I like to tell the story of the man who showed up at the cold weather shelter one night in need of pants. He had very recently lost his home, and he carried just a few changes of clothes and minimal personal belongings in a single bag. That very day, however, he had been offered a job at a local restaurant. He could start working just as soon as he came up with the required uniform–rubber-soled shoes and navy blue pants.
It seemed a simple enough task but, being months out of work and having exhausted any savings he once had, the reality was impossible. By the time he approached Micah’s shelter staff with his challenge, he had begun to accept defeat.
You see, this man wore a size 54 pants. Micah has always kept a healthy clothing closet, maintained through hundreds of pounds in donations from the community each year. But as murphy’s law would have it, no one ever donates the size or the kind of clothing at the exact moment that a person needs it.
At that time in Micah’s history, when making payroll and paying the light bill on time was about as much as we could guarantee, the lack of an item in our clothing stock could have been a tragic setback. But on this particular night, we were blessed by a clever group of volunteers who took it upon themselves to scour the discount stores and spend their own money to buy this man what he needed to show up on his first day of work. After a few weeks on the job, the man received his first paycheck, moved out of our shelter and has been housed ever since.
Sometimes, ending homelessness is just that simple.
On another occasion, an intellectually disabled mom with a young child was about to spend their first night on the street. The mother had allowed another homeless man to manage her social security check, and he had promptly disappeared with it on payday. They were out of time at the local shelter, and that measly $700 had been their lifeline to sustain a motel room for the next 30 days.
With the help of a church partner, Micah kept the small family in a motel for the two weeks it took for staff to muddle through the complexities. An apartment complex took them in on the promise of payment with the next month’s check; a staff person came out of pocket for the $28 application fee; and we knocked on every thrift store door in town to eventually furnish the place.
Five years later, this family remains in housing. Mom has learned enough about budgeting that she manages her own check. And their biggest problem is homework and bedtime.
Ending homelessness is not always that easy. But it is always the little things that add up to ultimate goal of stable housing.
Filling someone’s prescription means keeping someone well enough that they can make good decisions. Paying for someone taxi ride can decide whether someone gets to work on time or loses their job. Buying a bus ticket is a choice between leaving someone homeless on our streets or reconnecting them with family who will take them in somewhere else. Funds to buy work-appropriate clothing, pay for a GED test, or cover the cost of an identification card are employment stepping stones. And nobody gets into housing without cash on hand for application fees, rent and security deposit.
Homelessness often seems so un-manageable, so confusing and so expensive. Indeed, a person who lands there must work five times as hard to recover from it as they did to end up there. But just as we explain to those reaching for the top of that deep, dark, lonely hole: you cannot eat an elephant more than one bite at a time; a journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step; and a little bit means a lot when you are trying to change lives.