4/22/2009

Another Day in Paradise

At the prompting of Patti Digh (and life, and timing, and the universe), I'm doing one thing every day for 37 Days, and sharing that journey here. You can read about what I'm doing in this post.

I don't talk about my work very often - as in, the thing I do Monday through Friday for pay. Part of the reason is that I believe my real work in this world is being with the boys, unschooling with them, guiding and sharing with them: they are my priority.

Also? It's kind of a tough job, in some ways. Mentally, emotionally tough. I know I have it easy compared to, say, a coalworker. I work for a non-profit that helps connect people with affordable housing. It started out as a small company, just locally here in Charlotte. A man (now my boss) thought the internet would be a great way to let people know what affordable housing options were out there. To hear the story of how the company started... it's magical, in a lot of ways. It started with, literally, a dream that my boss had, and has plenty of the right people being in the right place at the right time. Coincidences, some people call them.

The company has grown a LOT - we're now in 26 states, and we just got the contract for another one. Shortly after the site was launched, we started partnering with the housing authority here, to list the homes that were available for section 8 rentals, and because we do that efficiently and very well, we just keep growing.

I am very, very lucky to have the job I do. It started with an e-mail from a friend, they were looking for someone for maybe 10 - 15 hours a week, in the office. I talked to the owner, went in for an interview. My boss makes a point of hiring people who need some stability in their lives - people out on work release, people who are in recovery, people who need a second chance. I have heard story after story of the gift this has meant to some of my coworkers, and my boss is proving something: give people some trust and some responsibility, and they'll pay you back with their loyalty. Our turnover is very, very low. We're a call center, and I don't know the average turnover rate for those - I know it's high! - but we rarely lose anyone. We hire people because we grow. It's an amazing company.

So, I was hired, and my second day in I realized the work was internet-based, and I asked my boss if I could work from home. We talked about that, and 3 months later I was set up with an office computer and phone at home, and I've been working for them for over 3 years now. I am SO grateful for the ability to earn an income while I'm home with the boys. Before this job, I was taking what I could get here and there, bartending on the weekends the boys were with their Dads, barely making it every month. A stable job with stable income has meant so much to us. The fact that the work itself is meaningful is a huge bonus.

I have the best boss in the world - he listens to his employees' ideas, everyone really feels like we have a stake in this company. There were months when the company was just starting out that he took no pay, going into debt to make sure his workers were paid.

The hard part? My job is answering e-mails, from both the property owners and people searching for homes. Here are some examples:

My son is disabled, and he's trying to make it on $516 a month from SSI. He needs a place to live.

My husband and I have been unemployed since last year. He has asthma and a heart condition. We were evicted, and have been living out of our van since September. His health is getting worse and worse, and we need a place to live.

It's just me and my two kids, I paid a man a deposit on a house, but he's gone and won't answer his phone and there's a note on the door saying it's been foreclosed. I don't have any more money, and don't have a place to live.

HELLO,MY IS ________ I AM THIRTY YEARS AND I HAVE FOUR CHILDREN AND NO JOB, NO INCOME,ALL SHELTERS OF ________ ARE PACKED NOT ACCEPTING ANY MORE FAMILIES BECAUSE OF LONG WAITING LISTS.I HAVE BEEN TO HOUSING AUTHORITY,THEY HAVE NO EMERGENCY HOUSING.MY PARENTS REFUSE TO HELP OUT I HAVE NO FRIENDS HERE THAT COULD HELP.ALL I KNOW IS THAT I AM VERY SCARED OF LOSING MY KIDS BECAUSE OF THIS SITUATION.WE SLEEP IN A VAN OUT AT WALMART SUPER CENTER PARKING LOT.HOWEVER,I HAVE A 5YEAR OLD,4YEAR OLD ,1YEARS AND A 4 MONTH.I HAVE BEEN OFFERED WORK FROM MANY PLACES THATS HIRING THE ONLY PROBLEM IS NO DAY CARE,THEIR FATHER IS NOT HELPING OUT ENOUGH.I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO NOW CAN SOMEONE PLEASE OFFER US A CHANCE BY MOVING US INTO A HOME.

can you helping me with housing.ssievery month $740.i have a burglery charge.no money depost.please call me! .need help with medical,dentist

Hi, my name is _________. I was a Section8 recipient recently. I moved because the neighborhood I moved in I could not let my kids out to really play and people would just be in the yard and grown-ups were fighting in broad daylight with each other on the outside. The landlord refused to let me out of the lease, so I decided that I could just do it on my own. So I saved and left the property. At this time on my current job I am really struggling cant seem to make ends meet. I wanted to know if I would be eligible to reapply or what I would need to do in order to get on the waiting list. I am willing to do whatever I need to in order to reapply.

Hello my name is __________ and i am in need of assistance , i really need employmet i was layed off on my job. Now i cant pay my bills wich means i cant aford to live in my aparment anymore .Im just asking could your organazation could help me with my heartship.


Again, and again, and again. Every day, story after story after story. These were the tamer ones - I've had page-long e-mails, filled with everything that's happened to the family over the past year, in ragged, horrible detail. All ending with: Can you help? Is there help for us?

The answer? Really, really, often it's: I'm sorry, there's nothing in your rent range, or, everything in your rent range is on a waiting list. I can give you the numbers of some agencies that may be able to help.

In Charlotte, where I live, our section 8 waiting list has been closed for years. Years. People can't even put their names on the waiting list - that, at the time it was closed, was at least 3 years long.

Ironically, on the other side? I get e-mails, too:

My home has been listed on your site for 3 months, and I've gotten only one call. Am I doing something wrong?

I just wanted to make sure our property was still listed. It's been available for quite some time, and we haven't heard from anyone.

Do you have any suggestions for how to get our property rented? I've gotten 4 calls, but no one has come to see the property.

Plenty of properties sitting empty, plenty of folks needing housing, and rarely the twain shall meet. Actually, that's not true - properties are rented all the time, some people do find help. But it's hard.

So often what the people on the other end of the e-mail need is for someone to HEAR them, really hear them, and that person, because of my job, is me.

I won't be just another person shuttling them off somewhere else... well, I might need to shuttle them off, because of the limited service our company provides - BUT! They will know they were heard. They will know someone cares.

I don't know if that helps someone sick and tired, who really just wants a place to live. I hope it does. It's often all I have to offer.

2 comments:

Jean said...

I'm so glad that you do what you do as your "money earning" work. What an incredible opportunity and gift you give - to hear people. For some people, that might be more helpful than even finding housing for them.

Thank you for your post. It was really beautiful.

Carolynn said...

Wow, that sounds like an incredibly difficult job and one that requires someone with your empathy and understanding to fill it.

I really liked your reference to being 'blue chip stock' on Patti's site today. I can relate.

(p.s....you're not alone, unless you choose to be.)

*hugs*
Carolynn