What to do about Ray?
I remember the first time I met Ray. It was a warm day in late April and I was walking into our Save-A-Lot store in Pagedale. The thin, almost too gaunt looking guy walked up to me asking for a little money. He talked kind of fast, like me; but looked a bit worn down. His clothes were dirty and he told me he was hungry because he had not eaten in a few days. I regularly give what money I have to the pan handlers I come across. My thinking is that, if life has gotten so bad that they need to beg for money to survive, then I can spare a little bit. Moreover, I make sure I can look them in the eye and sincerely tell them good luck. Normally, my interactions with folks like this are in places away from my work; but, this time, Ray was at the Save-A-Lot across the street from our 24:1 office. I did not have any money; but, I told Ray to go get a few things to eat and I would pay for them.
Ray grabbed a couple of things, including a pre-cooked cheeseburger and a big drink. He seemed sincerely appreciative and was very thankful. Ray saw me talking with the young woman who was the cashier on duty and, as I found out later, he thought I was the President of Save-A-Lot. As we walked out, Ray told me a little bit of his story. He was homeless, had been in prison and just wanted a job. In fact, he asked me for a job on the spot and, while I wish I had something for him to do, I did not. I then gave him my business card and told him to call the number the next day and I would see what I could do. Two things: he was homeless begging for money (did I think he had a phone?) and he needed services that Beyond Housing did not provide. Both of these are, in hindsight, issues.
In the next two days, Ray does find a phone (I never asked where) and starts calling. My staff tells me about this fast-talking guy who said I told him to call. He does not (because he can’t) leave a call back number. Sometime in the next two weeks, my staff in our Pagedale office tell me this guy has been showing up asking for me waving a now tattered business card of mine around. The plot of this story thickens when the Reverend of the First Community Church of Pagedale, our landlord, tells me he was sorry that Ray was bothering my staff. “How did you know about Ray?”, I asked him. He said Ray had been coming around for a while and the church has been trying to help him. They gave him a few odd jobs and food. Ray was hustling to survive. Ray kept missing me at the Pagedale office due to my schedule of only being there half the week and my out of the office meetings. Ray’s frequent visits, asking for money, and his growing aggravation about missing me gave my staff some concern about these constant stops at the office. I said I would talk to Ray the next time he stops in.
A week or so later, I walk across the street from the Pagedale office and there is Ray. He sees me and starts smiling ear to ear. “There you are”, he exclaims. I shake his hand and say hello. I explain to Ray that I am sorry; but, I don’t have a job for him and I need him to stop coming by the office. I then tell him I know he is hustling to survive; but, he has to get more help that Beyond Housing can give him. I told him I want to get him to St. Patrick’s Center, one of the best homeless service providers in the region. He seems reluctant; but, I press him by saying, “Ray, you have to do more to help yourself than just hustling me and my staff.” He seems a bit deflated; but, concedes quietly. He asks if could I get him some food and I say yes; but, after that, I want to get him to St. Patrick’s. He gets some food (more this time than last) including a big family pack of hot dogs. I want to ask why; but, I don’t want to embarrass him.
As we walk back across the street, the Assistant Reverend is working in the parking lot and does not seem happy to see Ray. “I thought I told you to stop coming around here and bothering folks,” he tells Ray. Ray says something back to him that I could not hear. The Assistant Reverend apologizes to me for Ray pestering me and my staff. He says that Ray has someplace to stay even if it is not his house. They have tried to help Ray; but, they believe he is not willing to do the things he needs to do that will better his life. Ray wanted to push back on what the Reverend was saying and was getting a little upset. I asked the Reverend to let me talk to Ray alone for a minute. The Reverend said they were close to calling the cops on Ray. I told him thanks for the information and that I was trying to get Ray some more help.
Ray and I walked over to our office and I asked him to sit in the lobby area for a minute. I then called my friend, Karen Wallensak, who runs the Catholic Charities Housing Resource Center at St. Patrick’s. I asked Karen if I could get Ray to her can she get him through the basic intake process. She said she would. I asked one of my staff if he could drive Ray down there. I tell Ray what was in process and asked him to be willing to get the help we could not provide. I ask my staff to take him in and make sure he gets connected with Karen. I didn’t want him walking out as soon as my guy dropped him off.
As Ray leaves, I shake his hand and look him in the eye and wish him good luck. As I walk back to my office, I am disturbed by a system of caring that has a church and a not-for- profit housing organization so unable to help a homeless man named Ray. If we can’t help or are pushed to call the cops, how will our system ever get better at helping people like Ray? A few days later, Ray knocks on our door again.
What to do about Ray??