On Housing and Advocacy

Something really troubling is happening. In big cities and small towns, nearly every apartment property is rushing to build bigger, better units. A good thing, right? Well yes, except that both the quality and quanity of “affordable” housing is shrinking to near nonexistence. Where then are the workaday folks, like myself, supposed to reside?

A couple of things have me pondering this a lot this week. I will talk about them both in some detail, as they are related but different issues.

First, I’m reading an interesting memoir? sort of book called The Stranger in My Recliner, by Doreen McGettigan. In this story, McGettigan’s husband arrives at their home with an 80-year-old woman named Sophie who has apparently been residing on the streets for some time. Sophie has no teeth, is not clean, and seems to have a battery of other issues to go along with this.

McGettigan’s initial hope is to take her in for a few weeks, until some other form of housing or at least someone in Sophie’s family can be located. However, this search turns into a two-year odyssey, the end of which I still don’t know as my reading is in progress.

I think that every community has a “Sophie”. I’ve met someone like this, or at least who freely acknowledged that she might well end up in that position soon enough. This individual was in her early sixties, and just barely hanging on in a low-rent apartment with meager payments from her children for helping with babysitting. As with Sophie, this person alleges that her family might react the same way.

“If I fel through the cracks someday, I don’t really know if they would even care,” she told me. That is sad, and this sort of thing makes me feel fortunate for my own folks, who wouldn’t let that happen to me. Well that assuming that my pride didn’t get in the way of admitting that I was having significant financial or other difficulties, which is probably another issue entirely.

Anyway, I like also that McGettigan really writes a hard-hitting assessment of herself and how she worked with Sophie, confronting the fact that she wasn’t always a saint towards this woman. She often wondered why Sophie had gotten herself into such a position and why she seemed reluctant to do much about it. I think these thoughts are just realistic.

The person I knew was one of the most caring individuals I ever met, and I was never overtly mean to her. But sometimes, when she got to talking, and talking, and talking talking talking, I would just have to zone out! If she happened to see me in what I guess was her favorite hangout, the Starbucks on the corner of Chapel Hill’s (North Carolina) Franklin Street, well I could pretty much forget the reading I had planned to do.

Even so, she helped me and nearly anyone else she encountered on the streets to connect to a service whose intention it is to assist people in avoiding homelessness, a mission that McGettigan correctly points out is very low on the radar of government and even many of the organizations that should be doing such work. These folks are excellent at what they do too. I was never actually homeless or anywhere close to it really, but their student advocates, and one young woman in particular, worked with me to learn interview skills, how to navigate to what I had hoped would be a volunteer opportunity’s site (sadly had to give that up because my nonexistent income post grad school 1 failure meant I had to return home,) and tapped me into a number of other significant networks.

And if you’re on the lower end of the income scale, you quickly discover how important constant advocacy is. Property managers or others in the business of running apartment complexes assume that most of us don’t have much of a voice or are unwilling to really use it, as has just happened to me.

Well ok, I’ll concede that some of this was due to the fact that I hadn’t exactly put in a two-month notice as my lease was due to expire in June, so I suppose they were within their right to assume I was planning to move. So, they had put in a notice of their own that they would begin renovating this unit in the middle of July, and I was to be out by the 4th of that month.

My primary reason for delaying on the notice is uncertainty about what my situation will be by the middle of June. I had hoped therefore that they would put me onto some sort of month-to-month plan. Before capitulating to the renovation outcome though, I was coaxed into going to the office to notify them of my needed flexibility and to request a stay until the 31st of August, or at least until the end of July. And surprise, not only did I get that stay, but also I will be allowed to renew my lease later if that proves necessary.

I’m sure once they do renovate this spot that the price will climb dramatically, again emblematic of the issues that low-income persons will have to deal with. The prospect of relocation concerned me, because most of the apartments that were within range were either in really bad parts of town, or probably crumbling due to neglect. I’m not even sure there is a national or local policy to ensure that everything doesn’t just soar out of reach of all but the upper middle class or higher. Nor do I know what to do about it, other than to put it on people’s radar. I think the best thing we can all do, as I am finally, fortunately starting to learn, is to speak up! Remember that we as tenants have rights too, and sometimes just pointing things out to people or explaining the depth of our issue can affect positive change.

RELATED: #BADD2014: Housing For All

Closeness Through Strangeness: My Mother’s Day oddity

Relationships, and particularly those of the romantic variety, are built on small things. The feel of a familiar embrace. Conversations about any and everything that last deep into the night. And that slow entwining of family and friends that inevitably occurs as traditions are continually constructed. Already, we mark our second Mother’s Day together, as well as having celebrated Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the presence of each other and our loved ones.

While these of course breed connection, perhaps the most fundamental tie that binds is found through adversity. food poisoning, anyone? Not all adversity need be that serious, of course. Some, like this most recent incident, can actually provide a great source of amusement, as well as a story that will be told for years.

It should be mentioned that on Saturday, we had trucked to Fayetteville and a chain restaurant called Logan’s Roadhouse to have dinner with her parents. Three hours of chatter and good food, including a delicious cake from a place called Nothing Bundt Cakes in Morrisville that drew attention from most everyone in the place because of its distinct decorations. The server wanted a piece for herself as well. This gathering was convened not only to acknowledge Mother’s Day, but also to celebrate the birthdays of one of her sisters, and one of that sister’s children. Their birthdays all fall in an amusing pattern, much like those in my own family.

Anyway, given that neither of us are morning people, it shouldn’t have been too surprising that we weren’t exactly at our sharpest on Sunday as we prepared for another ride, this to Southern Pines to attend my mom’s church. At least,… well you’ll see.

With the McDonald’s sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit sloshing around in my belly, I fight valiantly to remain awake as we zip down the highway under the direction of her trusty GPS-enabled phone. Music blares, wind blows, and I try a couple of times, largely unsuccessfully, to pound through some of my text for this grad school class. I finally do give in though and rest my head luxuriously against that headrest as she attempts to hang on so we will arrive in one piece.

Finally, we swing onto the appropriate street, where she immediately states “ah ok, I see the church.” We thus discontinue the guidance and glide in, making sure to shut down (ah who am I kidding, mute,) our cell phones. Who shuts them all the way down anymore anyway?

We approach the building, and the first sign shows itself. “Hmmm,” she says: “I don’t remember all of these stairs.” So we head for a different entrance, this one strikes me as unusual because the door has to be shut manually.

The service is supposed to start at 10:30, only it is already that time and the sanctuary is mockingly empty. Finally, someone comes by with a program that states that the actual start time is 11. “ok? Pretty sure mom said 10:15/10:30 when I last called, but who knows. I guess a lot could have changed in a year.”

Eventually people start trickling in. “Hi there,” they greet cheerfully while pumping my hand. “Who are you here with?” I state my mom’s name, and they stare back blankly. Alrighty, this is definitely getting strange. But… maybe I’m just not all here or something.

Finally, the service commences. If you have attended any church regularly, you probably know its basic format. And this definitely doesn’t seem to be meshing with what I remember. At this point, I am inclined to lean into her and ask “Are we even in the right place?” “I don’t see how we couldn’t be,” she replies. No mom, hard instead of cushioned pews, and an unfolding service that I definitely don’t recognize make me not so sure./p>

Time for announcements. Now I will find out for certain. “Here at Trinity, (A.M.E. Zion)” she says. “uh-oh,” I whisper: “We’re supposed to be at First Missionary Baptist.” “Well this definitely ain’t that,” she says. “Too late to do anything about it now, we can’t just walk out of here midservice.”

I suppose this is largely my doing, or at the least it demonstrates how effectively one must communicate to avoid such silliness. I had told her the address without actually giving her the church’s name. She had attended last year, but so many elements about this building appeared similar to those of my mom’s church that neither of us picked up on the myriad differences until it was too late. And of course, it’s not like I as a blind person could actually see it anyway. So, we just sat through that service indeed. Fortunately for us, it was short enough to get out of there and over to First Missionary before its service had concluded.

We laughed about this while enjoying another dinner, this time at Golden Corral with my mom, dad, and one of my nieces and a nephew. Everything is alright when one dives into some meatloaf, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, green beans, and delicious chocolate cake.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I assert that these sorts of things happen to me specifically so that I will have material to write about. Stick around for our next great adventure, whatever that happens to be.

#FridayReads : Buckle Up for John Paul Stapp

Oh, it’s Sunday? Well nobody told me! I had meant to attempt this book review on Friday, but got sidetracked. It’s been a busy, entertaining weekend in which I visited my girlfriend’s and my own mother (Happy Mother’s Day to all whom it applies!)

As I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on Amazon, I feel inspired to get my weekly entry in. I’m enjoying the soundtrack as well, had been wondering for some time what the fuss about it was.

Anyway, on to the book about which I want to talk. The actual title, by Craig Ryan, is Sonic Wind: the story of John Paul Stapp and how a renegade doctor became the fastest man on Earth. I would argue though that this title is inaccurate, as much of the story is about Stap’s testing, using a rocket sled, and his work to establish that people could withstand much more force if properly restrained.

It starts with his humble beginnings in Brazil. Born to missionary parents and with a couple of brothers, John Paul quickly decides that he wishes to return to the US for education and such by the time he prepares to attend college. A number of twists and turns land him in the military, from which he never really emerges.

His tests with rocket-powered ground vehicles early in the 50s, reaching speeds of up to 230 miles per hour, show that people are more likely to survive crashes if they are rear-facing when impact occurs. In doing these tests, he sustains some temporary injuries but is for the most part ok.

Over time, his ideas become so progressive that even some of his most loyal peers try to get him to pull back from them. They culminate with his traveling in a vehicle that zips along at nearly 1000 miles per hour, slamming to a stop in a few seconds and almost literally popping his eyes out. It’s pretty dramatic stuff.

What made this book interesting to me is the realization that this one individual had, in many ways, been responsible for the safety features that we now take for granted. In those early, harrowing days of air travel, planes were falling from the sky at an alarming rate. And I guess people weren’t even required to wear lap belts initially, thus, Stapp contends, unnecessarily killing many.

Worse though were the increase in automobile fatalities. Through 1960, the number of those killed in car accidents quickly rose to second of all categories within the U.S. Stapp looked at other countries such as Sweden, where seatbelts were worn at a much higher percentage, and argued vehemently with car manufacturers that these should be standard equipment. Of course not only did he have to convince these makers, who didn’t really want to deal with the extra cost for something that people might not readily embrace, but also the general public needed convincing of its utility.

I haven’t actually finished the book, but I would suppose that he is eventually successful in lobbying for federal regulations since we now wear the things all the time. The thing I like most about this nonfiction piece is its example of how one person can, if he or she really wants to and is willing to walk that line between safety and danger on occasion, make real changes in the world. I think we as individuals can sometimes have a hard time believing that this is indeed possible.

When I started this book, I was kind of disappointed that it wasn’t as much about someone whizzing through the air as I had thought it would be. However, there is some of that kind of action as well later on, as he sends colleagues into the stratosphere on high-altitude ballooning runs. That might be fun to try one day.

RELATED: Alan Eustace: I leapt from the stratosphere. Here’s how I did it | TED Talk
This sort of reading is why I now have a policy of reading at least one nonfiction work out of every five. I typically get more into stuff that has a plot and all that, but sometimes there is much to be learned, knowledge gained, and inspiration had from examining other lives as they actually played out.

Have you read anything of interest lately? Particularly, though not exclusively, of the nonfiction variety.