep.
...all outside of someone's front door.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Winnie Mae's day 6...24 days to go!

   Social entrepeneurism is the wave of the future.  It hast to be.  We are coming out of a horrible recession.  People do not have the money to give to charities, but if we look at this as an opportunity rather than a misfortrune, a great deal of good can come for the future.  This is a great chance for people to create new ways to change their circumstances and earn money rather than sit on the corner asking people for money as they pass.
   Winnie Mae's is a simple concept; don't give us your money, let us earn it.  Let us create oppurtunity for people who wish to better themselves, to learn more about the work force, and more about themselves.  Winnie Mae's will teach underpriveledged and homeless youth basic service skills, basic kitchen skills, and maybe more importantly than either of those, life skills.  So please help with your donations.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

We got work to do...Month on the Street Day 3...27 days to go.

Forget the rousing choruses of what it means to be an American, where we our going as a nation, who we are, apple pie and waving flags.  Forget these things for just one moment and concentrate on what it means to be an American when it is not election day, when it is not the Fourth of July. 
   The bottom line is that we have work to do.  We have work to do, not the elected officials, not someone else, us. There are people starving, without work, sick, crimes being committed, people who need education, children who have problems, elderly who have problems, and everyone in between.  We are the ones we have been waiting for...We have work to do.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Month on the street, Day 2...28 to go."There is no God!"

I spent the night walking around and got a little sleep on a bench outside of the Borders on Peachtree.  It was just as I thought it would be; bright and loud.   A couple of my friends had mentioned that they had been robbed or been associated with someone who had been and I was a little fearful given what I was doing.  Oddly, the yellow/orange halogen lights, the passing cars, and the distant sirens are not what kept me awake.
   Earlier in the evening, I was at the MARTA station in Five Points in Atlanta.  It is the center of town and the hub of the train system.  There, waiting for a train, was a homeless guy in an old camo jacket with a couple of days beard growth, and he was "preaching" in the corner.  Softly and basically, just talking.
   Also waiting for the bus was a group of others, a couple may have been drunk coming from or going to somewhere, who knows.  What kept me awake all night was one of these guys telling the homeless guy "There is no God!" and turning to his friends and laughing.
  Even if you do not believe in God, is that any reason to rob someone of their hope...especially if it is someone who is clinging to that hope as he goes to sleep at night while you go home to your warm bed?  To his credit, the homeless man went to him and shook his hand.  Still, is this how we treat the least among us?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Month on the street, Day 1

Ok, so the sun is going down and it is just a little chillier outside.  I remember some pretty basic things from the first Week on the Street and I am keeping them in mind.  Still, it is odd the way a day after stepping back inside, almost everything is forgotten, but now that I am about to do it again, for a longer period of time, it is all coming back and it is all scary once again.
   The last time, it was uncomfortable.  The heat was unbearable during the day and the cold was just a little too cold at night.  You get sore and tired from moving around all day frustrated from breathing recycled air in the library. 
  Last night I got to sleep in a warm bed, and tonight, I have no idea where I am going to go or even where I can go.  It will be cold.  It will be dark, but still light and it will never be entirely quiet.  There will always be cars passing.  There will always be bugs and horns and talking.  Despite how miserable it will be, it will still be too short.