One of the more embarrassing and amusing aspects of doing this homeless work is I honestly believed the city was going to thank me.
I thought they'd come by and say something like, "there are some things we like and there are some things we don't like, but thank you for contributing to this challenging problem we are facing in our community."
I now know that, without a doubt, they see me nothing other than the actual problem. Leaving homeless people to rot on their streets was the strategy all along. No one was talking about the homeless and that made it a non-problem.
This is how government wants to deal with its true problems. Just don't talk about them. As long as things don't bubble up into the public view everything is fine.
But you should know that this is just one example of endless hurdles of trying to be helpful I've experienced.
There is a lot of truth to the saying, no good deed goes unpunished.
I often hear unfortunate stories of people trying to help the homeless by bringing them into their homes. It often ends poorly.
I have a strict policy of not bringing any homeless people to my house. It's not because I don't think I could manage them. Or even that I'd like to have them. It's because on occasion they get mad at me. Like really mad at me. I don't think there is any homeless person I could totally trust all the time. We have a very close relationship that can make for extreme emotions, on both sides.
Dr. Bob's (the founder of AA) wife, Anne, "found herself chased around her kitchen by a crazed ex-drunk brandishing her own butcher knife in his demand for alcohol.
If you think your career of service is going to be filled with that endless feeling of fulfillment I'm sorry to say: it's not.
Burnout is a real issue in the field of giving.
You will find yourself wondering what the hell you were thinking doing this work. You will spend your entire career banging your head against a bureaucratic system that is slow and nonsensical while you are trying to help people that are ungrateful and sometimes down right mean.
And the pay. You get the pleasure of being a helper for VERY little money. I haven't made a single dollar doing this work in 3 years.
Oh. And parts of your family will scorn you for being so foolish wasting your time and money doing this pointless work. You should get a "real" job.
And at the end of it all, you will be lying on your deathbed realizing you accomplished nearly nothing to address the fundamental issues you were fighting the entire time to solve.
So why bother doing it at all?
It changes for me. But as of today my motivation for doing this work is because it's the right thing to do for society. Ignoring your homeless population breeds disease, crime and garbage. I also still really enjoy being with these people. And I feel like there are very few people who understand the segment of the homeless population that doesn't fit into the housing first paradigm. Because, much to the surprise of the homeless service providers, their one size fits all solution isn't the be-all end-all answer to homelessness. I still find it very interesting. Although I wouldn't be surprised that there will likely come a time where that feeling disappears too.
But there is something much deeper that drives me.
Over time I've chosen to believe in reincarnation.
I believe we are all fated to live over and over again.
We do this to in an attempt to learn something each time we come to Earth.
I can tell you with absolute certainty that one of the major reasons to be alive is to help others. It is possibly the highest form of existence imaginable.
Every major spiritual guide will say basically the same thing:
There is just simply no path of human progression that doesn't include love, kindness and compassion. All paths lead there.
But realizing this path can take a very long time. Countless lifetimes potentially.
I encounter old people who are nowhere near beginning to understand this truth. And I've seen 9 year olds who totally get it.
I came late to the party. And honestly, my path to being a force of good comes from less than good motivations. I am here because of a midlife crisis and mild depression. No other work interests me very much any more.
No matter how futile. No matter how frustrating. No matter how exhausting... any other work is worse, in my mind.
You will see this with artists some times. In fact, in music school they will often tell you that if you can imagine doing any other work besides music you should do that work. The life of a musician is just really hard.
For me, there is one quote that makes the most sense to me. It represents all that I feel and experience in this work. And ultimately it is what keeps me going.
This is so much so, that one of our lawyers refers to me as "the happy warrior." You will typically find me laughing and smiling as things crumble around me. I enjoy the fight. I believe in the work. And the longer I do this I understand that those in authority don't actually want me to do the work. That realization alone keeps me going. I've always had a problem with authority.
I am a threat to the old guard homeless service providers because we are innovating and progressing what homeless services actually are. And government administrators just want the homeless to disappear. They don't want to deal with them because then they'd have to admit they have an actual homeless problem. They can't figure out how that is going to fit into their plan of turning Akron into Medina-lite.
So, I happily carry on. Sometimes it's brutal and exhausting. But mostly it is easy and light. When you are on the path you are supposed to be on there is no other place you'd rather be no matter how rocky the road might be.
Here is the quote that says it all for me: (written on the wall of Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta, India, and is widely attributed to her. )