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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Rescued Boat Back on Course



Every homeless person in America should have guardian angels like Chris Demakis and Vince Cragin. In the space of just over 48 hours, they have paid my car insurance for the next year ($803), paid $130 in state excise taxes on the car, given me $100 in Shell gas cards plus $100 in cash for incidental car expenses (like the upcoming safety inspection due in October, which costs $29), and have told me that they are giving me a spare iPad with docking station and separate keyboard to help me with my reporting and writing.

In addition, Chris is connecting me with someone who may have a job for me in his company -- fulltime, with benefits -- since my newspaper earnings are so small.

Their compassion and generosity are difficult to adequately describe in mere words.

Meanwhile, my old friend Don Fleming, an attorney in town, brought me a home-cooked dinner last night, and lunch today. His emotional support is priceless.

Tomorrow, I will go to apply for general assistance as Mitch Suzann files my application for housing with the Mattapoisett Housing Authority. Mitch’s unselfish efforts to help me are life-saving.

Today, I wrote my first story for the newspaper in two weeks, and I am working tomorrow night. The love and support of my editor, Chris Reagle, has buoyed me daily. She remains the best boss that I have ever had, and I plan to write for her forever, or as long as she will have me.

Just as I was about to finish this blog entry, Vince appeared at the car window and told me that he had an offer to make to me. “No, wait, it’s not an offer,” Vince said, “since I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Chris and I are going to put you up for three nights in a suite at the Hampton Inn in Fairhaven to let you recharge yourself after all you’ve been through. So I’ll be back in about five minutes, and you can follow me over there.”

By now I have learned not to argue with Vince, and I simply said “okay.” In addition to the hotel suite, with free full breakfast every morning, there is a computer with Internet access for my use. Vince also gave me a Walmart gift card to get some new clothes for my return to work.

Things continue to improve for me daily. But amid all this good fortune, I remember tonight all the homeless across the country who are still waiting for their guardian angels.

Stay tuned.


August 22, 2011.

Copyright Ó 2011, Ricky A. Pursley. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

High Tide Floats All Boats

This morning, as I sat at a picnic table in Shipyard Park having something to eat, I began pondering where I could store two or three canvas bags that contain donated clothing and staple food. During the day, when I am traveling around, I need to stick to just two bags; going to the grocery store will produce a third bag by itself. And walking with extra baggage is to be avoided if possible.

One of the buildings on Water Street that abuts the park has a second-story deck, supported by four columns. Under the deck is open space. I saw one of the occupants coming out, and called to him.

“Excuse me, sir, may I ask you a question,” I said.

“Sure, what can I do for you,” he said.

I explained that I was hoping to store a few bags under his deck to keep them out of any rain, and out of view of passing miscreants. I told him that I only needed to store the bags during the day.

“Well, sure,” he said, “you can keep them there. We are going to be having some landscaping work done starting next week though.”

I thanked him for his kindness, and he asked me about my situation. I explained that I was homeless and now unable to use my car due to its revoked license plates, and that I needed almost $1,000 to make the car legal again.

“Well we can take care of that for you,” he said. “Only $1,000 to get you back in your car? Of course, we can do that today.”

I was awestruck by his casual, reflexive generosity.

I explained my impending housing application to him, and I marveled out loud at how suddenly everything was turning around for me.

* * *

I am still stunned as I write this. Chris returned about an hour later with a bank check for $839.61, the past due payment and one year’s insurance premiums. Since we use the same insurance company, he went to call his agent to find out how best to proceed.

Meanwhile, Chris ran into a friend of his, Town Moderator Jack Eklund, and mentioned me and my situation to him. Jack knew me from my reporting for the newspaper, and came over to offer his support. Jack said that he was a deacon at the Congregational Church in town. I told him that I had met with Amy Lignitz Harken, his pastor, just the other day, and that she was actively engaged in helping me. We talked about what a great listener Amy is, and Jack assured me that I was in good hands with Amy working on my behalf. Jack wished me well, gave me some cash and his business card, and went on his way.

* * *

Chris Demakis is an extraordinary person in that he took the time out of his Saturday to listen to my tale of woe, empathize with me, and then take action to help improve my living situation. In a time when we see the cynical far more than we wish, Chris and his husband Vince are putting themselves out there to help a total stranger who is in need of some help.

So too are Mitch Suzann and Mattapoisett Police Chief Mary Lyons, who are apparently spearheading the campaign to get me a subsidized apartment here in town. These actions of all these good people cause me to once again believe in the inherent goodness of people, and to put my cynicism in the basement, where it belongs.

* * *

Mitch just came by and I gave him the completed housing application. He said that he would get it filed with the Housing Authority on Tuesday. He left me a bag with some soap and towels and clothes.

Stay tuned.

August 20, 2011.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Turning of the Tide


Officially, I’ve been here in Massachusetts for three full years, after 29 years in Northern Virginia. For the last 10 months, I’ve officially been homeless, although I did spend four of those months as a guest of the former Wifey at her home in northwestern New Jersey. And since Wednesday, August 10, I’ve been without my unlicensed PT Cruiser, and have been living on the street and sleeping on the concrete floor of the men’s restroom at the town harbormaster’s building on the edge of the harbor.

Yesterday, right before my meeting with a local pastor to seek the church’s help, I prayed to God for the first time since I divorced God on May 6, 2009. I asked God to help me; nothing fancy, no apologies for the divorce, etc. And I let it go at that.

This morning, a little before 9, as I was preparing to go catch the bus to the grocery store, a Mattapoisett police officer whom I have known for over 20 years, Mitch Suzann, pulled up next to me on the town wharf.

“How ya doin’?” Mitch said from behind the wheel of the police department’s SUV.

“I’m doin’ okay, thanks,” I said, wondering if there was more.

“I’ve got somethin’ for ya,” Mitch said, and extended a sheaf of papers from inside the SUV. I thought, oh great, who’s suing me now? I walked over to the vehicle, eyeing Mitch with suspicion.

“This,” Mitch said, “is the paperwork necessary to apply for an apartment with the Mattapoisett Housing Authority over there on Acushnet Road.”

“Mitch,” I said, “I’ve already talked with Ms. Souza over there. You have to be 60 or disabled, and I’m neither.”

“Listen,” Mitch said, “just fill all this out and get it back to me early next week. And go to New Bedford and apply for general assistance. That will show that you have a steady monthly income.”

“But Mitch, what about their rules,” I said. “Ms. Souza said that they don’t waive the eligibility requirements.”

Mitch smiled. “You just do like I told you, Ricky, and we’ll see what happens.”

“I don’t like the idea of applying for welfare, Mitch,” I said. “It was one thing to apply for the food stamps, but welfare? I’ve got a job. It doesn’t pay much, and it’s only part-time, but it’s something. I don’t like the idea of sucking on the public teat.”

“Look,” Mitch said, “some people abuse the system and loaf around. They shouldn’t be allowed to do that. But other people, like you, they deserve a helping hand, a little help as they work themselves into a better situation. So you take this help, and know that a lot of people think that you deserve it.”

I was dumbstruck.

I said okay, I would follow his instructions. I took the papers, he shook my hand, and drove off.

Maybe this morning I witnessed the turning of the tide. Maybe God is answering my prayer.

Stay tuned.

August 19, 2011.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Homework assignment

Before I get into my own experiences over the past few months, I want you to get your hands on the most important book written so far in 2011: The Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp. It is one of the most heart-rending memoirs that I have ever read, and it not only lays bare the tragic life that she lived as a young girl, but also makes a lot of important statements about who we homeless people are, and dispels at least a couple of stereotypes and myths. Brianna, for example, is a young (25) woman with a sharp mind and lots of life experience. When she lost her $50K per year job, one thing followed another, and she was homeless.

That's how easy it is to find yourself with no where to go.

In her case, she had some friends, and some luck, and she worked diligently to improve her situation. Her book should win a number of awards this year: it is compelling, and very well written.

We homeless are often the working poor, unable to accumulate enough capital to get a new place to live, and the "system" does not generally help any of us unless we have dependent children. A single man, 57 years old, like me, can rely on getting food stamps and not much else. I have plenty of education and experience, and I am a talented writer and editor. But the best that I have been able to do is write as a correspondent for the newspaper, getting $50 per story. Right now, with the newspaper business in such dire straits, I am averaging four or five stories per month.

So read Brianna's book. And keep in mind that every homeless person's story is different. But we are not all one thing or another thing. Sure, some of us have mental illness to cope with, and some of us are addicts, and some of us are just emotionally wasted. But we are all human beings, striving to keep some measure of dignity as we struggle with the hardest reality: no where to go, no where to be.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Coming Soon: Being Homeless in a Hopeless World

My ruminations and experiences being homeless, how badly broken our social support systems are, and why the people who run the food stamp program ought to run everything else.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lightning in a Jar

[Note to reader: The following came to me as a PowerPoint slideshow attachment forwarded by my pal Darcey Bellington. The slideshow features some haunting background music, and some gorgeous graphics. Since I am PowerPoint-illiterate, I have chosen to re-type the powerful message so that I can share it with a wide audience. If you would like to get the slideshow, send me an email or a private message, and I will forward it to you.]

If you could fit the entire population of the world into a village consisting of 100 people, maintaining the proportions of all the people living on Earth, that village would consist of:

57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 Americans (North, Central and South)
8 Africans

There would be

52 women
48 men
30 Caucasians
70 non-Caucasians
30 Christians
70 non-Christians
89 heterosexuals
11 homosexuals

Six people would possess 59% of the wealth, and they would all come from the USA.

80 would live in poverty
70 would be illiterate
50 would suffer from hunger and malnutrition
1 would be dying
1 would be being born
1 would own a computer
1 would have a university degree

If we looked at the world this way, the need for acceptance and understanding would be obvious. But consider again the following:

If you woke up this morning in good health, you have more luck than one million people, who won't live through the week.

If you have never experienced the horror of war, the solitude of prison, the pain of torture, or were not close to death from starvation, then you are better off than 500 million people.

If you can go to your place of worship without fear that someone will assault or kill you, then you are luckier than 3 billion people.

If you have a full fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, you are wealthier than 75% of the world's population.

If you currently have money in the bank, in your wallet, and a few coins in your purse, you are one of 8 of the privileged few amongst the 100 people in the world.

If your parents are still alive and still married, you are a rare individual.

If someone sent you this message, you're extremely lucky, because someone is thinking of you, and because you don't comprise one of those 2 billion people who cannot read.


And so?


Work like you don't need the money.

Love like nobody has ever hurt you.

Dance like nobody is watching.

Sing like nobody is listening.

Live as if this was paradise on Earth.


Send this message to your friends.

Bypass those who are determined to see the worst in the world, no matter what.

If you don't send it, nothing will happen.

If you do send it, someone might smile while they are reading it, and that will be a positive.

Apart from that, simply have a nice day.



-- Author unknown, circa June 15, 2010.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's Time to Stop Rewarding Bad Behavior

All of the yelling about the AIG bonuses, and the multiple abuses of the system by executives at that company and dozens of other companies (can you say "O-I-L"?) in recent years won't die down any time soon, and with good reason: the American people "have had it up to here" with rewarding bad behavior, one of the more dubious hallmarks of the past eight years. Time was, if you did something wrong, you bore the consequences of your actions. Lately, if you were crafty enough, rich enough, and had the right friends in the right places, you could get away with almost anything. Finally, the people in this country are standing up and saying "ENOUGH!"

It's about time.

Once upon a time in America, when you screwed up and did a lousy job, you paid the price (whatever the price was) for your failure: if you owned a business, and times got tough for the business, you, as the business owner, took a hit. Employees were generally spared, and at least kept their jobs, albeit stagnantly, and the boss went home at the end of the week with a lighter envelope. Gradually, it has become the norm that the lowest level workers are the ones to pay the price for any economic calamities, which those at the top continue to collect their princely sums unabated.

Part of this problem is the rise of the corporation as a legal entity: not only did the creation of corporations serve to distribute risk and expand investment, it also waived away liability of individuals -- real people -- and put responsibility on the amorphous corporation. Then, the corporation is punished for wrongdoing, but the punishment meted out is usually monetary in some fashion, and the real wrongdoers -- the real people running the corporation -- are left unscathed, and eventually, their malfeasance and misfeasance is repeated because the punishment did not fall on them. They learned nothing. When a small child ignores warnings and touches a hot stove, learning immediately takes place. Most executives in corporate America could sit on a hot stove and come away with nothing but scorched trousers.

Since we are on a warpath here, calling for reform, here's an idea: Maybe we ought to abolish the corporation. Eliminate it, and return to personal responsibility and individual liability.

It works with hot stoves.


March 26, 2009.

Copyright © 2009, Ricky A. Pursley. All rights reserved.