Signs of Grief

I have a friend, Holly White, who has a PhD in spiritual matters. (I’m sorry I can’t recall your exact area of study, Holly. I just don’t have the energy right now to ask anybody.)

She and my wife, Rocky, were talking about how I seem to be experiencing symptoms of grief. Holly is well versed in this area. She works at a hospital in Boston helping people with their spiritual needs.

This page, Why Experts Talk About Symptoms, Not Stages, of Grief, does a nice job of listing some of these symptoms.

Here are some symptoms I seem to be presenting:

  • Headaches and stomach aches
  • Deep sighing
  • Feeling weak
  • Energized: feeling strong/invincible
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-destructive thoughts
  • Feeling lost and empty
  • Feeling abandoned or punished by God
  • Feeling spiritually connected to God

This experience is interesting because I can sometimes feel one way one minute and then the complete opposite the next minute.

“God’s with me. God’s abandoned me.”

“I feel really energized. I feel really weak.”

2019 has been a year of near total deconstruction for all my work. Not one thing I did to help homeless people was taken to heart by either the city of Akron administration or our homeless service providers, the Continuum of Care.

I came in as an entrepreneur and innovator and all they took from the ideas we created were to completely dismantle it and destroy it… and never mention it again.

I am an entrepreneur. I am a creator. I build things out of nothing. This is celebrated in the world of business and the free market. But in the world of bureaucracy it is a disease that must be eradicated.

We are in the process of selling our building at 15 Broad Street.

All signs indicate that my journey on the path of life does not need this building. Renovating cheap houses as transitional homes for homeless people is really where I need to focus my attention. This idea has legs.

But I love that building. I love what it represents. It is zoned Class B. That means you can have businesses in it. Zoning doesn’t allow that to happen on any interesting scale in a house.

I am a creator. 15 Broad Street is built for innovation and creation.

It’s just one more thing being taken from me.

Even if it’s supposed to be this way, it still cuts deep.

(As I write this and process these thoughts and feelings, I get heavier, sleepier, depressed. It feels like I can’t write any more.)

Fortunately, things change. Things look up. There is hope right around the corner. I just have to sit here in my comfy recliner with my dog Claribel, or go to my comfy office and work on my fancy computer. Maybe I’ll go out to lunch to make myself feel better. Maybe I won’t go into work at all. Maybe I’ll take a nap on my sectional couch or my fluffy bed. I have options. Many options.

I am surrounded in a warm tub of hope and hopefulness. I just have to wait for it to show up in one of its endless forms that I have the good fortune of having available to me.

I have all my basic needs met. People love me. I’m doing some of the most meaningful work a person could hope to do.

But that’s not how it is for many people in Akron Ohio. We live in a city where poverty abounds and those poor people are judged for not working hard enough or getting a good enough education or not being able to kick a habit.

I can barely get out of my chair right now to pour myself another cup of tea. And tens of thousands of people in Akron Ohio are living below the poverty line all while being looked down on and judged by wealthy people and disdained by their government. They are unwanted. And they know it.

You know exactly how I’m feeling right this minute. You’ve felt exactly the way I’m feeling right now. I’d be very surprised if you weren’t nodding along as I described my current mental state.

You know the debilitating nature of depression.

Yet, turn your mind towards homeless people and many of you immediately lose all sense of understanding and empathy.

“Trash piles up all around where ever homeless people camp.”

“There are needles everywhere.”

“They smell.”

“They poop and pee right on the sidewalk.”

And then the government jumps on the chorus…

“Homeless camps are a health risk.”

“Homeless camps breed disease.”

“There are rats all around homeless camps.”

“Health and safety are our first priority.”


“Well, we can’t do that, Sage. It will just encourage them and make their lives too comfortable.”

I’m depressed because all my work has been taken from me. But I’m surrounded by everything I need to dust myself off and get back on that horse.

A homeless person has lost everything, including their most basic needs of food, water, shelter, warmth and safety (just as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes). AND they are ridiculed and judged and seen as a “nuisance” that must be eradicated. (It’s the head of our nuisance department that comes out to endlessly shut down homeless camps while providing no solutions or alternatives as to where they are supposed to go in the 7 days they give them to vacate.)

How the hell do you think these people can focus on anything other than fundamental survival skills with that kind of headwind?

This is madness.

We take the poorest and weakest among us, tell them we hate them (we treat them like unwanted pests), take away their tents and food and water and then scorn them because they won’t shape up and “use the services provided for them.”

I don’t understand how normal, decently educated, adequately intelligent people that run our city and run our homeless services can think any of this makes sense or, further, believe the homeless people in their community are behaving in any other way than the way they are currently behaving.

OF COURSE, they are not going to call homeless services (especially when they don’t have access to a phone). OF COURSE they are going to just move to another camp where they hope and pray they will be left alone by the nuisance inspector. OF COURSE they are going to continue to use drugs because it’s the only time they feel any peace in their lives. OF COURSE they are going to steal metal and copper because it’s the only way they can think about making money right now.

These people are in complete and total survival mode all while being judged by people that drive fancy cars, live in fancy houses and have fancy jobs. How the hell do you think YOU would feel?

Their lives are completely destroyed AND no one wants them around. They are hated and judged and scorned.

How do we ever expect any of them to get up and move forward under those conditions?

Many of us like to think we could do it. I’m here to tell you: most of us would never be able to do it. We are much softer than we like to imagine ourselves. Our lives of comfort and first world problems have made us weak and soft. Most homeless people have lived their entire lives being chiseled and beaten with hammers of pain and suffering and major trauma.

I’d be so worried for your mental state if one day the bailiff came to your house, evicted you, threw all your stuff on the front lawn and you had no friends and no money. So you slid into the woods and hid under a bush just hoping you could make it that night without being robbed or beaten or raped. The amount of PTSD you’d likely carry with you for years to come from that single night would likely be nearly unbearable.

We live in a world where classism is a growing bigotry. Before World War II most of us were poor. We were farmers or simple factory workers.

Today the divide between the have’s and have nots continues to grow. And with this separation comes prejudice and judgement.

Homeless people are attacked by anyone above them financially. A person living in a subsidized apartment drawing $750/month in social security can be one of the most hateful people imaginable towards homeless people. But imagine trying to put a homeless tent village in Fairlawn Heights (Akron’s wealthiest neighborhood) and watch people lose their shit.

Whether you hate homeless people or you have a soft spot in your heart for homeless people, the outcome is the same. You don’t want people to be homeless any more. 

Much to the dismay of the government and government funded organizations I believe we can solve this problem with private money. Of course they don’t want that. They want to be the sole saviors of the homeless (while not actually doing much of a damn thing for them). A guy like me is a risk to the system where people get rich off of homeless people. What if HUD stopped giving them money because they were seen as not nearly as effective as a guy with a bunch of $25 Walmart tents and $5000 rundown homes that can be renovated for another $5000?

I’m a threat. Plain and simple.

But if they want to keep their juicy contracts and keep their lush lifestyles they better wake up and smell the coffee. I’m just the first shot across the bow. There will be more people like me. Innovators. Inventors. Builders. Creators. One day their state government or, heaven help them, the national government, will likely decide they aren’t effective any more.

The money will go to people that have innovated and adapted and created better results.

And it all starts with the critical soft skills of empathy and understanding.

People living below Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs who are filled with trauma and grief and no community will never be treated effectively just by throwing them in a house. They will leave the houses or never go in the houses in the first place. They’ll just end up right back on the street.

Traditional shelters and traditional Continuums of Care are outdated models of homeless services. There are better ways. These providers either need to adapt or they will go extinct.