“Would you look at that?”, said ‘Christian’ Dave. “King of the Ant Pile” Berney is back in line for his second plate even though they just told us no seconds yet till everyone has had a chance to eat. That guy really thinks he’s special and rules don’t apply to him.”
NASA Henry nodded, “I guess when you’re spending your whole life here you think you can do whatever you want. You’ve made it your home, so why should you listen to what others in charge tell you? He’s been here for ten years or more everyone says.”
‘NASA’ Henry sat beside Christian Dave and across from Admiral Nano at a dirty table inside the warehouse, a terrible place. They watched as Berney was given more by the church volunteers even as others in line complained about it. The commotion drew the attention of the staff that ran the shelter and soon the King of the Ant Pile was back out of line, without a plate of food, which he didn’t like. In the process, three others were removed for the same reason. Things settled down, which would probably last a minute till the next trouble started somewhere else for some other reason.
“I’m getting sick of bums like that”, said Christian. “He thinks he’s immune to consequences.”
“He pretty much is. He’s been here so long, the staff doesn’t even discipline him anymore. I’ve never seen him kicked out for three days or more and he causes trouble all the time.” NASA shook his head as he looked at his own empty plate. The burger that had been served was made of a small bun, a slice of cheese and a small beef patty. A handful of chips and a glass of water added to it constituted todays’ supper. NASA was much hungrier than that.
“If they’d bring in more food”, said Christian, as if reading NASA’s mind, “people would be less aggressive about getting in line for seconds before others had their first plate of food.”
NASA reminded Christian and Nano, “Ah, but remember, we’re lucky to get anything. That’s what staff tells us right? If it weren’t for the churches, we starve. We should be grateful to be fed.”
“Right”, said Christian Dave. “if it weren’t for the churches we’d be in real trouble. Too bad they can’t help us get out of here. I’d like a real job, not one from a temp service at minimum wage. If I had a decent job, I’d be able to have my own place and eat what I wanted. Too bad they can’t help us find a job.”
NASA, “Well, if they did that, then there would be less homeless people. If there were less people at the shelter, they couldn’t ask for as much federal grant money for the programs they say they have here to help us, which of course is BS.”
As NASA Henry, Christian Dave and Admiral Nano watched the line, more homeless came in to eat for their first time. Not so far away, King of the Ant Pile Berney looked unhappy. He was a late middle-aged man with shabby clothes. His main claim to fame was having been here a long time. He thought of himself as knowing everything about anything and in particular anything about the shelter, how it worked and each and every member of the regular staff. He made like he was everyone’s friend, but that was while he was hustling cigarettes, drugs, playing loan shark, and other cons and cheats. He was in fact an egomaniac with delusions of grandeur. King of the Ant Pile thought of himself as indispensable to the successful running and management of the shelter while the truth was he was just one of many residents. He often bragged about how much he knew and how without him, the staff wouldn’t know what to do or be able to do many of it’s chores to take care of the homeless.
King of the Ant Hill was a womanizer, in addition to being a liar and rogue. No one could count how many women he attempted to charm or was willing to kiss on the mouth or lie to for them to hear what they wanted to hear. It was pretty clear since he never left the hill, rarely that is, that he planned to live and die at the shelter, his home. Here, he had no responsibility despite his claims otherwise. If there had of been any permanent responsibility given him, it would only be a short time till he chose not to fulfill it. Rumor had it he knew something about martial arts. But it wasn’t likely. That was based on was his own hype. That he was a drunk and a drug user was obvious, though he vehemently refuted still doing drugs. People continued to come in to eat. Berney was thoroughly disgusted with not having been able to bull his way into a line to cheat a second meal before others had any. He gave up and went to his cot to bed down.
Nano thought about what he had heard Henry and Dave say. He’d been here at the shelter in Aurora, IL for some time now and while he couldn’t say he had seen it all, he’d seen a lot. He had observed a catch-22 between the aid the churches gave and the result of them giving aid to so many. This dichotomy was unfortunate, especially since the churches it involved seemed totally unaware of it. The nature of it revolved largely around the resources that were consumed by the shelter in order to take care of the homeless ‘guests’. It was the churches without which the shelter would not be able to operate or be funded adequately. The churches had teams of volunteers who would come to the shelter during the day, evening and at night to a lesser degree, in order to help run the shelter and provide the man power it took to keep it going. Additionally, they spent a part of the churches budget doing support for the shelter, mostly centered around the cost of food. But no doubt, some was donated to be used as the shelter saw fit. They also gathered clothes, helped sponsor fund raisers, collect clothes to give the poor and all manner of things. For this Nano thought highly of them.
What was interesting is that for all those thousands of hours spent collectively by the churches and most likely tens of thousands of dollars per month, the churches were in many ways their own worst enemies. The more help they gave out, the larger the shelter had become over time. With more money, beds, food, clothing, etc, came more homeless to take advantage of it. Did the churches consider that the basic foundational philosophy of the shelter which was to provide help to any and all who came here was a largely self-defeating philosophy? Most of the people at the shelter had created their own problems which led directly to them being here. For many like King of the Ant Hill, he had no intention of moving on in life or being productive. He was happy to live off the generosity of the church, ducking responsibility for himself the rest of his somewhat unnatural life. While it was within the shelters’ founding church philosophy to feed, house and cloth this full grown, well aged, physically able man, it was also ridiculous to do so. Every resource he consumed could have gone to someone else wanting to move out of the shelter and become ‘normal’ again.
It was a waste of money, time and resources to not be solving homeless, but be promoting it. It takes a well designed system to help a man who comes to the shelter find his way back out into society. That is a good use of resources. Helping someone regain his life, return to self-dependence, self-esteem, become a taxpaying supporter of the country, was a good thing for the nation. Indefinitely supporting lazy people who had no ambitions or desires to move but intent on selfishly using as many resources as they could made no sense to Nano. There was not enough money to help people back into society and let people live indefinitely at the Aurora shelter.
The churches were good at feeding the poor and homeless, but they were bad at helping people leave the shelter. The shelter had become an easy place to come to, but a very hard place to leave. The shelter actually enabled dependencies like alcoholism and drug use. If you needed a bus pass for a job interview, it was hard to get and sometimes not available. If you wanted transportation to go look for a job, it wasn’t available. If you wanted to be on the Internet at the shelter to look for a job online, it was unavailable. If you needed a bike to go look for a job, it was for others who had jobs. Then again, most of the ‘guests’ with bikes weren’t looking for jobs or had them. They had lied to get a bike, or quit the job they’d had to get them. Or stolen the bike from someone else. If you wanted to leverage your own time spent looking for work with someone at the shelter who had connections with companies needing employees, well, there was no one on the shelters’ staff who was doing that. The closest to that was a woman showing people how to create simple resumes.
If you were looking for a job while a guest of the shelter, you were in a quandary. It either needed to be a job along a bus route or in walking distance. If not then you weren’t realistically going to be able to go to work there. If you were willing to work second or third shift, you were out of opportunity to do so, since there was an early curfew at the shelter. Even if you got permission to come in late from work, you’d be missing a meal. More importantly, you’d be missing your only opportunity to sleep a decent length of time. You’d find yourself sleep deprived and suffering it at work to the consternation of your employer. The churches provided no transportation in a van for those who might find work away from such a bus route or farther than one could walk. Many of the ‘guests’ were antisocial, untrustworthy, abusive, anti-authoritative types who would scheme to abuse such well-intended help. That doesn’t logically excuse a charity or their supporters from trying to provide job help or support. It means that any such system has to be well monitored for abuse, preferable with someone or group that knows most of the homeless individually and can make common sense decisions based on good guidelines so that the resources are not being wasted, but used as intended by those that have proven they are serious about moving on and getting out of the shelter back to real life.
Nano found his mind going down many paths that had to do with this kind of thinking. It was a complex problem. Was it that it had been thought of before by the churches or the shelter, but rejected as not worth the trouble? Was it not worth trouble to help people get out of the shelter successfully? It seemed to Nano that for every one person who made it out, it would be worth it to put up with ten people abusing it like King of the Ant Hill. Church volunteers were selectively blind. Whatever the answer, it was strange to Nano to see so many wanting work, but with no way to find it, no help in finding it, no way to get to work if you found it inconveniently placed, or many other worthy points like helping those with mental disorders, learning disabilities, etc. Merely keeping the status quo of homelessness instead of trying to be rid of it to some degree was itself a kind of insanity of the staff and churches. Mankind had strange priorities for the poor and downtrodden.