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Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

Gwin selling the Street Sense (photo: Reed)

Gwin was selling the Street Sense newspaper at the South edge of Dupont Circle in between 19th Street and Connecticut Avenue. I was walking through the circle when I spotted the bright yellow vest that identifies her as a Street Sense vendor.

Gwin has an interesting story. Originally from Salisbury, NC, she told me about the early days of her life when she lived near Elizabeth Dole’s home. I can’t remember now which, but either she or Mrs. Dole lived on Ellis Street, which was named for Governor Ellis who died in office in 1861.

She talks a little bit about her background and what she would like to do professionally on this video clip.

It’s hard to imagine that an educated person who goes to law school and becomes an attorney can end up homeless, but Gwin is proof of that. Although not homeless now, she says that she has been homeless in at least a half-dozen cities across the country. “Homelessness is many things,” she tells me. “There are good parts and bad parts to being homeless.” Among the good parts she lists: meeting people, celebrations with friends, traveling, seeing people help one another, and even special occasions like a holiday party she recalls that was put on for the homeless in Boston where they served steak and lobster. Of course she shares plenty of negatives too: moral despair, being looked down upon, realizing your dreams will not materialize, etc.

Gwin kept her same calm demeanor the entire time and seemed very comfortable talking about a variety of different subjects. We talked about all kinds of things; from the Obama administration to circular migration to the legalization of marijuana. She also mentioned that she was a poet and that I could find her works on the Internet. I have not been able to locate them yet, but when I do I will share them here. She enjoys writing a lot and would even like to write a book on homelessness some day.

Before I left I asked her about the $10 and she said that will be used to buy her some soap and a few other toiletries that she says she needs to get this week.
I asked her what dreams she still has for herself. “It’s too late to think about dreams. Now it’s retire, work part-time and be able to help others.” Maybe that is in fact her dream. I asked her where she wants to retire and she said either Chicago or some place further west. “I would like to find a place to live where I could get a part-time job and eventually collect a pension.”

Gwin (photo: Reed)

Before leaving I asked if I could take a few photos of her selling the paper.  She made me laugh a little because she kept hiding behind the newspapers for most of them.  She had been so comfortable with the camera when I took pictures of her sitting down and also used my video camera, but for some reason she got a little shy when she was working.  I asked her if she could move the papers a little so that I could see her face and she nodded her head yes with a sheepish smile, but didn’t move them too much.  I managed to get a couple of shots though.

For those in the downtown area, keep an eye out for Gwin, especially near the Dupont Circle SOUTH Metro entrance near the Krispy Kreme.

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I started my new job on Day 210!  It was my 285th day without work.  It felt so good to get up early and go to “my job!”  I know, most of you are vomiting right now hearing me say how happy I am to go to work on a Monday morning, but it was really true.  So far, I have been really impressed with the WWF and the people that are a part of the organization.  

Eric looks a lot like Abe Lincoln. Am I that short? Look at the angle of this photo (photo: Reed)

 

After work that day I headed over to meet an old colleague Derek at 18th and M Street.  From there we headed over to 14K Lounge for our friend Jen’s birthday party.  On our way over there we came face to face with our 16th president of the United States. 

Ok, so it wasn’t really Abraham Lincoln, although he does bear a tremendous resemblance to the tallest American president.  And he is about the same height.  Derek is 6”4” and he looked a smidgen taller than Eric (without his hat). 

Eric is a telecom engineer who has been out of work for a year.  He was staging a personal protest of sorts that afternoon against the powerful K Street lobbyist firms.  He is sickened by the amount of money that changes hands on this street in exchange for favorable consideration on governmental issues.  

As a result of him being out of work for so long he became homeless in May.  Since then he has managed by couch surfing and staying at shelters.  If your firm is looking for an engineer experienced in XML, telephony and Linux, give Eric a chance.     

He chose to save the money. 

Derek and I said goodbye and headed to the birthday party.  We didn’t mention to Eric that Derek technically is a lobbyist, but I hope that he wouldn’t dislike Derek just for that.  Because in fact Derek has a PhD in genetics and works tirelessly to educate our lawmakers in the area of preventative medicine as it relates to obesity, personalized medicine and tobacco. Hey, somebody’s got to protect us from the tobacco lobby! 

By the way, Eric does occasionally do some work as a Lincoln impersonator…I can connect you with him for that as well if you are interested.

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Last Friday is the day that NPR and the Washington Post ran their stories on the Year of Giving.  I got flooded with emails and comments.  My website traffic went through the roof.  So many people told me how inspired they were after learning about the Year of Giving.  It was a tremendous bright spot in an otherwise melancholy day.

The response has been great.  The more media attention it receives, the more people write to me telling me how inspired they are.  99% of what I have received is extremely positive and I am trying to get caught up replying to all the emails.  Especially all the wonderful offers to help those on the Lend a Hand page!  Thank you so much!

After my cousin’s funeral on Friday, my father and I drove south about 3 hours to Richlands, VA.  My mother grew up and was buried there and we went to visit her grave. 

My mother's childhood house & shed. Hasn't changed too much except the side porch was added (Photo: Reed)

Richlands is a small coal mining town in Southwestern Virginia.  According to city-data.com  in 2008 the population was less than 4,000 and the median household income was $30,637 – half of the state average.  I don’t think I need to say more to give you the idea that this is a place that struggles economically. 

That evening my father and I decided to stop by the King Kone; a simple place where you have to walk up to the window and order and then take the food back and eat in your car.  My father told me that my mother used to love to treat herself to a chili dog there.  I thought it was only fitting to order a chili dog for myself.

While we were there, I asked the woman who was waiting on us if she would accept my $10.  She got very uncomfortable and said that the owner would never allow her to do that.  She nervously was looking over her shoulder and I asked if the owner was there.  She confirmed that she was and I asked if I could speak with her. 

King Kone - Richlands, VA (Photo: Reed)

I gave the owner my card and explained what I was doing to her.  She refused and said that they were just too busy to talk to me.  I explained that this was a very special place for my mother and made a final plea, but she shook her head “no” and excused herself.  As a side note, during the half hour we were there…I think they had 5 customers.

So I went back and approached a couple who were finishing up their dogs in their pick-up truck.  I imagine the couple was in their 50s.  I said hello and apologized if I was interrupting and explained what I was doing and asked if they would like to participate.  The woman, sitting near me in the passenger seat, never looked at me and never said a word.  The man remained silent until I finished and just shook his head no and grunted  “uh ah” and looked away.

WOW….this was not going to be easy.  Although I feel a strange closeness to the town since my mother’s family is from there, its clear that I don’t fit in.

I was now 0 for 3 (or 4 if you count the couple in the truck as two attempts).  I looked around and saw a Burger King on one side and a Family Dollar store, a hair salon, and the Richlands Pharmacy on the other.  I decided to walk over to the Family Dollar discount store.  On my way over I spotted Ashley sitting on a bench in front of the A Wild Hair Salon and Academy.  Her easy smile was a huge improvement over my earlier encounters. 

Ashley (Photo: Reed)

The 21-year-old said that she had worked there since she was 16.  With her husband laid off from tree cutting for the region’s natural gas wells, the $10 was warmly received.  It is tough to make ends meet for them and their 13-month-old boy. 

Ashley cuts Samantha's hair. I only noticed later that there is a picture that I assume is her son on her mirror that I captured in the background. (Photo: Reed)

Ashley started working on a regular customer named Samantha.  I told Ashley that my mother was from Richlands and we soon had something in common.  Both of our grandfathers worked in the mines.  “Those are the only jobs that pay well here,” she said.  The other woman cutting hair there spoke up and said, “I used to want to work in the mines…it’s good money.”  Then Samantha shared that her husband is working in the mines.  “Six days a week.  It’s terrible hours, he goes in at 1pm and gets out at midnight.”

The economy is worse here than what we saw in Roanoke the day before. 

In case you find yourself in Richlands and wonder what you might should try to see, Ashley said, “I don’t know, maybe go up to Overlook Park in Cedar Bluff and walk all the way to the top.”  It was late and we wouldn’t be able to do that…but on my list to do next time.

Ashley said she was going to use my $10 on dinner for her family.  I just hope she didn’t go to King Kone…the chili dog wasn’t that good actually…kind of raw and chewy.

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Unfortunately my cousin Ricky passed away on March 12th.  He had a heart attack on Wednesday and later died on Friday.  Although I had not seen Ricky in a long time, I did see his mother (my aunt) much more often.  You never prepare yourself fully to lose a child.  

Welcome to Kroger's!

I traveled to Roanoke, VA on Thursday to be with my family.  While I was there I found myself at the Tanglewood Kroger on the Southwest edge of the city. 

As I walked through the grocery store I found Rob deep in concentration as he studied the Bomb Pops.  I thought I would introduce myself. 

Like me, Rob is unemployed right now.  He was working as a financial specialist for the hospital in Roanoke up until being laid off last August.  Although he would like to find work, he has used his time off to focus on his passion for making music.  He is a one-man recording artist making experimental home-made music.  He goes by the name Sad Wilson and you can hear a sample of his music here.  I listened to a bunch of the songs.  Most of them have heavy tones of melancholy (hence Sad Wilson).  Rob integrates different media into the songs…for example recordings of conversations or telephone operator recordings on top of guitar melodies.  There was something Neil Youngish about Junk Stomp Brain and Pretty Corpse.  All in all not my preferred style, however, I think the experimental approach he has taken is cool and the fact that he does it all himself is amazing. 

Rob with his $10 and favorite Popsicles (Photo: Reed)

I got out my camera to take some pictures…I got a little worried that the Kroger people might come over and ask me to leave or put my camera away.  Jokingly I said to Rob, “They might get upset unless you know somebody that works here.”  He said, well, my grandfather used to be the CEO of Kroger.”  I was like, “really.”  He just looked at me and nodded “yup.”  So…I took some photos! 

Rob plans on using my ten-spot to buy some blank CDs to burn some of his music.  I have a feeling if there is anything left over it will get used for Bomb Pops.  Never met anyone with such an affinity for them! 

Around this time Rob’s friend came by.  I think this was his girlfriend or wife…and I believe her name was Ashley…but I could be wrong.  My note-taking is pretty poor.  Sorry!  They both told me how bad the economy was in Roanoke.  And let me tell you, it looks way more depressed there than in

Rob and Ashley (Photo: Reed)

DC.  Next door to the Kroger is the Tanglewood Mall.  Ashley said, “Yeah,it’s pretty bad…you can find that mall on deadmalls.com!” I checked…she was right.  I also went to the mall…and it aptly listed on the website.  “There’s just a lot of empty buildings around town” she added. 

Although it is sad to see this, it is important to see it.  I think Washington is a little recession proof because of all the government related jobs.  This town needs some life pumped into it.  

I asked the two what they would recommend for someone to see in Roanoke.  They looked at each other, shrugged, and said, “I don’t know….maybe the Star?”  They are referring to the Mill Mountain Star, built in 1949 at the top of Mill Mountain.  It is the world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star. (There is a bigger one in El Paso, TX, but it isn’t illuminated)  I had actually seen it before…my cousin Martha got married last Fourth of July at a winery in Roanoke that overlooked the Star.  It was a great view and the Star is pretty at night.   

“Other than that…maybe the Taubman Museum…but it’s weird.  It looks like a space ship” they told me.  The Taubman  apparently has permanent and temporary exhibits and focuses mostly on 19th/20th century American art, modern and contemporary art, new media, photography, and visionary art.  I didn’t have time to visit it this time. 

Give Rob’s music a listen.  It’s good to have artists who are pushing the envelope. 

Today’s blog is dedicated to the memory of my cousin Richard “Ricky” C. Huels, Jr.  (Nov. 27, 1959 – March 12, 2010)

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Today I ended up giving my $10 to two different people!

I was joined today by Rebecca Sheir from NPR.  We met at my apartment and talked for a little while and then set out to find a recipient.

On our walk we saw Anthony from Day 67.  He was his upbeat usual self.  The next time I see him I will let him know that Maureen is giving him some shoes!  He is going to be so excited.

Chatting with Nathan

Near the White House we found Nathan.  He looked deep in thought as he sat by himself on a bench.  Nathan is 52, lives in MD, and is unemployed.  He questions my intentions when I offer him the $10, but when he realizes that it is a genuine offer, he graciously accepts.

Nathan keeps a positive attitude despite being unemployed.  He says that he hasn’t bought hardly anything that he doesn’t truly need in over a year to help him save money.  In the video below he talks about having to move into a basement apartment to reduce his monthly expenditures even more.  He also shares what he is going to do with his $10.

You can find Rebecca Sheir’s report of this experience here.

We left Nathan and walked around the city some more.  Near Gallery Place we bumped into Ivory from Day 49.  It’s been over a month since I last saw him but he recognized me immediately.  He is still trying to get more books produced.  He recently got a shipment of 500 of them which he said he sold out of immediately.  Ironically as we chatted with him, the person who is helping him get his book published walked by.

We started walking back to Dupont Circle.  On our way we noticed a large tractor-trailer with expanded sides.  It was a mobile museum exhibit on the customs and traditions of the American funeral.  At first I thought this was a very odd exhibit to have, much less housed in the back of a trailer.  We were greeted by Harry who is the President of MRA Experiential Tours which operates the exhibit.

Harry in front of the American Funeral Museum (Photo: Reed)

He invites us inside and shares the history and culture of American funerals to us.  He proves to be very knowledgeable on the subject and we find out that he has first hand experience…he worked his way through college working at a funeral home.  The exhibit is very interesting and you can find out where it is going to be by checking their website.  Although, it might not be completely up to date as Washington, DC was not listed on their calendar.

Harry started in the shipping and freight forwarding business for events.  He later got the idea of having mobile exhibitions.  He now has about 20 trucks in the fleet.  He has done work for a variety of well-known companies such as Mattel, Boeing, Tabasco, AstraZeneca, Mazda, etc.

You might recall that on Day 82 Keith gave me $10.  I wanted to give that to someone but in addition to my regular amount that I give each day.  So since I already had given Nathan my $10, I used Keith’s $10 and gave it to Harry.  In turn Harry said that he would donate the money to the National Scholarship Program of the American Board of Funeral Service Education.  The scholarship program was established to provide financial awards to students enrolled in funeral service or mortuary science programs to assist them in obtaining their professional education. Established during the 1960’s the program has awarded scholarships to hundreds of students.

Thanks to both Keith and Harry for making that donation possible!

We took a different route back to Dupont Circle and guess who we ran into sitting in Franklin Square?  Nathan had met up with his brother and they were sitting talking to each other.  We were a few blocks from where we had originally met him.  Small world.

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Gregory has been homeless in DC for almost eight years.  He stands bundled up holding this sign and a ripped up cup at the corner of 18th and Connecticut Ave. in downtown Washington, DC. 

Photo: Reed S.

I spent about 45 minutes talking with Gregory.  He is very soft-spoken and gentle.  He says that he lost his job and his wife left him for another man about 8 years ago…the cocktail of events started a chain reaction that left him homeless and drinking.  Gregory said he used to never drink…he said he didn’t even like the taste, but he felt that he was able to escape from the pain and depression that he suffered from by drinking.  He paused and said that he has been sober for seven months now. 

His voice got even softer and he fought off tears as he shared some of the painful memories.  He told me that he had seen some doctors at one point and they wanted to give him pills for depression and mental illness.  He never took them.

Like almost every homeless I have met, he does not stay in shelters due to the violence, theft, and poor conditions.

While we talk, a man who was eating at Fuddruckers came out and gave him a small box of food, said nothing, and left.  Gregory continued to talk to me for a few minutes and then asked if I minded if he ate while we talked.  He opened the container to find an order of French fries.  He seemed hungry as he ate the entire box. 

I asked him what he planned to do with the $10 and he replied, “I know exactly what I am going to do with it.  I can get 3 meals at McDonald’s and have a dollar left over for something else…maybe something on the $1 menu.”  His favorite food is fried fish.  I asked him what the most he had ever received and he pointed to me and said $10.  

We talked about different services that are available to him.  I suggested he sell the Street Sense paper as well…several of the vendors do quite well once they build up a loyal customer base.  I asked him if there was anything that the readers of the Year of Giving could do for him and he said that he could use some jeans and other pants.  He wears a size 38 x 32.  If you are in DC and would like to meet Gregory, he is normally in front of the McDonald’s on M Street in between 19th and 20th Streets.  If someone else is there, he usually goes to Connecticut and 18th Street.  I can also reach him if you would like to get something to him.

By the way, I went down to try one of John’s burritos at Pedro and Vinny’s burrito stand.  It was excellent…I highly recommend it!  You definitely need to check out his stand at 15th and K. The food is tasty, the banter upbeat and interesting, and the line is full of regulars who he quickly recognizes.  An interesting thing is that John has somewhat of an honor system going on for payment.  He has a box that you are supposed to put in the amount that you owe.  I liked that.

On my way home I saw Roger from Day 57 but we didn’t get to talk.  About 4 blocks away I ran into Nikki from Day 66.  She didn’t recognize me and seemed pretty out of it.  She said she was talking to “the Man upstairs” and continued walking on to meet with a group of men standing in the center of Dupont Circle.  I also saw Kenneth from Day 30…but he was across the street and I was late for a meeting so I was unable to say hello.  Needless to say, I am starting to really get to know my neighborhood!

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I walked by the Best Cellars wine shop in Dupont today and saw the following sign out front.

So I went in to see what the deal was.  The shelves were almost completely bare.  I was promptly greeted and learned that Saturday would be there last day open – assuming they still have wine and accessories to sell. 

I was sad to see this shop close.  After searching the internet some, I found some reports that the landlord has received a much higher offer for rent from a cell phone company.  Although I totally agree with a free market, I am personally disappointed to see Best Cellars leave and a cell phone store take its place.  We have several cell phone stores in walking distance from the Best Cellars location and I have been to three of them and had terrible experiences at all three.  Not that we are short on wine shops in the neighborhood, we have plenty, but the staff at Best Cellars was always very friendly and took their time with customers who had trouble understanding and explaining what kind of wine they liked.

Anyway, I thought who better to give my $10 to than one of the three nice employees who were losing their job this Saturday when the store closes. 

Enter Ali, Lindsey, and “Lodogg.”  And Lodogg made sure to let me know that there were two “g”s in Lodogg.  I gave them $10 to split…and they said they would buy one of their highly discounted bottles of wine and toast to the last days working together.  Lucky for them, they all have other jobs…but they worked here for supplemental income (and I am guessing awesome discounts on wine!)

Lindsey, Lodogg, and Ali toast to their final days at work

All three of them hope to find new part-time work in the wine industry.  I will post this on the Lend a Hand section in case someone knows of some job leads for them.

If you are in the neighborhood, stick your head in and say hello (or good-bye) and grab some wine and accessories at a great price!

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