It had been quite a while since I had last seen Evan. Fifteen months, he said, in his estimation.
So what do you say when someone has been away from the Hospitality Center for so long? “Hey, Evan, good to see you”? But the fact that he was back taking advantage of our services might imply this was not good news for him.
Indeed, it turned out that it wasn’t.
It was clear to anyone who ever talked with Evan that he had a lot going for him. He spoke rationally. He evidenced a strong sense of personal responsibility. He didn’t use any substances. And he worked—in typically Labor-Force jobs where the duration was limited and the pay was barely minimum wage, but he would have considered himself a “moocher” if he didn’t work.
And somebody else had observed that about Evan too, because roughly fifteen months ago, a friend of a friend who ran a construction crew hired Evan full-time as a laborer. By scrimping, Evan was able to save enough to get into an apartment and also buy a car. It was enough for Evan to feel he had it made.
But all the hard physical labor took its toll. His back went out, then his shoulders, then under a tendonitis diagnosis he was told not to lift more than ten pounds—ever.
You’re pretty useless as a laborer if you can’t lift more than ten pounds.
His personal convictions prevented Evan from applying for worker’s comp. He knew the business of the contractor he was working for was itself struggling financially and he didn’t feel right about filing a claim. “You don’t do that to a friend of a friend,” he said.
Things rapidly domino-ed after that. He lost his apartment and car in the same day. His laptop malfunctioned and he had no money to repair it. While he did have a phone, he lost the charger to it, putting it out of commission. And the reason he now found himself back at Nighrwatch was that a girlfriend he was staying with finally asked him to leave.
I asked him whether he currently had any source of income and he said, “No.”
Some people have simple answers for dealing with the poor and homeless. They’re all just freeloaders, right? Or have purposely chosen a life of dissipation by taking the avenue of alcohol or drugs? Or are just overall wastrels and ne’er-do-wells?
Then explain someone like Evan.
A congressman even proposed this week requiring work for food stamps, with no exceptions. He even had the audacity to say that the Bible justified him in his position.
But then how do you account for someone like Evan, who would like to work but can’t? Or those with mental illness who have not the capability of keeping focused on a job? Or single parents who can’t afford child care costs and transportation expenses to allow them the freedom to get to work (and, of course, we know that child-rearing isn’t itself a job)?
I used to say that Nightwatch was a place of last resort for those who had nowhere else to go. As Evan’s plight indicated, that still remains very true.
Ultimately if there is to be hope for folks like Evan, the system is going to have to create ways to accommodate them.
Until then Nightwatch will still be here.