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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.