25 August 2009

Reading Between the Lines

I have always been an advocate for reading.

Ever since my childhood, I have found such a sense of escape, fulfillment, relationship, and challenge from books. I often ask myself the question: If I were not here right now, if I did not have this or that obligation, what books would I read?

Because of this, I have been suprised at how often I observe people staring at the wall in our dining room (or staring at the statue in Veteran's park, or staring at the steps of the library) rather than reading a book. Of course, this has a lot to do with mental and emotional fatigue, illiteracy, personality types that are quite unlike my own, but I realized something today when I heard this comment (while filling out an application for disability):

"Mr. Vroon, what kind of things do you like to read?"

"What do I like to read? Oh man. The newspaper. Classical novels. Heck, I like to read street signs."

"Okay, the next question asks how often you spend time reading every day."



"Girl, now if I had the GLASSES, man, that would go up 100%. But I don't. So, never."

Reading glasses. A man who loves to read never does it, because he doesn't have reading glasses. At first glance, this looks like laziness, like a lack of motivation or drive or energy. But after taking a closer look:

OBTAINING READING GLASSES (without transportation or income):

1. There is one store within walking distance of downtown that sells affordable reading glasses: Family Dollar
2. To get to Family Dollar, you have to walk 1/2 mile (about 10 minutes on average); difficult for you if you do not have adequate walking shoes, or you are not in very good physical health.
3. The reading glasses cost $6.00.
4. To get $6.00, you can...

a. Collect 600 bottles and cans.
b. Spend about 30 minutes asking people you know for money (resulting in possible altercations and strains on these relationships, especially when reading glasses are considered a luxury).
c. Spend about 1 hour asking people you don't know for money (risking insult, arrest, and enduring the a real and constant confrontation with the fact that you are poor).

But wait! There's another way! The Dollar Tree has reading glasses for $1.00!

1. To get $1.00, you can spend your afternoon collecting 10 bottles and cans, and then find a place where you can return them that doesn't give you store credit, but actual cash (I have not researched this piece yet).
2. The two nearest Dollar Trees are:

a. 1220 28th St, 4.1 miles away, approximately an hour and a half walk each way. Or
b. 1621 Leonard, 3.7 miles away, approximately an hour and 15 minutes walk each way.

3. If you cannot walk there and back (due to health, lack of footwear, or lack of sunlight in a day), you could take the bus. Bus tickets cost $1.50 each way. There are no places in the city that will give free bus tickets to run errands or go shopping. Which means...
4. You will have to get $3.00 more, making your reading glasses a $4.00 affiar. This will lengthen the time spend looking for cans, or panhandling (again, putting yourself at risk for arrest).

In summary, if you want the necessary tools to read, you are looking at extensive walking, weeks of can collecting, and the risk of arrest.

This is why Mr. Vroon doesn't read the newspaper.

20 August 2009

Wrong Number

George and his wife were speaking with me about housing today, and our conversation lead to the infamous call to the Salvation Army Housing Assessment Program. George dialed the number, and his wife and I listened, confused, as George had the following conversation:

"Hello? What? Is this the.... what? No... I don't know. Really, I don't know. Okay. Um... thanks... 105.3? Yeah."

We asked him what happened:

"I had the wrong number. I called some radio station and they said I could win a vacation if I answered their question, but heck if I knew what they were talking about. So, can I call the Salvation Army now?"

We laughed for about 105.3 minutes.

17 August 2009

15 Miles

"I had a good day yesterday. You know my friend Brad? Well, Brad and I got to borrow some bikes and ride out to Rockford on the trails. I'm telling you, it was so nice, and we made it all the way there. On the way back, Brad got a flat tire, so we had to walk for about 15 miles. But the way there, that was a special gift for me."

03 August 2009

The Rights That Come With a Roof

Sam's always hated Ron. It's not that unusual; love and hate flow here like they do anywhere else (except people may be more vocal about it here). It was a bit innappropriate how often he would come up to our floor, swagger around with his black-santa-sack full of who-knows-what and talk about how much he hates Ron... but our ideas of what's normal and what's not have changed to the point of being very used to things like this. He was always willing to pause in his rant to greet me (Hey bay-be! I sho' do love ya, bay-be!)

Sam's mental illness has been escalating lately, though. Last time I walked past him on my way in and said "Good morning," he just looked at me, open-mouthed, wild-eyed, and threw his arms in the air as if answering that greeting was far too trivial a task for someone who had his thoughts racing through their brain. Sam's anger was now targeted towards anyone close enough to point a finger at (You kille' my whole family! I'm go burn down yo' house!)

It was soon after that Sam became a danger, not only to himself, but those around him. So many of the people I have met since working here have fallen victim to the twisted grip of mental illness, especially without many places that can assist in paying for psychotropic medication. Sam started attacking people with his fists instead of his usual bomb-threats, and lately, has hardly been discriminating whose jaw they hit.

This weekend, Sam lost it--he beat Joel (peaceful, pony-tailed Joel) until blood flowed from his face faster than obsenities flowed out of Sam's. Of course, we called the police in Joel's (and the rest of the public's) defense, and this was their response:

"I'm sorry, but if it's a homeless person on a homeless person, there's nothing we can do."

I've heard a lot of strange and baffling ideas of the rights of those who are currently without mortgages and rental agreements, but not one of us can make sense of this one. The best I could do was take Joel and his wife into my office today and apologize to him, telling him that we are paying attention, that we want the best of Sam and for him, and we know what happened, and we wish we weren't so powerless when it comes to making our sidewalk safe. Joel just smiled through his black and blue eyes, because he had just recieved word that one of the subsidized housing properties had a space for him and his wife.

"We're going to get a place, Anna. Then we'll be somebody."