Mother Goose: A Homelessness Magnet

Perhaps it is my kindly and feathery bosom.

Perhaps it is my quick smile and hearty honk.

Perhaps it is true that Mother Goose is a magnet to homeless folk.

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that Mother Goose is becoming quickly and intensely involved in the rescue and welfare of those people who need basic needs such as food and shelter, transportation and employment. This comes as somewhat of a surprise to this old goose who has always had more than her share of children to care for and not enough time in the day to complete her ever-expanding “to do” list.

One of my many part-time jobs is to help our veteran service members in the community to find jobs, counseling, stable housing, donated dental care, fitness programs, yoga classes, meals, VA benefits — whatever they need to help with reintegration. Often I find myself helping them to get through today and into tomorrow in one piece. Easter Seals actually has a rapidly growing program directed specifically at our veterans and military families, and I am most grateful to be able to play a small part in these great programs.

I am currently working with two veterans who are in the homeless category.

homelessveterans

Tonight I will begin to tell you about David, a Marine veteran who served in the late seventies/early eighties.

He speaks quietly, politely and with a great reverence for God. He studies his well-worn Bible in all of his spare minutes — I gave him a rubber band to hold it together better. He is a minister of Biblical truth, but I’ve never heard him raise his voice to a preaching decibel.

David originally came to our veteran program at Easter Seals for two reasons: to upgrade his military discharge status and to obtain help in drafting a resume. We welcomed him! Believe it or not, it is VERY difficult to find veterans who will admit that they need help with anything. It is not part of the military culture to ask for assistance from anyone except perhaps a brother in arms.

Most veterans have a form from the Veteran’s Administration called the DD214. It describes the circumstances of the service member’s exit from active duty. Most have an Honorable Discharge status. Unfortunately, some have a Dishonorable Discharge. There are many other types of categories for veterans, but I had never heard of David’s status before: The Good of the Service Discharge. I tell you, Mother Goose learns something new about military life every single day!

David enlisted in the Marines and left for boot camp. He graduated from this basic training and proceeded to move on to his next assignment where he would learn a “trade” within the ranks of the Marine Corps — it could be anything from infantry to engineering to truck repair or navigation. There are as many specialties within the Corps as there are in civilian life.

For reasons I don’t quite understand but having something to do with a woman in his life, David went AWOL from the Marine Corps. He disappeared for awhile, and then he turned himself in and apologized for leaving without leave. They were glad he came back — apparently they were actually quite forgiving and asked if he’d like to stay in active service. He made the decision that he didn’t want to be in the service anymore, and so they went through a process of mutually agreeing that it would be better for everyone if they just cancelled his contract and send him away. For the good of the service…

Have you ever heard of this before?

I know you’ll want to return to hear more about Brother David and how this former Marine became a homeless warrior for God. As usual, Mother Goose has got some really great stories to tell you…

Driving Lawrence to Church

When Mother Goose stepped out the front door of her warm and cozy home on Sunday morning, the frigid winter air made the insides of her nostrils tingle. From childhood, she always liked that sensation, and this unusually cold winter had provided lots of frozen side effects that only a goose could enjoy.

Glancing up the block, she spied a familiar figure shuffling along in the middle of the street. Bundled in several coats and hats, it was undoubtedly Lawrence Little. Had he been watching from a safe distance for her to emerge from the house? Without a watch, how would he know that it was almost time for Mother and Husband Goose to leave for church? Was it again “coincidence” or another miracle of timing?

“Good morning, Lawrence!” Mother Goose called out in a very hearty manner. “Would you like a ride to church?”

He nodded and smiled.

Mother Goose is always concerned about whether people have eaten their breakfast. “Did you eat breakfast?” she now asked Lawrence Little, the homeless man who just rode the “L” all night long and slept with one eye open to watch for bad guys who might hurt him or steal something from him.

“Yes, ma’am, I did. I had coffee and donuts this morning.”

Mother Goose smiled brightly into the darkly sad face of Lawrence Little. “Was it OK last night?” she wondered out loud.

Lawrence Little nodded. “I met this lady,” he said. “See, she told me that she’d let me stay at one of her apartments for five months and all I need to pay her is $40.”

“Wow,” I answered. “That sounds really good for you.”

He nodded and smiled.

Unfortunately, Mother Goose has heard this similar story from Lawrence Little before. He always needs just a little bit of cash and then he’ll have shelter from some kind lady somewhere. The names change, the addresses of the apartment buildings change and the dollar amount changes, but it’s still the same plot.

I invested in a lot of Lawrence Little last year…

And that is the dilemma that we face when we encounter men and women who are homeless. Is it right to give them money when they explain that they are “just this close to a breakthrough and if you could just help me just one more time”?

I couldn’t resist asking, “Lawrence, do you have any of that twenty left that I gave you last night for shoveling?”

“No, Ms Natalie, I had to spend it on the trains all night long and then breakfast this morning.”

That may be the case…

He told me that they don’t let you ride for just one fare all night long. But last time I checked you can transfer around on trains for a long time before a conductor will conduct you off the train platform, especially on a cold winter’s night. Anyway, not wanting to be a jaded suburban goose I didn’t push the situation any further.

Chicago-Loop-SEcorner

Instead I told Lawrence about a place where he might be able to secure some decent transitional housing — Safe Haven. I looked up the address and the phone number on my smart phone while we drove to church in our warm comfortable goose mobile. I passed the piece of paper to Lawrence hoping that after church, he might jump back on that public transportation, arrive at the Safe Haven, check in and live happily ever after…

Seriously, Mother Goose?

The Return of Lawrence Little

The earth circles around the sun, and a homeless man reappears on the doorstep of Mother Goose.

So many of my most astute and loyal readers will remember my three-part series last year regarding Lawrence Little, a homeless man of God who came into my life and forever changed my view of homelessness in America. Go ahead and click here if you’d like to review that story…

Mother Goose has been referring to 2014 as The Year of Miracles, and I’ve been privately documenting miracles, “coincidences”, and random happenstance circumstances since Thanksgiving. Maybe THAT’s why Mother Goose hasn’t had time to write stories for my adoring public!

Anyway, I would certainly consider this “chance” meeting as one of my miracles…

Winter at our house...

Winter at our house…

The Land of Oak Park has received an enormous amount of snow this winter, and the polar vortex has moved into our village to stay. Often, I will finish my inside-the-house-chores in the evening and then don my warm jacket, boots, hats, scarves and gloves and mittens to go out to attend to the daily snowfall.

Last night was no different — I had just begun to sweep the soft fluffy flakes off of my porch when I heard a voice calling out, “Hello, ma’am!” Out of my peripheral goose eye, I noticed a bundled up man walking along the sidewalk. I greeted him with a “hello” but certainly did not want to engage in night-time conversation with a stranger so I didn’t look at him…

I continued with my frenzied sweeping of the downy flakes of snow as though it was the only thing that mattered.

And when I looked up from my focused and serious work, the man was walking towards me and my porch, and I looked full on into his face for the first time — in about a year.

“Ma’am, it’s me, Lawrence Little. Your grandfather’s name is Lawrence, I know it is. Ma’am, could I do your shoveling for you? I’ve been living on the streets and it’s been a horrible winter, and I could do this work for you…”

As he walked closer into the porchlight, I did indeed recognize him. We shook hands warmly and smiled at each other. Yes, indeed, it was my dear homeless friend, Lawrence.

Of course, Mother Goose can never say “no” to Lawrence, never could, never will. I handed him the snow shovel and went inside to ask Husband Goose for $20. “Lawrence Little is here,” I honked excitedly. “He’s going to shovel for us!”

Handing the cash to Lawrence, we began to catch up with our lives over the past year. He’s still living on the streets, sleeping on the “L” at night — the elevated train that transports commuters and travelers over 100 miles of track in, on, under and over the city of Chicago. It’s a dangerous place to sleep, especially if you are a kind-hearted, harmless, homeless, and rather short-statured man as Lawrence is.

I asked him about his church, Life of Liberty Worship Center. He said yes, he’s still going there now and then. He asked me if I had found a church home yet, and I gladly reported that we were attending a church that meets at the Lake Street Theatre in Oak Park.

“Oh FREE CHURCH!” Lawrence knew immediately who I was talking about. “I know the Pastor there. His name is Chuck, and his wife is very tall and beautiful.”

“Urshanna,” I helped him with our pastor’s wife’s lovely and unusual name.

“Yes, and I was walking past the laundromat, and the Lord told me to go inside, and they were wearing red T-shirts and she offered to pay for my laundry. I laughed and said ‘Well, I don’t have any laundry, only the clothes I’m wearing’ and they were very kind and she called her husband and he came to the laundromat and gave me money so I could stay in a hotel.”

He continued to tell me how he sometimes attends worship and though I’ve never seen him there, he knew all the details of our church service and the names of other brothers and sisters there.

What an amazing miracle!

Please stay tuned for my next story about Lawrence Little — we enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate together at the kitchen table. Yes indeed we did.

The Lawrence Little Dilemma Begins

Mother Goose didn’t really plan to invite a homeless man into her home for lunch.

And yet, the truth of it was that here she was in her kitchen making coffee, frying up bacon and eggs, and toasting a bagel for a man who had been living on the streets for the past ten years.

Sometimes, Mother Goose has to just shake her head at the unlikely turns that her life takes!

On Tuesday, as she was climbing the front porch steps after a long emotional tutoring session with the squirrels, Mother Goose heard a man calling out, “Ma’am, excuse me, ma’am, do you have any work for me to do? I’m homeless. I haven’t eaten in two days. I’m a man of God. I just need to do some work so that I can get into a hotel tonight. Do you have any work I can do for you, ma’am?”

Mother Goose turned to look at the middle-aged man walking up her sidewalk. He was dressed in a Carhartt chore jacket, baggy light-colored Carhartt overpants with a black stocking cap and gym shoes. His face looked a little tired, but he smiled at Mother Goose when he reached the bottom of the porch steps. He looked clean enough and didn’t have a beard. He didn’t smell bad and seemed to have his teeth. Most homeless folks really look homeless, but this man looked pretty “normal”. Mother Goose hates to use that word, but my readers will surely understand…

Normally, I do not strike up conversations with strangers who are walking by. I greet folks with a hearty “How ya doin’?” and then let them pass by my house.

We live just two blocks from the western border of Chicago, near a neighborhood where shootings happen regularly and gangs own the blocks. Territories are staked out and street corners are occupied. I drive through the Austin neighborhood everyday on my way to work — I am curiously drawn to these streets and the people who have little choice but to live in such extreme conditions.

Unemployment, drug deals, violent crime and guns are the real facts of life for these folks, and yet there are families who live on the residential streets of Austin. There are little kids who walk to school, and moms who pray that their children will arrive safely.

I typically stay in my car when I’m in the Austin community. Perhaps you read the story of the time Mother Goose rode her bicycle to an oasis within the neighborhood, the Garfield Park Conservatory

Unless I’m going to a meeting where we are working out ways to connect military families and veterans to the social services and VA-sponsored services they may need in their community, I try to be as safe as possible and just keep driving.

However, if I’m waiting at an intersection and see a homeless person walking between the cars trying to collect some change, I’ll immediately reach into my purse for whatever I can find. I drop the money in their cups — they say “God bless you, ma’am. God bless you.”

homeless

When Mother Goose looked into the eyes of this homeless man at the bottom of her front porch steps, her heart was filled with compassion for him and his circumstance. “I don’t have any work for you,” she explained. “But I’d like to help you anyway.”

Opening her wallet, she found some bills and handed them to the man. He smiled gratefully as he reached for the money, and said, “Thank you, ma’am. My name is Lawrence. Thank you so much.”

Softly, Mother Goose replied, “Oh my grandfather’s name was Lawrence.”

The homeless man beamed knowing he had made a connection. “Well, there you are,” he said. “I knew we had something in common. And what is your name, ma’am? I’d really like to do some work for you. Could I come back tomorrow for some work? I’d sure like to do some work for you.”

I told him my name and said that if he’d come back tomorrow, I’d find something for him to do.

Though I am a very giving person, even this was way out of the box for Mother Goose. This is called beginning a relationship with a homeless man. It starts with the exchange of names. Now it is no longer anonymous donations in an empty coffee cup. Now it’s personal. Now there are expectations and hopes and suggestions of help to come. Now it gets real. Now there’s a commitment of sorts.

Some people would say “Now this is an open can of worms.”

Mother Goose said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Lawrence. Around noonish?”

(Please return tomorrow to hear more of this story…)

Important Stats for a Goose

  • 63,907 honks to date

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