Sunday, August 15, 2010

A little help

Last week, MrB sent me an email with the subject line "don't freak out." He was letting me know that a former co-worker was going to be staying with us for a bit, someone who was down on their luck and had become homeless. Also in the email was the forwarded email from the guy mentioning that he was a vet with good survival skills. OK, I have to admit that I did freak out a little.

See, when I was growing up (just me and my mother as my dad was gone most of the time), my mother would always take in strays... and by that I mean stray people. She would take in anybody at all, any bum, any hitchhiker, anyone met in a bar or on the street or friend of a friend, anyone who told her that they didn't have a place to stay. We nearly always had guys using an extra bedroom or just the couch. Sometimes this turned out OK and sometimes it wasn't so great. For example, a friend I went to high school with was working with another guy at the funeral home and he just gotten to town and had nowhere to stay so he was invited in. He was soft-spoken, as good-looking as a model, and was clean and tidy. His fake name was "Sonny" (we didn't know it was a fake name until later). To shorten the story, "Sonny" and I started getting on each other's nerves, and he moved out to stay with a cousin of mine, who also got him a job at the factory where he worked. A few weeks later, here comes the FBI surrounding our house with guns at the ready -- looking for "Sonny," who, as it turned out, had been in the Army when he had lost his temper, killed his Sergeant with a hammer, and went AWOL. A similar FBI event then occurred at my cousin's place (and this time the guns were drawn) where Sonny had just moved on again, but they did arrest him, finally. My cousin mentioned that he saw Sonny go apeshit violent on a vending machine at the factory. Well, vending machines ARE maddening sometimes, especially for the short-tempered.

That was one of the scariest house-guest events we had. There were a few drug dealers and con-men. One man said if she gave him some money, he promised that he would go out to Hollywood where he had connections, and get her a date with Tony Bennett and me a date with Mickey Dolenz (not making this up, folks... HE was though). My mother was 100% gullible though. She waited for that letter of invitation...

Then there the kid who said his dad kicked him out of the house and just needed to crash on the couch, he also claimed to be 17. Turns out, he was a Detective's son who was underage (16) and on probation that was being violated, which led to the arrest of my mother for contributing to the delinquency of a minor for harboring him (plus they locked up nearly everybody at the house except for me on drug charges) followed by her descent into life-ruining paranoia -- but she still continued to always take in a
needy stranger. I know that this was partly due to having spent some time out there on the road [see My Mother Was a Teenaged Hobo].

It wasn't always strangers. I had some cousins who had a bad habit of just showing up and moving in with us or with mother's parents, because they knew they wouldn't turn anyone away. Their length of stay would be undetermined, they would just show up and not leave, and they didn't always help with the money part. So the way I was brought up and the life we led made me not be inclined to turn anyone away, especially if they are really needy, but at the same time to be very wary of the situation.

Back to the “don’t freak out” email, I didn’t think there was any good reason not to offer food and shelter in this case, even though I didn’t know the person. MrB set up ground rules that it would just be 2 nights, smoking has to be done outside, and the only meat served in this house is cat food (to a cat). The smoking rule was unnecessary, as the guy turned out to be a non-smoker, non-drinker, health nut type (a marathon runner, in fact). He was very intelligent and articulate. He had put all his possessions in a storage compartment, getting around on a Vespa and living out of a backpack. Other than a change of clothes the pack contained a laptop, cell phone and some crisp, clean resumes. He had a LinkedIn profile with an impressive work history on it, which included being a veteran. The way he became homeless was through a hit to investments (I think we all went through that to some degree recently), then he needed a barrage of medical tests (which turned up nothing very serious but ran up a bill of $25,000), and strike three was the loss of his job. The hard reality is that most folks who aren’t wealthy can become homeless after a couple of hard knocks – any combination of job loss, death of partner, loss of savings, medical crises, man-made disasters, "act of God" disasters... so many things can happen that can wipe you out...

He was really very hopeful and confident about getting back on his feet - setting up interviews and networking. We don't even have a spare bed in this house - it has been oriented toward these cats - one spare bedroom is a "cat room" and is occupado, the other is my "junk room" which is filled with prized collectibles (but no bed or even room for one), and the spare guest bath is only recently freed up due to Jax no longer needing it for his private room. So it was the junk room floor with padding and linens. I actually whipped up and served a couple of sit-down dinners (something I am dreadful at due to lack of experience or desire) and we had dinner at the table plus after-dinner conversations. After the 2 nights he made other arrangements. He was keeping his promise and said that a friend of his had wired enough money to get by on for awhile - but I found myself worrying about whether he had shelter or not.

It's really hard to know when or whether you've done enough, or too much, been too selfish or too generous... and I just think that you can't know until you try... and maybe not even then. Just do what feels right and hope for the best in the end.

2 comments:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I'm glad everything worked out okay with this house guest. But I see why you are cautious. You're right to be.

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

your mother sounds like my mother..but the men she brought home always slept in her bedroom...