This is not the follow-up to "A Thousand Dollars Away From Homeless" I planned to write.
The follow-up to the story of Debbie Hobson and family (who in September 2008 were less than $1,000 away from eviction) that I pictured writing would convey the scintillating success of how tens - maybe even hundreds - of total strangers selflessly, generously made small expendable cash donations to save Debbie and her family from homelessness in Bradenton, Florida.
It would recount the boot-strapping, heart-warming tale of how Debbie's husband, once a white collar hospital professional, quickly became a truck driver just to provide for his family, and succeeded in pulling them out of the chasm of despair they had plummeted into. It would thank with adulation the multitudes who realized we are connected to one another in far more intricate ways than economically, socially, or politically. It would signal the bottom of the avalanche in this wretched economic mudslide we're in. Surely, we'd all rejoice, pat ourselves on the back, and go on with our lives.
I was wrong, and this is much harder than I thought it would be. So I am asking for your help.
Instead, the story I'm compelled to report is the latest and I fear, final chapter in Debbie's Herculean efforts against nearly impossible odds to keep her family off the streets. Despite financial contributions from many of you, the Hobson family is once more a week away from a shelter. Unless, of course, we do something about it.
If you are not new to this story and want to help Debbie and her family immediately, let me explain a few things. First, this is my final effort to raise assistance for Debbie, which not only means I won't be asking again, but also means that it's your last and perhaps only chance to give. Because of that, Debbie and I agreed to make it a big one, and to make it about more than her family alone.
To see Debbie's family financially through her husband's two-month truck driving training period to his full-time employment will take $3,000. But because I know the audience I can reach with this article, (and I know the wealth they represent) I want this appeal to generate far more than $3,000.
Here's the plan: all proceeds in excess of $3,000 will be donated equally to two charities aiding the homeless and hungry in America: The Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), and Feeding America (formerly America's Harvest).
The easiest way to contribute to this appeal is to send money via PayPal directly to Debbie. You don't need to already have a PayPal account to send money through PayPal . Simply head to www.paypal.com, click the "Send Money" link at the top of the page, and follow the instructions. You will make your contribution to Debbie Hobson at email address email@example.com. For other contribution options, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let me also address honesty and integrity, because I'd be naïve not to in these days of Ponzi schemes galore. Debbie is no fraud and neither am I. This is not a scam. In fact, I couldn't possibly stake my professional and personal reputation on this if it weren't the real thing. In order to assure you of that, Debbie and I will both have access to her PayPal account and document all contributions. I will also publish a public accounting of donations to anyone who requests it (yes, you can be an anonymous donor if you wish) and, should donations exceed $3,000, will happily ask an outside third party to audit the account if necessary.
If you are new to this story let me take a paragraph to bring you up to speed (or you can read more here): I met Debbie Hobson last August through an Obama Campaign email discussion list - Florida Women for Obama. When she mentioned in her one post to the list that despite having held house meetings for the Obama campaign and supporting the candidate in ways far beyond what most of us had done, she was at the end of the road - a few days away from the power being shut off and a few weeks at most from eviction from her family's rental home - I couldn't resist asking how much money it would take to prevent that. When I learned it was less than $1,000 it seemed impossible to do nothing - so I did some quick fact-checking, gave Debbie the money she needed and began writing her story.
In the six months I've known her I've learned much more about Debbie than how she, her husband Randy, and their two children (a daughter, 20, disabled, and an 11-year old son) came on tough times (they both lost their jobs over a year ago). I learned about the strength of character and bottomless hope of this woman even in the face of incredible uncertainty on both national and personal scales. How she has not keeled over from an ulcer or heart attack, or turned to drugs or abandoned her kids is nothing short of a miracle in my book.
Rest assured, both those who've followed this story and those who are new to it, Debbie is the real deal. This is no scam artist, member of a fraud ring, addict, gambler, or someone trying to work the system. Debbie instead could be a poster child for the millions of honest, hard-working, disadvantaged Americans who have slipped through the cracks, who despite receiving limited government benefits (she gets a Social Security survivor's death benefit for her late husband) are disqualified for the very government benefits (welfare and food stamps) that might help her more. Who despite searching relentlessly for work, can't get hired (she's over 50, she has no references), who despite contacting every aid agency (governmental and otherwise) and charity group she can think of, can't obtain the assistance she needs because there are hundreds or thousands more needy than her, and you know, there are limits to how many times you're allowed to visit the free food bank every thirty days.
Here, in Debbie's own words, is her situation today:
"We've come so far, been through so much already and this (truck driving job) was our only chance to get out of this mess, We both knew to some degree each of us would suffer somewhat but it was worth it to get a job and get our life back in order. But as it stands we are going far beyond suffering - it's killing us. Randy is on the road right now with $5.00 left in his pocket and no means of getting any food or drinks for at least a week until he gets paid. And here at home we are going to be kicked out unless we pay the rent owed for February. My phone is about to be shut off any day and neither of us have any means to get in touch with the other.
I called a few shelters which all have waiting lists. One lady told me I should put my name on the list immediately even if I'm not homeless yet because there are about 400 people already on the shelter's waiting list and once you get in you can only stay for five days - after that you have to find either another shelter or a box to live in. So I added my name to the list since the month is coming to an end and come the first I will have to pay the rent or leave, so I figure I better do this while I still have a phone and Internet service which could go at any given minute.
To have to throw in the towel now would be just horrible. We just don't know what to do. Karen, I just don't know what to do anymore I just don't. I guess we did all we could and have reached the end of the road."
So why am I asking you to help Debbie again, and why should you? Here are five good reasons:
1) Many Hands Make Light Work. First, I wouldn't ask others to do what I haven't already done myself. I have personally given more than $1,500 to Debbie's family. The fact of the matter is I can't afford to save Debbie single-handedly. I need my tribe. The beauty of any situation like this is that when we all give just a little, it is effortless for everyone.
2) It Is in Your Own Best Interest to Help. Second, it's in our collective economic interest not to let families like Debbie's go under. Sound familiar? It should, it's the same principle behind Obama's Mortgage Relief Plan. It only hurts us to have more vacant homes glutting the excess inventory already on the real estate market. Additional foreclosures create a cascading domino effect, driving down neighboring home values and putting landlords (like Debbie's) out of business because they can't re-rent investment properties. Additional unemployed and homeless further drain welfare and government aid systems. Simply put: help your neighbor, and you help yourself.
3) This is a Bridge, Not a Bail-out. Debbie and Randy need a bridge to employment, not a permanent handout. We've taken Debbie's family so far that it would be a shame to quit now. For the assistance so far I'd like to take a moment to sincerely thank everyone from my personal family, to business colleagues to friends to anonymous donors I don't know for the contributions they've made to Debbie already. The bad news is it has not been enough to carry her through today. The good news is considerable progress has been made and can continue to be made.
Thanks to those donations, Debbie's husband Randy was able to train for a new career. Formerly a hospital administrator, he was unable to find work after close to a year of interviewing. He knew he had to get a job - any job that would pay well - fast, and truck driving was the best option. He entered truck-driving school in November and completed it with flying colors. Unfortunately, the $285 a week after taxes he makes during the two-month training period he must complete prior to getting his own truck is even less than what he earned on unemployment; plus he needs money to eat on the road. Hence, their current Catch-22.
4) The Stats on Homelessness in America. 700,000 people are homeless on any given night. The average age of a homeless person in America is nine years old. 76% of homeless families who receive needed services like substance abuse treatment, education, and job training stop being homeless.
Homelessness is a condition that we have the power to end.
80% of homeless families who received subsidized housing remain stably housed. However, less than 1 out of 3 people who are eligible for low-income housing, receive it.
5) Because You Can. And finally, if you're even barely contemplating a contribution, if you're thinking of giving a mere $5, then you should because you can.
That's right - because you can. And that's the ultimate bailout lesson in this country. The ultimate bailout will be provided by those of us who have resources to share. If you're not among the recently unemployed, laid off, and hungry; if you're holding steady and going strong, or best of all if you're per chance prospering during these tough economic times (and I know many of you who are) then guess what? YOU ARE MEANT TO HELP. It's that simple. But don't just take my word for it - look around.
What's really happening in America is a redistribution of wealth unlike this country has ever seen. Our government has already taken billions of our collective tax dollars to bail out our financial institutions and it looks like the car companies are next in line. Hey baby boomers, do you honestly think you won't be bailing out your twenty or thirty-something kids and grandkids who've been laid off from Motorola or Adobe or GM? Hey forty-somethings and fifty-somethings, do you honestly think you won't be bailing out your parents whose retirement savings accounts have tanked? Hey everybody, do you honestly think you won't be helping your brothers, sisters, friends and neighbors who've lost jobs when the unemployment runs out and they aren't re-hired yet?
If you think you're exempt, think again, because the challenges you are witnessing are just the beginning. Most of us have underestimated the situation, despite our President's attempts in his inauguration speech to emphasize the severity of these "gathering clouds and raging storms". "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met," said Barack Obama on January 20. I'm learning, as you're learning, the totality of his words: there will be no quick fix. It's going to take many efforts, from many people, to weather this storm. Persistence and innovation are, perhaps, our only keys to success.
What I want even more than to help Debbie (and I want that pretty damn badly), what I want most painfully and honestly and humbly from deep down in my soul is for everyone to realize that the contrasts are increasing so we'll see more clearly. The negativity of humanity has to go somewhere. It ends up with the poor, the homeless, the diseased, and the destitute. Sometimes it becomes intensely concentrated (i.e., Haiti) so we can't miss it. Other times, like now, it grows widespread so we'll at long last realize our inextricable connectedness to one other. We need each other, and we're meant to. Why? For the survival, and evolution, of us all.
Old systems will fail, new ones will be invented in their place, and along the way there will be collateral damage. I pray Debbie and her family won't be expendable in the process, but they might. As tough as this story has been on me to tell, I can't begin to walk in Debbie's shoes. What I can do is be a portal for making the story of the American family like Debbie's visible; I can lend my voice to raising awareness and hopefully, aid; and I pray I can inspire and motivate you to do the same.
I freely admit, in retrospect it would have been so easy to just ignore that first email from Debbie; to let myself be distracted and look away. It would have saved me buckets of heartache to simply have sent Debbie a check, then ended the conversation. I can't give you an intellectual, logical reason why I've come this far. I can only illustrate it with these two closing points:
1) Ode Magazine describes empathy as "When you see yourself as connected to all things, you will be incapable of doing nothing".
2) In the words most commonly attributed to philosopher Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. " (Hey, you knew that was coming, right?)
I'm prepared for you to disagree with me (if you do, please add your comment below). I'm prepared for your criticism of my tactics and technique. If you have a better idea, please share it. I'm prepared for just about anything. The only thing I can't handle is to stand by and do nothing in the face of need.
To recap: This is the final appeal for financial assistance for Debbie Hobson and family. We are striving to raise as close to $3,000 as possible. It should be easy; heck if 200 people donate $15 each that's the total right there. But I'm an incurable optimist, so I want "big fish" donors too since all proceeds over $3,000 will be given equally to The Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), and Feeding America (formerly America's Harvest).
To donate send your contribution via PayPal directly to Debbie at email address email@example.com. For other contribution options or if you have a legitimate full-time salaried job opportunity for Debbie or Randy in or near Bradenton, Tampa, or Sarasota Florida (or even elsewhere) contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And by all means, please act today. Debbie has one week to pay the rent.
This is your continuing wake-up call America. This is your chance to voluntarily redistribute your wealth. This is your chance to overcome resentment and reform the system. Outrage at saving failing institutions without reform is justified. Outrage at helping one another is not. This is your chance to do a lot of good for a lot of families just like yours, and one in particular. And yes, this is the end of the road unless we build a new one. Won't you join me in doing so? Because I really, really want to write that follow-up article about how amazingly successful we were. And I promise you this; if we are, I will.