Jan 212012

Good morning everyone and Happy Saturday once again! Winter has finally arrived here in Chicago, blanketing the city in several inches of the white stuff and reigniting our annual dibs tradition. I’m going to be honest here and say outright I’m not a fan of the cold and snow, as I would rather broil than freeze. Plus, we’re pretty notorious for that “rip your face off!” wind chills, which would have some people assuming as a native, I’d be more used to it than I am. Nope! Mostly, it’s due to my feet; once my feet get cold, my day is completely ruined. I cannot warm up without taking a scalding hot shower, dealing with a shiver that will not go away, and that hot shower will not happen during my workaday schedule. Dad used to make fun of me by calling me cold-blooded, and sometimes, I think perhaps he wasn’t all that far off the mark. Could it be I’m more reptilian in nature than most? RAWR!

Are you like me and don’t fare well in colder climates? How do you handle it? I’m well-versed in the skills of layering up and plugging up the gaps in the window panes with silicone and anything lying around – adhered with duct tape. (That plastic stuff you use a hair dryer on? Naw, our cat tears right through that with a few indignant swats!) It’s no surprise then I find myself longing for summer: Camping, picnics, driving with the windows down and cute sandals. I will say though, little things like my comfort factor have me appreciating what I have that much more, even if we’re not all that well off than many others.

I think of those folks scraping by at this time of year, propping open the oven and flipping on all the burners just to add a little extra heat. Been there, done that, and without much thought behind the resulting insane gas bills. “They can’t turn off the gas until Spring!” is the reasoning, kicking the can further down the road. But what about the people who don’t even have that luxury? Some folks had their gas shut off last year (or the year before!), and now they’re taking the next step, becoming reliant on several space heaters, jacking up the electric bill. And what of those who already used up that? I remember running a kerosene heater in our apartment as a kid, having to crack open a window periodically to let the carbon monoxide escape and shutting it off at night while we slept beneath several layers of blankets.

But what of the folks who don’t even have a home as a luxury? Huddling around a kerosene heater, wrapped in the aforementioned layers, doesn’t sound all that bad. Sometimes, you can tell who’s homeless from a mile away, but there are others who are pretty hard to distinguish. Homeless people aren’t all “dirty bums sleeping on the sidewalk”; many look just like you and me, many times with their families in tow. They live in seedy motel rooms week to week. They couch surf from one place to another until their welcomes are worn out. They sleep in their cars, using public facilities to clean up. They go “camping” for several weeks at a time. And they ride the trains all night, switching at platforms so as not to get kicked out of the stations. I’ve been through varying degrees of homelessness throughout my life, so when I say “I get it”, I really do mean it.

Many of our vets are in varying degrees of homelessness, and I have actually heard some people say,
“Why didn’t they re-up or get a job?” as an easy answer to a complex issue. That answer only applies to those who have a network to fall back on and the mental/physical capacity to move on. What about all the other vets who don’t have that going for them, also known as luck? When I hear those types of comments, it makes me both disgusted and befuddled. Talk about your privilege showing! And when I hear comments like that, when a “warm day” is in double digits, and those same people have the privilege of being in a warm home sipping something hot and comforting, it tells me they really don’t have a soul – or a clue.

As an optimist, I’m going with the latter, that they just don’t know any better and perhaps need to be smacked with a clue-by-four. Okay, so there are options out there, such as the VA’s hotline (toll-free: 1-877-424-3838). And there are shelters, both for individuals as well as for whole families. And, many vets have kept in touch with friends and family willing to help until they can find their way. But again, these answers do not solve the underlying problem of homelessness. While there are some who say they prefer to be homeless than having to live and work like the rest of us, I can’t possibly believe the majority of homeless vets, which account for 15% of the homeless population, choose to “be bums”. And 15% of 23,000 vets counted means surely some of them are our Warriors from our Community.

So what is the answer then, especially now that it’s absolutely frigid outside? More shelters? More targeted jobs? More healthcare? More workshops and networking? More praying? I say it’s all of the above and then some. But the job is so big – what can we do? I was asked once at a job interview,

“How do you eat an elephant?” and my simple response was,
“One bite at a time – with a little seasoning.”

Besides the obvious and direct way by volunteering at a VA hospital, perhaps for counseling or honing job skills, if we’re employers, we can opt to give a vet with few civilian skills a crack at a basic position. If you’re concerned he or she won’t work out, start them off with jobs that won’t take too much time out of your day training them, like filing or basic janitorial work. (Let’s face it, no one likes [re]training!) When I started as a receptionist at a law firm, I was asked to go to court one day and see how I do. And guess what? I did so well at it I ended up becoming their paralegal and worked there for nearly seven years. Someone gave me a chance. When I applied for college, I didn’t pass their ACT requirements (my advanced math always sucked, even though I’m great at crunching numbers!), but they accepted me anyway, as I had seventeen letters of recommendation. Someone gave me a chance. And when I had no formal writing skills, I still managed to score several paid writing gigs, interviewing some of my favorite bands and fulfilling one of my several life goals. Why? Because someone gave me a chance there, too.

I have a Rawk Stah resume, but I didn’t write it all by myself; I had lots of people help me! If you’re good at writing resumes, perhaps you wouldn’t mind doing a freebie side project or two and helping a vet have a nice resume, maybe even going the extra mile and giving him or her a nice outfit you don’t care for anymore. And, after writing the resume, bless it and teach him or her how to handle an interview. At the window washing company, I have seen so many people coming in who obviously had no clue as to how to fill out an application, dress or present themselves, and it really saddened me. Our guys are blue collar workers, so we don’t expect them to come in wearing a suit and tie, but when I see grown men who struggle to fill out a basic application, similar to the types you can buy at an office supply store, I wonder why. Not being snarky here but rather frank and concerned: Didn’t anyone teach these guys?

If you know of a vet who is homeless and wants to dig themselves out, they may need even more than a chance, a resume and some clothes. They may very well need an address and phone number, and perhaps even a state ID and social security card. Hardly anyone is going to hire someone on the spot anymore, and even day labor companies need those basics. Everyone knows someone going through a hard time, and those of us who believe in Karma know very well how even a small extension of our time will come right back to us. Set them up online for an email account and voicemail retrieval number (they’ll need that on their resumes anyway) so they can check on their messages at the library. And, if you’re okay with someone stopping by periodically and don’t mind going the extra mile, accept their incoming mail until they secure their own place. Sure, you can always get a “street address” from private mail box companies, but they cost money.

And of course, we can always put in some time at a soup kitchen and donate clothes. If you’re donating non-perishable food for the homeless, keep in mind they may not have a lot of access to food prep stations, so try to keep your items toward the processed/ready to eat side. I know, it’s not the best food, and some of us wouldn’t even call it food at all, but when someone is truly hungry, a can of ringed pasta is better than nothing. Think cheap, quick and basic! When they get their own kitchens, even if it’s at a tent city, we can work on better quality food preparation. (Oh and too, if you’re donating to a tent city, they’re also in great demand for firewood!)

On that notion, here is yet another way our Clip for the Troops campaign helps! As I’ve said, when you’re clipping away, I don’t expect you to send me every coupon in the paper. (Tomorrow’s paper will have two inserts by the way!) Keep what you can use and send me the rest. This includes retaining coupons for that aforementioned canned, ringed pasta and buying some of that up when it goes on sale and donating it to your local food pantry. I know for some of us who are lucky enough to have those double coupon stores, that can mean (nearly) free donations! And, if you have the capacity, you can even go the extra mile and start your own food pantry, perhaps with handouts on how to move on to the next level. Start with your friends, family and coven members, then spiral outward. If you go to that length, cheerfully accept coupons in addition to everything else so you can keep building up your donations. We all give at the Pagan Pride events, and many of us are also very charitable around the holidays. But what about the rest of the year, especially now that it’s so bitterly cold?

Just thought I’d put out some more ideas into your heads on this super chilly day. Stay warm, help where you can, and pray to your Gods and Goddesses that even one vet will find their way today.

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