Monday, August 25, 2014

The Least of These

Homeless on the streets of Atlanta (credit:
You have seen them when you walk the streets of the larger cities: Washington, DC, Atlanta, GA, Austin, TX, St. Petersburg, Fl, the list goes on and on. You see their stack of overstuffed bags, or an old worn suitcase, or a tattered backpack. You notice their tattered and stained clothing. You decide to avoid eye contact. Just stare at the ground to you get by and they will not bother you. One may call to you, "Can you help me with money for lunch?" You ignore them and walk on, quickening your pace. You catch a whiff that tells you they have not had a shower in a few weeks. They make you uncomfortable, and you wish they would just go away. How do you know if you gave them money that they would not buy liquor or crack with it? It is a growing problem, and several cities have decided to solve it. Their solution: make the homeless go away. Make it illegal to put up a tent under a bridge or in a public park.

Homeless Encampment - Atlanta, 2014 (credit: Weslee Knapp)
A few years ago, the city of St. Petersburg, FL took an active stance to solve the problem in their city. Watch for yourself.

January 19, 2007

Georgia DOT sent bulldozers in to clear out the tents of 40 homeless camping under I-75/I-85 and I-20 on January 14, 2014. GDOT Sends Bulldozers for 40 Homeless Camping Under I-75/85 and I-20 The bulldozers and GDOT employees hauled off tents, blankets, jackets, and what little possessions these people owned. Two weeks later, Atlanta was hit with a winter storm that closed the city. FOX NEWS WEATHER CENTER Rare winter storm leaves students, drivers stranded in Deep South

Well, those people would be better off in a shelter, you think. Maybe so, if there was enough shelter space in Atlanta to house all of the homeless individuals in the city. But there is not. 

"According to homeless census data estimates, more than 10,000 people in metro Atlanta experience homelessness on any given night, with more than 40 percent being women and children. A comprehensive, three-county survey of Atlanta's homeless shelters found a shortage of 1,700 beds for all single homeless people, including children and youth."

A shortage of 1,700 beds means 1,700 people in Atlanta had to face the elements during the Winter storm that stranded drivers and clogged interstates. And at least 40 were without blankets or temporary shelter thanks to the government's attempt to solve homelessness.

We must put down all of our preconceived ideas why people are  homeless, and recognize that every homeless person is in fact a person. They have a story. They have a story worth telling. They have value. Not everyone that is homeless is a crack addict, or too lazy to work. In fact, in today's society there are people who are working at minimum wage jobs and cannot afford housing. In fact, to afford a two bedroom apartment in Atlanta, a person would have to work 85 hours a week for 52 weeks a year. So where do the minimum wage laborers live?

This year, an experiment was conducted in Austin, TX. They took a homeless man and bought him a suit and then filmed people's reactions to him when he asked for spare change. They then had him do the same thing in the same area of town in his regular clothing. The results speak for themselves.

The Real Homeless Man Experiment - July 2014

Solving our nation's homeless crisis will not be accomplished by criminalizing homelessness. It will be done by providing them assistance. Helping them with food, shelter, clothing, resume preparation, and job skills training. That will not happen until we begin to look at them as human beings - people - not bums. We will have to bring ourselves to say, "there but by the grace of God go I." Many of us are just a few weeks away from being in their shoes. For the last 5 years, millions of homes have been foreclosed and families have been sent scrambling. Some of slept in cars (illegal in many cities). Some have slept in the floor of a generous individuals apartment. Our local, state, and federal governments will not solve hunger or homelessness in this country. It will only be solved by the compassion of you and I.

I greatly admire those who are pursuing opportunities to actually help solve the homeless problem instead of trying to run people out of their towns. One such group is Mobile Loaves and Fishes and what they are doing with the Community First! project. They have obtained 27 acres outside of Austin, TX and are placing tiny homes, refurbished RVs, along with a central shower and laundry facility. Additionally, they are arranging for dentist, doctors, and therapists to come to the property to provide free services to the residents. 

Community First! Village

Other organizations in other cities are attempting similar solutions. This past week, USA Today ran this article: 

These are the type of solutions that will help turn the tide of homelessness, because they value the individuals and work to restore their dignity and self-esteem.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Stepping Into The Vapor: The Move (Part II)

We woke Sunday eager to see the rental house we had rented via pictures and phone calls, to unpack the truck, to find my suitcase, and begin to settle in to our new home. Kramer and Sadie were ready to quit being in pet crates and to have a backyard. At the same time, I was anxious about what we would find when we returned to the office parking lot where our rental truck was parked. Against their will, Kramer and Sadie were tucked into their pet crates and secured in the back seat of the car, and we drove across town to the office parking lot. I held my breath as we turned the corner into the parking lot. There set the rental truck and my SUV on the trailer behind it totally pristine and unmolested. I felt silly for being concerned. Where was my faith? Perhaps it was all the tension from the moving and upended-ness, but I felt ashamed of myself for allowing worry to overcome me.We said several "Thank You Jesus" prayers, and Kramer and I assumed our positions in the rental truck that we had assumed over the last couple of days and began the short drive to the house following Allison's lead through town.

I hardly had dropped the trailer and backed the truck up the driveway than the guys from the moving company that were unloading us arrived. And right behind them came the realtor with keys. Moving from 1,700 Sq Ft to 1,100 Sq Ft does not sound like a big deal, but we quickly realized a bit more pairing down would be required. The house originally had a one car garage that had been converted into a master bedroom, so my garage contents were going to need a new home. Much to my surprise there was a storage barn in the backyard that was not in the pictures we had seen or the rental listing. That was a huge blessing as I had been expecting to have to purchase and assemble one on top of all the other moving chores. When the truck was almost completely emptied, we found my long lost suitcase that had been packed for the trip!

After 900 miles and two days without clean clothes and my own deodorant - my suitcase! (credit: The Author)

The moving guys were amazing and had the truck completely unpacked in a little over three hours. God Bless those hard working and good natured guys! We filled the rental truck with diesel for the last time, and navigated our way to the closest Penske Rental Center. Fortunately for us, it was within 10 miles of the house. We had barely gotten home when our friends, the Bartons arrived and all six of them dove in helping arrange and unbox. They were amazing! It was like having a small army. Kramer convinced their kids to play ball with him, and he was quickly a happy dog.
Kramer James (credit: The Author)

As is always the case with something during a move, the screws that attach the mirror to the dresser turned up MIA. So, Bill and I found an Ace Hardware and headed over to pickup replacements. As we were just days away from the Fourth of July and our son-in-law is active duty in the U.S. Army, I picked up an American flag for the front of the house. The Bartons surprised us with a house warming gift - a pair of plastic pink flamingos for the front yard. We loved it! Allison and I had committed to embracing all that is Florida - pink flamingos and Hawaiian shirts!
Lil Pink Flamingos For You And Me #EmbraceThePinkFlamingos (credit: The Author)
During the unboxing process, I was summonsed to the guest room, and much to my surprise I discovered to former residents had apparently had a fondness for pink flamingos as well. They had adorned the guest room with a pink flamingo light switch wall plate.

#EmbraceThePinkFlamingos (credit: The Author)

Before the Bartons left, we celebrated the reunion with their family and our move with dinner at the Cracker Barrel just blocks from the house. And you cannot go wrong with a Cracker Barrel that has palm trees out front right? I can almost hear a heavenly chorus sing just looking at it!

Cracker Barrel and Palm Trees (credit: The Author)

We slept soundly the first night in our new home and Sadie and Kramer slept peacefully for the first time since leaving Atlanta.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stepping Into The Vapor: The Move (part I)

When we learned that my office would be closing, my wife and I began praying for wisdom on next steps. We had talked about where we would consider moving if potential jobs required. We both began applying for jobs and the interview process began. For several months, we were both on conference calls and Skype calls. We traveled to Wyoming and Texas for interviews. More than once, God closed a door that we were all but certain was the path to our next steps.

Then in June, my wife, Allison received an attractive offer in St. Petersburg, Florida. I had several potentials in the Tampa/St. Petesburg area but no offers in hand. Her offer had a pretty aggressive timeline, and we knew we had to make a decision and be ready to move quickly if she was to accept the offer. My Dad lives in Lakeland, Florida, so the idea of being closer to him was attractive not to mention we would be within 30 minutes of the beach. And to say the possibility of walking on the beach on a regular basis was not enticing would be a lie. We decided that she would accept the position, we would put the house on the market, and we would make the move to central Florida.

One of my major concerns was ensuring Feed Forsyth could carry on its work to supply food to the food pantries in Forsyth county after my departure. Our operations manager, Ginger Boyll had assumed the day to day operations. And, I had been handling grant writing and public speaking. We met with the board and resigned our positions of leadership while remaining on the board. We remain committed to supporting Feed Forsyth and the pantries in Forsyth county.

Knowing my day job was ending and cycles of layoffs were in process, it did not seem like a big stretch for me to resign and make the move without a new job secured. So, within two weeks, we packed up the house, loaded a Penkse rental truck and headed to Florida. It just so happened that we moving day worked out to be Allison's birthday.

Moving Day June 27, 2014

The trip was an adventure as all moving experiences seem to always be. We stopped at a rest stop south of Macon to walk the dogs, and Allison dropped the bomb on me that she had received a call while we were on the road and our rental house would not be ready for us to move into when we arrived. Peachy! So we would spend two nights in a hotel instead of one as originally planned.

When we arrived at the hotel the first night, I discovered the suitcase I had packed for the trip had inadvertently gotten packed deep in the truck and a suitcase full of winter clothes was in our car. So, clean clothes and my prescriptions were all buried in the truck somewhere. A desperate late night search of the truck in the hotel parking lot proved unfruitful, so I elected to take a shower and put back on my sweaty clothes.

Fortunately, my wife had found us a pet friendly hotel and parking that could accommodate a 26ft truck and trailer. Unfortunately, our two dogs, Sadie and Kramer had a hard time getting settled with the constant sounds of a hotel - doors closing, voices in the hallway, kids running down the hall, etc. So, we slept a couple hours, took the dogs outside for a walk, rinse and repeated for the majority of the night. Knowing our rental house was not going to be ready, we tried with all our might to sleep in late. A girl's softball tournament was in town and a couple teams were staying in the same hotel. When the softball teams got up to head to their tournament, our dogs were wide awake, and they wanted us up as well. I dressed, brushed my teeth and used my wife's deodorant. Ah yes, a nice melon/cucumber scent.

We loaded up and hit the interstate after a complimentary breakfast. Around noon, I found a truckstop and parked near a shaded grassy spot, so we could let the dogs out while one of us grabbed lunch. We ate under the shade of the canopy of live oak trees to the tune of cicadas. I had not heard cicadas since moving to Atlanta, and it gave me an unexpected sense of peace reminding me of earlier chapters in my life. I smiled and thanked God for a bit of peace and a sense of belonging amidst all the turmoil of the move.
Periodical Cicada (photo by Alex Wild)
Learn more about the Cicada at:

We fueled up the truck and got back on the interstate, driving through Tampa and across the bay to St. Petersburg. I have been across Tampa Bay on I-275 several times in my life, and it has never gotten old. Even while driving a 26ft box truck pulling a trailer, I found myself enjoying the view of the bay and the palm trees. I could here a still small voice say "Welcome home."

My wife passed me to guide us to the hotel in St. Petersburg she had found for us that was again pet friendly. Upon arriving, I quickly noticed that the hotel had a tight driveway and small parking lot and there was no room to park the truck. I had to perform my personal version of truck driver ballet to get back out of the parking lot. The front desk clerk suggested parking the truck at a local grocery store. A quick call to our realtor sent us on another adventure to locate the real estate office where we could park the truck for the night. As we pulled into the parking lot, I saw three police cars conducting a vehicle stop one block away. I found it unsettling knowing I would be 3 miles away from everything we owned for the next 8 hours. So, we prayed for protection, peace, provision, and rest.

When we returned to the hotel and checked into our room, I discovered Allison had booked us a room with a jacuzzi tub. I still was without my suitcase and clean clothes, but at least I could soak sore muscles. We found a Chinese restaurant that did delivery and made camp. The dogs were still not completely comfortable with the noises of a hotel, but we managed to get some sleep. It was a huge improvement over Friday night.

We woke Sunday morning eager to see our rental house and get the truck unloaded.
(to be continued...)