“I just thought I should tell you that I’m up to some shenanigans again,” I told my husband. It only seemed fair.
“Oh, what is it this time?”
I told him I had stumbled across a video interview about a homeless woman a few miles from us who happened to have a master’s degree and some interesting engineering, logistics, and mathematics credentials.
I rewound and wrote down those credentials. I can help with this, I thought, and now to track down this person. How do I find her?
Those of you who have known me personally for several years may recall that the last time I got interested in something like this, it ended very poorly, but I was indeed successful in tracking down my target person a couple of times. With concerted effort, you can generally find a specific homeless person, because they have a strong gossip network and they keep track of each other.
This time it was a bit easier. I looked through the comments on the YouTube channel, didn’t find anything, and then emailed the channel owner.
He wrote back within ten minutes, saying he would be seeing her the following week and that he would pass on my message. [That was basically: I think I can get her a job, and please ask if I can bring her a small present, such as a pair of socks or a bottle of ibuprofen].
Several days went by, and I thought, alas, perhaps nothing will come of this after all.
Then I got another email. The YouTube channel owner passed on a GoFundMe link, which he said he had verified, so that the money would go directly to the engineer.
Oh cool! I thought. That is smart thinking.
What would you personally do if you were living at the park and you needed a job?
I know what I would do. I would use my credit card and get a room at an AirBnB, just like we did the last time we were technically houseless. I would call my family and I would call an employment agency. I have tons of resources, such that I would only wind up at a park if there had been a wildfire and I had to flee for my life.
Plausible where we live.
But then, I used to work in social services. I’ve worked at a couple of homeless shelters. I understand that the main difference between “the homeless” and the rest of us is that they tend to get hit with more disasters in a given time period. They always say they never thought it would happen to them, because nobody does.
I also live in a very expensive area. The reason it costs so much to live here is because this is where the jobs are. If you want to be within commuting distance of one of the many engineering firms in the area, then you’d better be prepared to pay. Renting a place is not for the faint of heart. We expect, every time we plan to move, that we may have to call on eight listings for every one that is available to look at. We know we’d better be prepared to make an offer on the spot, because the landlord usually has a couple other people lined up to tour the place after us.
I watched the video and I thought, this woman is a great deal like me. We’re close in age, we’re both White and we even have similar hairstyles. We could probably swap clothes.
Is it unfair that I took an interest in her story? Yes, of course it is.
There are well over half a million homeless people in the US, and nearly seventy thousand in my county. This is a societal decision that we made sometime back in the Eighties, to recognize that a lot of people have nowhere to live, and shrug, and train our children to step over them and go on with our lives. It’s easy for us to blame them for their situation, easy for us to accept the concept that over half a million people are lazy, or that all of them are drug addicts, or whatever it is that we tell ourselves. And our kids.
In this case, I listened with compassion, and I realized - this is one starfish I can probably help. I know that I can get her resume looked at. I have personal influence with HR people and hiring managers and program directors.
I spun out my story to myself a bit more. I thought of a few other women I know who would be in a position to help. I realized, I could help her get a salon haircut and an interview suit. With interviews lined up, it would be easy for me to get her into temporary housing and raise some funds to help her set up shop.
I hadn’t even talked to her yet, and I knew I had a plan. I had a hand-picked action team. If we met, I would make my pitch. Simply take one step forward and you are back in the game. We can do this.
This was all before I saw the GoFundMe link.
Aha, I thought, girl power. Good for you!
When I first saw it, the target amount was $10,000 and she had raised about $3,000 already.
I saw the necessity of it. She had nowhere to live, no furniture, no work wardrobe, no groceries. In our area? Half of that was going to go to first month’s rent and deposits. It could easily take four months of interviewing before she actually started a new job and started collecting a paycheck.
I kept checking back out of curiosity.
The donations poured in. The target amount was increased to $15,000.
Wow, I thought, go girl go!
Donations closed in on $14,000. The target amount was increased to $20,000.
Haha, I thought, excited for her. I showed my husband. “I’m starting to understand that she has a good head for numbers.”
“Now she’s getting greedy,” he said.
“I don’t know about that,” I said, “she literally has nothing. She’s living at the park. What she’s trying to do is step from that back into a profession, into an upper middle class lifestyle.” I reminded him how long it takes to get a good engineering job and how much rent is in our area.
“If I were the hiring manager, I would ask her, can you raise funds for my company the way you raised funds for yourself? It makes me wish I ran my own company so I could interview her myself.”
This is the American way. Rugged individualism in action. It isn’t a personal tragedy, it’s a societal tragedy. We were willing to let a perfectly good mathematician and engineer live at the park, and nobody cared, and all that human potential was wasted because we tolerate long-term homelessness with a shrug. If that much.
Nobody else was going to look out for Number One, so good for her.
I’m still going to reach out to this woman. I’m going to offer to take her to lunch. I’m going to offer to introduce her to my stylist. I’m going to ask for a copy of her resume, and if it’s a little lumpy I’m going to connect her with the person I hired to redo my own resume. If all goes well, I’m going to pass on her materials to my HR person and ask what we can do.
Then I’m going to ask her who else she met while she was... on sabbatical. I’m going to ask who she thinks is the next best prospect, and maybe we can see what we can do for that person.
Not because this person or that person “deserves” my help, but because it intrigues me and it’s something that I have certain powers to influence. It’s also high time we stop having a homelessness problem and instead have a reintegration project.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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