30 October 2009

Beer and Clothing in Las Vegas

Chuck and George sobered up long enough to put on Hawaiian shirts and pack their duffle bags with something useful (which, according to Chuck, means socks and a comb). They're going to Las Vegas.

They made a huge show the entire last week they were here. They ceremoniously gave the rights to their locker (and the rights to paying for it) to lockerless friends. They asked to have a laminated copy of my business card for emergency purposes. They began willing all of their empty bottles and sweaters and half-used deoderants to the noble patrons of our 2nd floor, with all of the dignity and honor of soldiers called to a higher duty. In Las Vegas.

George does it every year--travels far and wide to get people to sign petitions. This year, he invited his favorite comrade in cockeyed crime, Chuck. According to him, Las Vegas ran out of their own homeless dudes to employ. George is actually quite a talented petitioner--when he's sober, he has a nice, polite demeanor, soft voice, good sense of humor and a kind smile. I'd sign his petition. Chuck hasn't strung 4 coherent words together in a week or so. I think he thinks he's going to Las Vegas so that he can sign petitions. But Chuck 'n George have hopelessly fallen into shameless and unconditional bromance, and the honeymoon's in Las Vegas.

Yesterday, they walked out with their bags shouting things like "Goodbye Neverland!" and "Chuck has left the building" (before they left the building). I don't know how they got to the airport, but they called from Las Vegas today:

"We're here! Chucks got beer all over his shirt and he thinks it's so funny. It's sunny here! And we got our first day of work off!"

23 October 2009

Mr. Youell's World of Illusions

"This world, this just don't make no sense. Everything that's happening, all this Halloween, all this rain and storm, all this up in here, it seem like it's not even happening. Seems like it's an illusion--all a crazy crazy illusion where nothin's real and everything's just floating and I can see right through. Like this table. I pound this table and I pound this table and I think I's going to go right through it every time--like my hand will fly right through to the floor. It's all not right and it's all not fair, because everyone else is gettin' away with murder, like they's livin' in a real world but they don't even know it, and they's actin' like nothing'll happen, like nobody'll die, like nobody'll get hurt or nothin' even if they slam they head against a wall. It aint' goin' right through like they think it will, it's gon' stop and hit. It just don't make no sense... don't make no sense..."

20 October 2009


"If we could just remember those damn commandments, this place would be f***ing harmonious."

-A man who recently contracted an STD to a women whose man was in jail for larceny.

08 October 2009

Emergency Contacts

In our office, we have a phone line that is connected to our staff, and also a phone line that is connected to an answering machine with the following message:

"This is an answering service that serves to take messages for many people. Please leave your name, the name of the person you wish to reach, your number, and a brief message, and it will be given to them."

Anyone can use this number to recieve messages from employers, doctor's offices or worried mothers if they do not have a phone of their own. We recieve a wide variety of messages on this line such as...

"Thanks for making me waste a mother f***ing 50 cents. I want to talk to a real f***ing person."

"Hi... um... this is Tasha... I was calling to let Grant Carrol know that he was a father."

"Anna Gretz this is your Grandma. I don't know if I called the right number for you but I was wondering if you would like to come over for dinner tonight."

and the message that we recieved yesterday: "Hello, this is Dave, and I'm calling on behalf of Derek Jordan... you might know him as 'R&B'. He was working for me today on some painting and he... well, he fell off the building. We were trying to contact someone, and this is the number he left for emergencies. Call me back if you can, my number is 5..."

My co-worker and I listened to the message about 5 times, asking other people for 2nd opinions, trying to get the number that Dave left to contact him. Of course we know R&B! And we were scared for his life. I tried at least half of the millions of possible combinations of seven numbers beginning with a 5 asking for Dave, but never got through. Our afternoon was ruined with visions of R&B in a coma (splattered with paint).

Later in the afternoon Derek R&B Jordan waltzed onto the floor, cleaned up (and clean shaven) with all his limbs and faculties intact (which is how he prefers it, thank you very much). There was an immediate spontaneous outburst of gratitude for his life, prompting confusion from R&B.

"What? What's the deal."
"R&B we thought you were dead!"
"I fell off a building."
"We know!"
"How'd you know?"
"Dave called!"
"Dave? Oh... he called you guys? That was real nice. Because you guys are all I've got. This is home base, you know? This is where my stuff's at. This is where my people's at. Who else would I call?"

(We suggested the staff phone number instead of the message line.)

02 October 2009


I have met people who believe in and live on the idea that everything that you need and want in life you can get for free... if you talk to the right people, if you jump through the right hoops, if you present the right argument. This concept is completely foreign to me.

When I first began doing referrals, I was presented with (to me) the strangest requests: Where can I get free tennis shoes? Can you get a free bike? I need some free furniture... clothing... cell phone... medical care... housing... groceries... TV. A free TV? Come on. You guys. You can't get free TV's. I've been here for a while, and if you could get TV's and cell phones for free, I would know.

But you can.

If you have a caseworker at the DHS, you can receive a referral for everything you need to fill your house for free.
If you don't currently have an income, you can get a card that allows you to get $200 a month for groceries for free.
You can get clothing for free.
You can get new Patagonia shoes for free.
You can get a cell phone for free, and minutes every month for free.
You can get a voucher that will pay your rent every month for free.
You can receive checks from the government every month for free.

But there things aren't really free--they are paid for by someone else. (Really? Yes.) And that bit of information is about as foreign to the population I work with than the "Economy of Free" is to me. These things don't just ... not cost anything. They are paid for, worked for, and Given. But to those who receive them, they are not Given, just Received.

This could be frustrating.
I have tried to explain this system to many of the people receiving assistance from my desk.
"This is not a piece of paper that waives the fee for your police report. This is a check for $6.00, made out the the Grand Rapids Police Department, paid for you by someone who doesn't even know you--they gave up $6.00 so you could have it... and have the opportunity to attain housing."


This could be the purest form of giving possible, going unrecognized.

When you give, you often Give-Because. You give because you want to know that you are making a different, because you want to make the world better, because you want to know others are happier and taken care of and still alive because of you. Because of you. You get this feeling, this wonderful feeling that you have done good. Now, I believe this is great--that this feeling is God-given and there is no guilt in wanting to desire it.
But what if you Just-Gave. You just gave money and time and resources because that's what people do, and you did not see or know or even consider the outcome. Or maybe you didn't even give, you just lived, and there was a small bit of money that was silently and subtly detracted from each of your paychecks--transformed into something that benefited someone else. You didn't get any satisfaction, and no one felt indebted.


Now, I'm not saying that this is always used in the best way possible, or even used responsibly, but it could be, and it sometimes is, and if we transformed this bitterness and submitted this to God, how would this look different?

Would we feel liberated?

Would we be free?