This blogpost was initially breathed into life as a comment related to what my friend TWC said in a Facebook post about people who fall through the cracks. The story is too long, so I share it here instead.
Last year we hired a guy for the shipping department who, after working here for a few months, ended up finding himself suddenly homeless (and without a car, either, though we later learned that was because of a DWI). When he inquired about getting some help for temporary shelter, he was told he’d have to go to an agency to fill out a form and then have to wait to see a counselor. Well the walk to the agency is about an hour and a half in each direction and with an open-ended wait for the counselor, he’d have to take a day off from work. Except he was a probationary employee, so he couldn’t take off from work because a) he desperately needed the full time paycheck and b) he was on probation and even excused absences had an effect on his future employment. The next day we come to work to find out that Bob slept in the woods out behind our workplace. Apparently he didn’t know how to recognize poison ivy – his arms were covered with pustules from the reaction. I cut my lunch short that day so I could run to the pharmacy and get him some Benedryl for relief. The production manager ran home and got his tent and some blankets for Bob. One guy came all the way back to work after dinner that evening with some hot food, a lantern, and a Bible (Bob was very religious, probably from his AA meetings). I brought my sleeping bag and my son’s bedroll to work with me the next day and offered them to Bob. Anyway, he lived out back for about 3 weeks until his luck changed. Unfortunately, not for the better. He had saved (and borrowed) enough to put the security deposit and one month’s rent down on a small efficiency apartment not too far from work. About a week before he moved in, and feeling pretty good about getting his life back on track, he decided to hit OTB (apparently alcohol wasn’t his only vice). He lost it all, or at least enough of it that he decided to go on a serious bender, and he got so drunk that he tried to get into the workplace that morning at 3AM. He set off the security alarm and both the president of the company and the police were called. Bob was too drunk to speak coherently, but Walther, whom I had never seen display an ounce of compassion (his management style was to berate, belittle and attack), hands the cop a few hundred dollars and asks the cop to get Bob a safe place to sleep it off. We never saw Bob again. Well, that’s not totally true – he returned to the tent out back at some point, but he never returned to work. He had never called in after the incident, and I think if he had, and apologized, he’d have been given another chance. But he never called. We had a fairly mild winter on Long Island, without any major cold snaps, but I’m sure there were some long nights. I have to be honest, I only thought about him a few times that whole winter. Out of sight, out of mind. Maybe there was more we could have done. Maybe he didn’t deserve our kindness. Maybe you do for your fellow man and leave the judgment to a higher power. In the end, spring rolled around, the tent was still in the woods and Bob was gone. I retrieved my sleeping bag and the bedroll I had figured I’d never see again.