It was a dark and silent night in the middle of the month. All of the addicts had spent and smoked their monthly benefit checks and were asleep on sidewalks and stoops of Stanford Avenue as I sat staring up at “Razor”, the local representative of the East Coast Crips, from the passenger seat of my beaten up Honda. We had a long conversation about poverty, drugs, mental illness, business models benefitting from the current government systems and our roles in it all. This chat took place while we were waiting for one of the prostitutes he was a John for to drive over and jump my dead car battery. As I started to leave, Razor grabbed my arm and told me not to come back to work until I had a cellular phone with me. He promised to come by my office in three days and check. I bought a phone, he came to visit and together we solved my problem of clients disappearing from the shelter because they were hiding form him. We agreed that he would forgive all current drug debt and not sell within view of my office and if he wanted to continue to sell crack on credit, he would need to keep track and bring invoices to me once a month.
For years I told this story at cocktail parties and family gatherings. It was a great way to shock people while putting a humanized face to the people I interacted with. Coming from the affluent little city of Arcadia, my career choice to work with people in poverty was not understood or easily accepted. Occasionally even I feel conflicted. My goal has never been to house people – it is to help people live in dignity. The uptight entitled suburban mom in me wants everyone clean and housed. Pragmatically, I know that is never going to happen. I have done all I can do in my current role and I need to change.
When I am not a social worker, I am a computer geek. When you have a computer problem the system remains broken until the one tiny issue has been found and corrected. Sometimes this is as small as an extra space or missing punctuation mark in the code. People are more subjective but not any easier to decode. The causes and solutions to poverty are complex. They vary based on the individual. Although I have narrowed the causes of homelessness to twelve basic starting points, I have not found any basic solutions. For eight years I have combined my talents on a blog to explain my job from my perspective in lieu of continuing to tell the story of Razor at cocktail parties. I document sleeping on the street with Reverend Bales of the Union Rescue Mission, the great nonprofits I have found, working with the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful when they had a homeless story line, as well as my struggles with my job. Occasionally I read it and discover how my attitudes and skillsets have changed. The unchanging issue is that homeless and poverty remain.
I want to study all of the approaches to treating poverty. Someday my blog will have articles about traveling the world and comparing homelessness in India and Pakistan to homelessness on Skid Row in Los Angeles. I want to know what works and why.
Exit plans from prison, placements into shelter, applications for section 8, teaching life skills, and enrolling adults into school, motivational speaking, scheduling mental health appointments, dispensing medications, teaching parenting classes, homeless court applications, and walking folks through the maze of government services: I have done this. I have also been a mom who completed college while on Welfare and experiences the emotional strain of financial desperation. Poverty is a personal issue to me and not just a series of entertaining stories. I am applying to graduate school to study with experts who understand how people function and can help me change the role I play in bringing people out of poverty.