Today is the 72nd week of making and delivering care bags for the homeless of Logan Square, Chicago. As of today, September 27, 2014, 383 care bags full of nutritious snacks, toiletries and assistance information have been delivered.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to deliver the bags last week. That’s only happened a couple times since I’ve been doing this and it always weighs heavy on me. On a positive note everybody was very happy to see me!
Today is the 71st week of making and delivering care bags for the homeless of Logan Square, Chicago. As of today, September 13, 2014, 378 care bags full of nutritious snacks, toiletries and assistance information have been delivered.
The care bags cost an average of $22.00 per bag, totaling $8,206.00 invested in the caring and support of my communities homeless population. This isn’t counting all the bus passes, clothing, shoes, cash, sleeping bags, tarps, plastic sheeting and other means of support. The greatest aspect of these bags is passing on all the caring, all the kindness from friends and supporters. I’ve met some amazing people. I caught up with Teresa (see her interview from week 24 here.) Shes been staying in a local shelter, I think for about 10 months now. She was panhandling and looking down. She wants off the streets, she wants a different life. She told me shes been programmed for 10 months with new coping skills from her stay at the shelter. We talked about being homeless for so long, you start to like certain aspects of it, making it harder to change. You start to like seeing people, talking to people, both homeless and passers by. You look forward to the nice things people do for you. This makes sense to me. I can understand prolonged exposure to anything leads to coping with hardship. Your mind takes over and protects you from being stagnant in despair. I see people do this in their work and relationships all the time. I see it with the homeless. She recounts “liking” the life, but no longer. She is full of regret and wants to make a change. “This Winter’s going to be worse than last year”, I told her. She said its not the elements, its idea of living like this when she no longer has time for “stupidity”. I made her the same offer as Roger. We’ll talk more about it and work towards getting her on the list for permanent housing.
Today is the 70th week of making and delivering care bags for the homeless of Logan Square, Chicago. As of today, September 7, 2014, 373 care bags full of nutritious snacks, toiletries and assistance information have been delivered.
Phone call with Bud last night…
I received an unexpected phone call from Bud last night. The call came around 9:30 pm. The last time we saw each other, he was moving in with his family in the suburbs. This all came together when his sister saw his interview I posted on YouTube. You can see that interview here.
When I deliver the care bags, I pass the exit ramp where I used to find him panhandling. I’m happy for him when I don’t see him. I wondered if I’d hear from him again and how he was making it in the world. The phone number I had for him was no longer in service so it left me waiting for him to reach out to me. Not hearing from Bud, my mind would hope for the best. Last night was a wonderful phone call that confirmed more than I could have imagined for him. I’m still wrapping my mind around what happened with him and his getting off the streets. Bud was homeless for almost a year and statistically speaking, once you are homeless for over a year, the chances of getting off the streets are greatly reduced. I think we spoke for about 20 minutes, mostly him telling me how blessed he has been, how hes helping himself and thinking of others with addiction problems. This guy is going to make it. Its overwhelming the happiness I have for him and imagining being him right now. He rehabbed for 40 days and got a job immediately afterwards. He regards it as a temporary job but overjoyed just to be working and making money. Hes buying a car next week. Hes rebuilding the relationship with his wife and children. Hes talking about his unique perspective on addition and homelessness and wants to help others overcome.
He tells me he talks about me a lot. He keeps thanking me and I’m not sure how to respond. I’ve not yet comfortable with my role in him getting off the streets and back into society. I struggle with it. Like I’ve told him many times before, “you did all the hard work”, I feel like we were all in the right place at the right time for things to transpire the way they did. When I go to dark places and struggle with how much “good” delivering these bags is actually accomplishing, I think about Bud. This guy is going to make it. I get emotional when I think about the things he says to me. Last night he told me he watches the video of his interview all the time. He pulls it up on his phone to remind him of things. Hes incredibly fearless and sincere. He thanks me over and over and tells me, “If you ever need anything, just ask”. He told me he talks about me often and I imagine meeting his family someday. Like most addicts, I’m sure he put his family through a lot of turmoil. It speaks volumes of his wife’s character to start again with him. He doesn’t owe me anything and its a very complicated series of thoughts as I struggle with my place in all of this. I just don’t know what to do with those thoughts yet. I imagine it feels the same if someone is thanking you for saving their life. The gravity of it is too much for me to process when I’m conflicted about me role in all of this. I am trying to share their stories to raise awareness hoping the general public would be kinder, more caring to the homeless. I get so wrapped up in doing this I don’t leave room for any other possibilities in my mind. I hope someday I can articulate to him what people like him and his story have done for me. Its a precious gift that few would understand. He and other like him have helped me understand life on a more meaningful level. I feel selfish most of the time because of what I get out of delivering the care bags and talking to these people. When Bud tells me thank you for all of this, its just too much. He doesn’t owe me anything. His story is the type that gets me right in the heart; a human being overcoming great odds and healing themselves as well as the people around him that he has harmed. Please watch Buds last video interview here.
We talk about getting together for lunch sometime soon. I’m looking forward to talking to him about unimportant things, like people do when all is well. Its an extraordinary feat to be where he was and come back from it, to confront himself and overcome. I have a feeling about Bud, hes going to help people. He spoke about passing on the kindness. Perhaps its helping him heal as well. One of the best moments came at the end of our phone call. He said he had to go to get his son ready for bed. Just imagine sleeping under an overpass, pushing away the rats looking for warmth, thinking family and friends have turned their backs only to be tucking your son in his bed at home. I hung up the phone and cried happy tears for him and his family. What a journey is on right now.
September 2, 2014…Roger
Today I took Roger to the Revive Center for Housing and Healing. Revive has been assisting the homeless for almost 100 years. I love their approach and attitude to combating homelessness. In a nutshell, they believe the way to treat the homeless problem is to place the homeless in homes. Please visit their website to learn more about them but I’m really here today to write about my experience with Roger this afternoon.
I’ve known Roger for a year, seeing him on an almost weekly basis. I’ve written about him many times before; he’s 54, a veteran, very quiet and intelligent. He has a heroin addiction, some mental health issues as well as physical issues. Most of Roger’s teeth are broken from an assault and he has wounds that heal very slowly, if at all. Hes been homeless for around seven years. He can’t go into the shelters because they are too crowded for is comfort level. One of his issues is that he gets severe anxiety around too many people. I don’t know everything about Roger, hes complicated and reserve. Its taken a consistent effort just to learn the little that I do know of him. We are comfortable with our interactions; hes both a source of heartache and an example of the willingness to live in the harshest of environments. He rides the edge of wanting off the streets but not taking steps to facilitate a change. He often shows signs of giving up on life. I’m sitting here, struggling to put into words how much I’ve learned about the homeless problem and about myself from this man. Hes been a wellspring of learning to accept others for their differences; truly accepting people for their fundamental differences in their approach to all things. Hes helped me find something in myself, a passive, patient response to actions I have trouble understanding. I’ve learned how flawed I am and how strong I can be.
“Knowing Roger is an exercise in respectful support but letting go as well.”
We had a few false starts on getting to Revive in the past several months. Id talk to him about it and give him a bus pass to go on his own. That didn’t work. I thought I’d offer to take him, explaining, “I know the people there, Ill take you there, Ill make introductions, Ill wait for you and then bring you back.” It was a hard sell, even as easy as it may sound to someone, its very difficult for Roger. Today was the day though, We set a time and I picked him up at the intersection he panhandles from. As usual I sent a “heads up” email to Revive to ensure everything went as smoothly as possible. At each step, I knew he may back out of going. Maybe he wouldn’t show up, maybe he’d tell me he couldn’t go. Whatever the case you have to stay optimistic without pushing. Isnt that true of everything in life? The situation with helping the homeless is always a fragile one. I’ve learned there are life events and personal characteristics that are attributing factors, the differences between us. I showed up at 1:30 pm, he was panhandling. We said hello, engaged in the usual handshake and he told me he needed a couple minutes to go back to his make shift tent behind a dumpster at Popeye’s Chicken. I waited in my car, thinking the air conditioning today would be a possible rare treat. Even if I’m wrong, I’m reminded often about the things “we” take for granted, like the cool air of a car and I think its a good place to be mentally. Sometimes the examples of these things pile on me and I feel a distortion from the rest of the world, from the “normal” and wanting to take things like that for granted again. My task is finding the balance of how these people are changing me and being able to come back from the places it takes me. Roger returns after a few minutes and changed his t shirt into another short sleeved collar shirt, though it was dirty as well. We had a 20 min drive to talk, we got on the subject of heroin addiction. To hear him speak about this was heartbreaking. He was explaining to me how powerful the drug is and the impossibility of getting off of it when you are on the streets. He said it took over a month to get over the withdrawal. Imagine flu symptoms multiplied 1000 times. He said you have to lie down but you cant, there’s nowhere to go for comfort, no where to hide from it. The outside elements are brutal. Vomiting, diarrhea, pain and all you want is for it to go away. With the drug being so cheap I can imagine the lure it would have to stop the pain, thus the endless cycle and the the constant deterioration of your body. Roger explained dreaming of heroin during times of withdrawal, hes dreaming he has some heroin, only to wake up and realize he doesn’t have any and the intense pain that follows. Withdrawal is severe, then you have the difficulty of getting your next fix when you need it the most. It was a window into a world I know nothing about other than what I’ve been learning from delivering these care bags. Most of the people I deliver the bags to are addicted to heroin. I almost brought up the recent killing of a homeless Logan Square man but can’t see the reason to do so.
We arrive at Revive, go in and are greeted by Kevin, the CFO. Hes expecting us and we all go into the conference room to speak. Roger was shy and speaking so softly it was hard to hear him. He was getting overwhelmed, no matter how gentle the environment, it was obvious but I was happy we were there. Kevin was chatting us up about the Center and awaiting a counselor to get back from lunch that would be able to help Roger with the “paperwork”. Kevin was great in talking about the process and getting Roger placed on the city wide list for housing. The center would help Roger apply for his social security card, his state ID and his permanent residency card. He would need all of these things for housing and they seem like they could stream line all of this for him. Maybe the entire application would take 30 minutes? Everything was going a little better than I imagined, then it turned when Roger started to talk about how difficult the process would be. He had doubts. It was in his posture in that chair. Frustrating, thinking to myself, it couldn’t be easier with the assistance they are going to provide, but looking at Roger he was having different thoughts. I told Roger its all up to him, whatever he feels is comfortable. Its hard to watch somebody make what I feel are bad decisions for themselves. I know this is the only way Roger gets into a place and off the streets. I’m certain he knows it too but that’s not enough to fight his demons. He hinted again that he will die on the streets. That sentence doesn’t have the weight as when you’re sitting in a room looking him in the eye and he says these things to you. I haven’t met too many people in my life that have truly given up and can I blame him? Many times I think Roger has given up and wonder what keeps him going. He finally stood up and ended the meeting by saying, its just too much work to do and said “he would pass”. He was timid, the situation uncomfortable. I don’t know how Roger will survive another winter in Chicago. Reports say this coming winter will be worse than last year. Knowing Roger is an exercise in respectful support but letting go as well. The car ride back was uncomfortable for a few minutes, I conveyed to him I hope this experience didn’t make him feel worse and that if he ever changes his mind, Id help him again, just like Revive would. He just has no hope of a better life. If he registers for housing, he would be on a city wide list for placement. His years on the street, medical issues as well as being a veteran, he wouldn’t waiting long, I think. The other action is to do nothing and then nothing will come from it but the same suffering. All I can do is see this man every week and give him a care bag, give him coats and tarps and sleeping bags and hope that he wants to change his life. He’s helped me, like the others, become more comfortable with the decisions others make that I cannot change. I face nothing this extreme in my “personal” life with friends. Our friends are often a lot like us and when they do something that we don’t understand we don’t react to it very well. It was a tough day with Roger even though I feel we got a little closer. I wish I could do more, I wish I had something brilliant I could say that would spark something in him to help himself. That’s pretty arrogant of me to think I know whats best for him. I’m just at a loss over this and Ill be contemplating today for awhile. I just want him to take steps to stop his suffering.