Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the streets interview

While waiting for the bus I met a young man probably around 30.  I had just sat down and he told me that he only had 40 cents and could I give him some change.  I decided why not and decided to turn it into an interview opportunity.  Not having a tape recorder on me as a professional would I'll have to recount to the best of my ability.

Q. What got you into this situation?
A.  What do you mean?

Q.  What got you into a situation where you would need to ask others for money?
Then it was like a dam broke as he began telling me his story.  In the meantime I had pulled out $2 which would have been enough for bus fare.  He tried to give back a dollar and I told him to just keep it.  Some of what he shared was:

  • On unemployment
  • Child support was being deducted from his check so he could not afford a place to live so shuffled around and stayed in a hotel a couple of nights when he could afford it.
  • His job was a temporary seasonal job selling time shares with the summer over he wasn't very optimistic about his prospects
  • He had come out from New York (I had noticed the strong accent but couldn't place it)
  • He came to be close to his child and the mother but they didn't really want much to do with him until he was able to get things together
  • People he knew had encouraged him to get a job and then a place but he thought he should get the place first so he would be able to shower and stay clean.  I told him I agreed with his friends and told him about the temporary agencies.
  • Nobody wanted to help him
He then asked when the bus was coming and I looked at my watch and told him in about two minutes.  He said that he had to go quick and never did make it back in time to take the bus.  In retrospect he never had told me he was waiting for the bus.

Right as this man was leaving another man walked up in about the same age group.  As soon as the first man left the other spoke up "Can you spare a cigarette?"  Then the bus showed up.

This happened a few days ago and I have thought of him often.  It made me sad.  The man didn't have a clue and was drowning in his own confusion.  There is a book I have heard of titled All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten . I have not read the entire book but I love the title.  With that in mind there is a jump rope song that comes to mind:  "Sally and Jimmy sitting in the tree K I S S I N G.  First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage." 

He was clueless.  I thought all morning about him, myself, and others I have known that have gotten themselves in situations to some degree or another whose root cause was relationships.  I had what is now often referred to as an epiphany.  Almost everyone I had met or known that was struggling in this way and clueless as to the order of things was either an Adult Child of an Alcoholic and/or had come from a broken home.  (I don't like that phase and label but use it now to reach a common knowledge of what I am referring to).  It is as if a person have missed the class on Life 101 and was clueless at figuring it all out.  The consequences became years of the school of hard knocks where they stumble through jobs, relationships, parenthood and often compounding the problems by their own use of alcohol or having close relationships with those who do. 

They can receive any amount of public assistance the society wants to throw at them but it will not solve the problem because the root is not money but education in the life lessons that those who know them don't even recognize need to be taught.  Let's take a easy example from a dating situation.  If a person who has knowledge of how relationships should work gets stood up on a date or in some way is treated in a manner that they find less than ok what will they do?  Break it off before it goes further.  That is not what will happen with those who have not taken Life 101.  They will excuse it, argue about it, or not even notice that they have just been treated disrespectfully.  The relationship will generally continue yet in a unaffirming manner.

The greatest challenges I suspect come to those who think that the high school years are party time.  Instead of planning education, careers, and developing skills for the future they are planning how to get drunk, laid, or get through class while not doing the homework.

If I am correct, then we need a different approach.  Those who are weighing down the welfare roles are no better or worse than anyone else but while others were learning about life, responsibility, and how to succeed they were muddling through not quite sure why things were not working.  The dreams are the same they just don't know how to make them come true.  They have missed the fundamentals of life, honor, and the keys to successful relationships.  How would they indeed know them if they have not lived them in their homes and were either abandoned, abused, or had a parent that was just drunk. 

How do I know?  I have lived there.  My credentials do not come from a school but from a life lived in OJT. 

So what can be done?  I hope that readers who are active in the community, schools, and churches will consider what I am saying and how they might have a positive impact with the kids and young adults who have missed the class on LIFE 101.  Hold them accountable but at the same time provide the tools, information, and education that is needed to succeed.  Sometimes it might be a hand on the shoulder of encouragement and sometimes it may mean telling it like it is when they are going down the wrong track.  Basically, take the time to go beyond the foolish behavior to see the person underneath.  Indefinite welfare is not the answer.  Don't hand them a fish, teach them to fish.

Please note:  It is difficult to write a post of this nature and wonder if my intent may be misunderstood or taken out of context of who I am.  So in order to help provide that context let me say that I am thankful for and believe we need the social programs we have. However,  I also believe they need time limits such as six months to a year coupled with education and auditing.  The education I am referring to is life skill seminars such as making and living on a budget, economic cooking, parenting classes, finding a job workshops. These would be part of a case by case interview and need assessment.  I don't know about you but buying chips and pop with food stamps just doesn't sit well with me.


Practical Parsimony said...

I worked as a GED teacher in the community room of an apartment complex comprised of mostly welfare occupants--Section 8. A grant of $1 million was obtained to figure out how to get people off welfare. Some of the occupants were in their 70s and 80s, had children in mid 50 to 60s, grandchildren in 30s and 40s and great grandchildren in teens to 20s, then a generation of babies. We had catered, mandatory luncheon meetings where a PhD psychologist making $200 and hour talked to us, brainstorming about getting all generations involved, coming to computer room (state of the art), and generally he pondered why the occupants would not come to the door when he or his female companion went alone or together.

I ventured to remark that maybe it was too late to change the older groups, that maybe we should concentrate our efforts and resources on the ones in the children. He sort of waved me off and went to the next scheme. After six months of abject failure, he found the solution--don't waste effort on the older ones who were entrenched in welfare and learned helplessness; concentrate on the youth.

This welfare apartment complex was immaculate, quiet, the grounds were tended to regularly with shrubs and trees. All apartments were repainted every year, whether you like it or not. Garbage in the streets was not allowed. The laundry room was immaculate. The owners were millionares and really cared about their occupants.

Only the young, twenty and under showed up for the activities were they could receive any Life 101 encouragement. Strangely, these were the people who needed help the least. But, they learned more about how to navigate the world to their benefit.

Lovely surroundings, well kept apartments, caring owners, lots of green on the grounds, and computers at their disposal had no impact on those entrenched in the welfare system.

I considered GED a mission and opposed racism and intolerance of any kind in my classroom. So, I too am concerned with the well-being and nurturing of people who may not have had a chance.

I must say that even the poor "deserve" pop and chips. But, we should all eat junk food in moderation. However, I saw a food stamp recipient last week who filled two grocery carts. Everything was mac and cheese, cookies, lunch meat with sodium, Lunchables, potted meat, cases of coke, dips, Little Debbie's--just a nutritional mess. Only a gallon of milk and a cut of steak could be considered nutritious and not detrimental to health. There were no fresh fruits and vegetables. I actually became queasy looking at all that food.

Michael Crosby said...

Life 101. Good term.

My son will be getting out of prison in a few months. He's 27. He's been in prison since 15. Off and on that is. I call it a life sentence under the installment plan.

I would give my life for him to learn basic concepts about practical living, but it proves too difficult.

Carol said...

Michael, sorry to hear that. It can be extremely tough to accept the choices made by those we love but as long as there is breath there is hope.

Practical Parsimony, your experience always adds value insight to the conversation. Appreciate the perspective!

Olivia said...

Our family lived in the projects for a couple years. It housed a mix of new immigrants, generational welfare recipients, and educated people who fell on hard times. Those that knew there was more, fought to get out. Those that thought the effort was too much trouble brought others down with them. They didn't pound it into their kids to excell in school, stay chaste, avoid drugs and bad company. It's not easy to buck the "ghetto" mentality, to be thought of as proud, uppity. To lose friends, to break free from all that's familiar. The vision for better has to be more powerful than what you see around you, and worth the sacrifices.

A friend is a community college research librarian. She taught an "academic success" class for challenged students. One was a young, single mom. This lady wanted to become a nurse, but baby sitting was a problem. Her family and friends didn't come to bat, they discouraged her from the effort needed to plow through. They wanted her to stay with them. "It's so much easier being on welfare, why beat yourself up over this?" My friend offered to watch the baby and tried to encourage her to continue. But she dropped out.

How do you give people a vision for better, so they want to master the life skills they'll need?

Carol said...

I think people are motivated by many different things: example, encouragement, fear, crisis, necessity, a vision. Whatever the method it has to come from within and be a personal choice. Peer influence is indeed difficult to overcome and even at times dangerous.

Education in Life 101 opens the doors to a person knowing their options and seeing new ideas. For some this will be enough to get them moving in a new direction. For others it may be filed away for future use and still others may reject it all together but at least they have seen the choices.

This is one of the reasons I believe in limited assistance coupled with education. It gives a hand in the stirup to those who want to ride but doesn't not indefinately support those who don't with taxpayer funds.

The difficult challenge is of course the children who are without power to make their own decisions. Careful attention is needed not to neglect them regardless of the parents failure to strive and thrive.