HURRY UP and Wait!

They're just sitting there in that crowded room. The massive TV at the front is blaring; most of this mob of homeless men seem mesmerized by the action taking place on the big screen.
A group of fresh-faced youngsters from rural mid-America wander into this room occupied by urbanized, battle-scarred survivors. They had traveled up to the Big City with outstanding motives; to help, assist and volunteer! They glance around our spot, and while sucking in the fumes of the inner city chaos, they observe and take it all in. 

Yet, they stand there confused; extremely confused....
Riddled by this confusion, their eyes wander to and fro, trying desperately not to judge and condemn. As the youth group wanders deeper into the room, they see more sights that cause them to question all their preconceived ideas. At one table they see a group of men playing dominoes, two men intensely battling over a game of chess, random men sleeping in various locations on the floor, while other men sit in chairs absorbed by a novel, the Bible, or some electronic device. Off to the side they see a room which has 10 computers, yet only 4 men are sitting at them. The youth groupers simply watch as more men wander in (as others are leaving) conducting similar business; they ruffle through their backpacks full of all their belongings, chat to the people in their cliques and proceed to do "whatever they do!"
The observers stand confused. They are inwardly questioning what's going on! Occasionally a courageous person will feel confident enough to ask:
"why aren't these men out getting jobs?",
"why are they just sitting around watching TV?",
or "why aren't there more men in the computer room?"
A myriad of other questions rattle their young minds, they are desperately trying to balance the American ideal of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps", with what they're witnessing "right here, right now".
Before I offend anybody, I want to clarify that it isn't just rural kids from Church youth groups that ask these questions! The reality is, these men are often being analyzed by city folk too! A room full of homeless men and a loud TV seems to trigger judgements on each and every person's character that happens to be chilling in that room. Politicians, neighbors and even other people experiencing homelessness mock these men, labeling them as lazy bums, crackheads, winos, junkies and welfare cheats. These men, who already suffer the fate and harsh reality of homelessness, are being discussed on internet forums, in blogs, on social media sites and in community meetings. Whether Republicans or Progressive Democrats, whether their intentions stem from good or bad motives, or whether it's just "plain old naivety", these judgements only create even more isolation and rejection! All this stems from a propaganda that cries, "I pay taxes, these lazy homeless bums are doing nothing, but wasting my hard earned money! They should be working, just like me!"  
Despite all this, we have to remember; perception can be a dangerous thing, it can grossly distort the truth! In the eye of the beholder, what's good can be perceived as bad and what's wrong can be perceived as righteous! As our emotions are drained and because facts are often difficult to cope with, what we see quickly becomes fiction and we live in the "illusion". In other words; it's hard to cope with the reality that the American dream isn't becoming alive in this room; the majority of these men aren't lazy bums; in actuality we see a lot of hard working citizens, veterans, guys who are free from alcoholism, drug addictions and even felonies. They're individuals, each with their own stories and shouldn't be judged by their appearance! The majority of these fellas are guys who are making every single concerted effort to do "what they're supposed to be doing, when they're supposed to be doing it." 
When someone suddenly finds themselves homeless, it's a traumatic experience. They obviously didn't dream of growing up to be "homeless". They suddenly find themselves in a place they were never prepared for! They are often confused, frightened and alone, not knowing how, why, what, when or where. 

And that's where we come in.....
Propaganda may tell us one thing; "all someone needs to do is work hard and then homelessness will be but a fleeting moment". Reality tells us something completely different; when someone finds themselves within the horrible grips of homelessness, it's often a long hard and very complicated path to get out of.
I have started using this illustration to describe the frustrating and traumatic journey of homelessness.... 
Imagine you wake up one morning, finding yourself in the middle of a very big maze. The walls are too tall to look over and you don't have a map. You don't have a clue which direction you should walk in: Other people are stuck in the maze too, they're walking, but they seem just as confused as you are.

All you know is: "I want to get out! I want to get out QUICK!"
You start walking, but you find yourself trapped in dead-end after dead-end. You see someone who looks similar to you, you ask advice, but end up even more confused. You follow people, yet all your attempts seem futile. Each and every effort, each and every step you take, seems to take you further and further away from the exit. In a panic, you start running like a maniac. After trying anything and everything, you find yourself in a deeper darker mess. Hope has started to vanish.

You sit in the path and scream "this shouldn't be so hard!"

People, agencies and the bureaucracy have been constantly yelling at you "hurry up", implying your "lack of movement" is a failure. You've even started yelling this same message to yourself. Within this homeless system, you're constantly being told to "hurry up and sign this", "hurry up and do this" and "hurry up and apply here". Even though you "hurried up" and did everything you were supposed to do, all you can do now, is patiently "wait"! Rushing in the wrong direction can be detrimental. 

To your utter confusion, an adviser tells you that slowing down, waiting and analyzing is the best option and gets you to start walking one step at a time in the right direction. Through these advisers making calls, doing a couple things on the computer and networking, an undercurrent of movement starts happening. You have discovered that to successfully move out of homelessness you need to "hurry up and wait!". These advisers don't know where your exit is, but they're mysteriously helping you get closer.

You're learning that you just have to be patient; they're telling you to wait, and to your utter surprise, sitting in front of the blaring TV is the perfect place for you at that moment.
You keep doing everything you are advised to do. You keep appointments, meet with various people, make phone calls, get what you need to get and wait. That waiting causes stress at times, so you bail and run, only to find yourself trapped again. Sometimes another person or system will also set traps. But when you fall down, you return to your advisers and return to practicing the art of patience! 
Then finally, after days, weeks, months, or even years, an adviser comes and tells you they've found your unique exit. The maze has been conquered! All that waiting and all that patiently doing has finally paid off! This adviser often tells you where to go, what you need to do, how to do it, who you must see, when your exit will be open and will even tell you why, if you need reminding.
This adviser may even walk you to the door and hand you the keys, but you are the one that needs to walk through it.
Why are all these men sitting and lying around?
Because that's where most of them need to be.

With each and every person in that room living their own stories, it's hard to summarize all that's going on. Some have just finished working a hard shift and are now relaxing, some are about to go to work, while others have hit the pavement for hours, trying to find that elusive job, but have been denied and rejected hundreds of times. Because of age or disability, a large percentage of these men are unable to work, they are in the very difficult process of waiting for housing, an income or benefits.

Despite all judgements and perceptions that reign down on these men: Being inside that crowded room is the safest, best place for them to be; helping them stay focused, helping them live drug-free, helping them wrestle against the grips of alcoholism, helping them escape the dangers of the streets, helping them keep out of trouble with the police and helping them obtain their all-important goals.

Nearly two years ago, a 40 year old Caucasian man named Jeff arrived at CCO. He entered our world angry and depressed, determined to escape the wiles of homelessness. He announced to us how he'd only be using us for a fleeting moment, because this was not the place for him and he was too good for us. He announced how he wasn't a lazy crackhead like the other men. He stood before us, judging and criticizing all the fellas he had to sleep next too. He announced how he was different and how his dedication and determination would quickly take him from this momentary lapse of his norm.

Yet that momentary lapse became Jeff's norm.

Jeff thought it would be easy! He thought it would happen with just a snap of his fingers. He didn't touch drugs or alcohol, and lived a good life, so he thought he just needed to pull himself up by his bootstraps! He rushed in every direction and found himself in a deeper darker mess. In a moment of utter despair and with a vulgar display of angry words, he vented all his frustrations about his hopelessness. He mourned over his depressing reality; he was sitting in my office with no job, no income, no health insurance, no friends and no housing. His health was getting worse and seemed to get in constant conflicts. All his trainings and work history had come to naught!

He didn't know what to DO, but now he was in the right place to move! But it required waiting....

As Jeff told me his story, I discovered two important traumatic events that had affected his life and were going to gravely impact his future. Firstly, he was caught with marijuana in the 90s, which landed him a stint in a maximum security prison. Secondly, under no fault of his own, he suffered a serious head injury a few years ago, which left him in a coma. Due to this accident, Jeff now suffers with seizures, spinal problems, constant negativity, severe headaches, heavy depression and a lack of impulse control, making him unable to work.

We got Jeff to meet with the right people and apply for the appropriate programs. We all collaborated together on behalf of him, resulting in an undercurrent of movement. He sat many days in that crowded room, with progress happening. Though frustration still riddled this man, I allowed him the freedom to angrily vent forth his anger and I tried to comfort him. Oftentimes he wanted to run or give in, but he was steadily moving toward housing, benefits, an income and a healthier life.

Setbacks did come; like that marijuana conviction denied him a few opportunities to move into various places, or like having to reschedule an important appointment because he was hospitalized by a seizure.

One warm day in July, all but one of those setbacks vanished! (Jeff still waits for the day the Social Security Administration will finally approve him and give him his long-awaited "disability" benefits). Jeff's unique exit had been discovered. Even though it all took over a year, it couldn't have happened quicker. Despite his felony, a landlord gave him an "OK" and he was finally able to move into his own apartment. 

A social worker came and picked Jeff up in her car, drove him to his new place, where he signed his lease and received his keys. The agency she works for has his rent covered and we helped him finance a few household needs. We had a received a lot of new dressers on donation, so I helped Jeff take one to his new apartment and was privileged to see him relaxing the place he now calls home!

well done Jeff; you did it! 
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