Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why America Fails the Homeless

When my wife and I got to Washington D.C., I did not have a job. My job-hunt became 24 hour employment. I sent out dozens of resumes and talked to everyone (yes, I continued to do The Amigo Project). Finally, through my college network I was able to secure an interview. After meeting in a new suit with my potential employer, I was hired as an intern for no pay.

I am excited an lucky to have found work that will increase my opportunities for graduate school and future employment. This experience taught me the importance of presenting the best representation of myself that I can both on paper and in person.

But as I walk in the blistering summer DC heat to and from my new job, I see forgotten men and women in shadows. They reek, are grimy, and look like they are waiting to die. They pack their lives in shopping carts and move from one corner to the next, holding cups or hats for spare change. I decided to talk to them, and find out why they are homeless. These conversations surprised me and changed the way I view poverty.

I've found two things:

1. The majority of people are NOT homeless because they are lazy.

2. Many of them have special skills and previous work experience, and would happily take a job if given the opportunity.

So the problem is not the people; rather, it is their relationship to the modern job market's infrstructure that makes them uncompetative. Now, I agree there are several other factors for some, such as drug addiction or alcoholism. But the lack of computer skills and availability, combined with the lack of a permanent residence, significantly hurt their chances of finding employment. This is something we can change, and therefore something we should focus on.

That is why I have decided to create a database of homeless people. I will talk to the homeless and help them create resumes and profiles, which I will then post under categories based on job skills. My goal is to give each of these people the same competative advantages in the job market that others have, and maybe one day the database could be used to united the homeless with job opportunities that match their skills.

Either way, it is important to interview and build each a profile, as a reminder that society has not forgotten them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Popcorn Popping

My lovely wife got us a one night stay at the Alaskan Inn up Ogden Canyon to celebrate the last day of classes for me...FOREVER! It was so much fun.

That night we were in laying in bed watching a movie when she turned and batted her puppy dog eyes at me. In a baby voice she said, "Can Bwocky get me some popcorn?"

I found myself walking into the front office, where there was a microwave and bags of popcorn by the front desk. I set the timer for 2 minutes and 45 seconds, then struck up a conversation with an older woman who works the graveyard shift.

"My wife and I are leaving in about a week, so we wanted to have one more night at our favorite bed and breakfast," I said.

"Where are you going?"

"Washington D.C."

"That sounds so much fun," she replied. "To just get out and see the world."

"You should too! Where is a place you would like to go?"

"I want to go to Alaska."

But you work at the Alaskan Inn, I thought, where every room has the Northern Lights hanging over the bathroom door.

"I want to take my daughter there. It's where she's always wanted to go, so my plan is to surprise her for her twenty-first birthday."

"Well you are a great mom," I said. "You must be saving up."

"Yup, I have about a thousand dollars saved right now, and I've got two years to save the rest."

It made me wonder how long it took her to save that thousand dollars. She must be working a lot of graveyard shifts. Have you ever wanted to make someone's day so bad it hurt? At that moment, I wished I was rich so I could buy her and her daughter an airplane ticket to Alaska. I wished I was an airplane pilot so I could say, "How about I fly you and your daughter there?" But I'm neither rich nor a pilot, so I did the only thing I could do. I encouraged her.

Tonight, before you lay your head down on your fluffy pillow and pull your blanket up to your chin, say a little prayer for the woman forgoing sleep to save enough money to take her daughter to Alaska.

She's doing it one hour, $7.50, at a time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Real Life Ironman

I met a guy who is an electrical engineering/physics major in a line at the market. Listen to his reason why:

"When I was a kid, I used to play a video game called 'Megaman.'

The character had the coolest weapon--he could shoot pulses of electricity through his hand. I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, and I pretended I could shoot pulses of electricity through my hand as a weapon!

"Finally I decided that I wanted to figure out how to do this for a living. So I looked for engineering companies that were trying to do it. I found one in Utah that shoots a laser through the air at a target. The laser ionizes the particles in the air, and creates a pathway. You then sent a pulse of electricity to the target on this ionized "street" your laser created. I called them up, and they told me what I needed to do to work there."

All I could think of was how much easier it would have been for me to pick a major if Ironman had come out two years before it did.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Musician

"What do you do?" I asked the bald man in glasses standing next to me.

"I'm working on a Masters degree in Music History."

"I hope you don't mind me saying this," I said. "But that has absolutely zero appeal to me. Why does it interest you?" I tried not to say this in a mocking tone, but in a way that made him realize I really wanted to understand the allure of music history.

"Well, my goal was to be a concert performer on the bassoon, but I got a recurring tendon problem, so I had to quit. I've always loved music, but I loved it so much more after I studied the lives of different composers and was able to take that knowledge into my listening. Music is constantly changing, and I like to study those changes."

"Like what kind of changes?"

"For example, there was a significant shift in music during WWII. Before the war, composers were very daring and innovative--new trailblazers. But the horrors and catastrophic shock of the war made composers nostalgic for the peace and good-feelings of the past. Their music harked back to older, more classic pieces. In essence, they became more conservative."

That night I turned on some classical piano music while I set the dinner table. I thought about how beautiful the notes are, then made a promise to myself to learn more about the composers' lives. Because every piece of music has hidden notes that make the piece what it is: the flats and sharps of experience, and the minor and major keys of life.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Before The Haircut

I met a little girl (about ten years old) as her mother was paying for her haircut. The little girl studied the prices on the sign, then asked her mother a profound question.

"Mom, why do boys' haircuts cost more than girls' haircuts?"

The mom didn't know the answer, so I chimed in.

"It's because girls have prettier hair than boys, " I answered. "For boys it's easy, they just use a pair of electric clippers."

The girl responded in a way unique to the innocence of childhood. Her eyes got wide as she declared with exasperation, "It's because boys think they can just get a razor and shave off all their hair and they think they look good but they really don't!"

It sounds like someone was a little upset about how long her haircut took.

The Stylist/Marriage Counselor

I really enjoy getting my hair cut. Stylists spend the majority of their time killing time with their customers while they cut hair. They are expert conversationalists.

"Have you ever had a man show up to get his hair cut, and his wife sits next to him and directs you?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, I've had that happen. And quite frankly, I can't stand it. I think men should be strong enough to take care of themselves." This made me feel a little sheepish because I quoted my wife's council verbatim when I told the stylist how I wanted my hair cut.

It turns out she has been married for sixteen years. I always ask for marriage advice from anyone who's been married awhile. It lets them act as a teacher, which makes them feel good. Her advice?

"I don't believe I should give advice about marriage because every couple should learn those important messages on their own. Plus, my advice might not apply to your marriage because every marriage is different."

Kind of like every haircut.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On My Walk

I like it when I need to wait at a stoplight in order to cross the street. There is always another person that has to wait for the same light to change, and he/she stops next to you. The weather is warming up, and the girl that stopped next to me was my first spring "sandal sighting."

"Isn't it nice to finally have weather that permits us to wear sandals?" I asked.

"Yes, it's the best. My roommates think I'm crazy, but it's warm enough to wear them."

"Well, it wasn't the sandals that made me think you're crazy, " I said jokingly "it's the crazy tie-dye shirt you're wearing!"

We started to cross the street.

She laughed as she said "Yeah, I get that a lot too. I like this shirt because it's not as colorful as other tie-dye shirts. It is made of more relaxed tones. Plus I made it with a companion on my church mission, so it reminds me of my service."

We talked for a while about missions, and she told me the most important thing she took away from her service was the importance of getting your priorities straight.

"That is the most important thing," she said. "I've felt that I am calmer and feel more peace now that I have the road map for my life prioritized. It's something I never understood before."

It sounds like she is a lot like her tie-dye shirt: before she left she was full of wild and disorganized color, throwing caution to the wind without a plan. Now, she still retains that spontaneous color and happiness she had before, but it is organized and softer in its tone.

Nice walk.