Feb 14, 2006

Starting Over: Breaking The Cycle Of Living On The Streets


This is the second part of a series profiling a homeless Toledoan

(Toledo, OH) Major Goodlow has been at these crossroads before; he estimates that he has found himself turning to the Cherry Street Mission at least three times in the past.

“It’s hard to admit that you are that low, but you have to swallow your pride and get help,” he said. “I had to stop lying to myself if I was ever going to change.”

Today Major is attending a class in the Mission led by Denny Hartman, assistant director of men's ministries. The class is called “Survival Skills,” and is geared toward teaching the men how to be savvy consumers.

“Most of you understand what a bank is, but who can tell me how a bank makes money?” asked Hartman.

Several hands shot up.

“They give you something like two percent interest and charge some other fool twenty-four percent,” said a member of the class, who got a round of laughter.

“Your numbers are right,” said Hartman, “but how many of you have paid those high-interest loans, or gone to a check-cashing place for money?”

Many hands went up in the room.

Hartman talked about the importance of saving.

“The difference between people with wealth and those without wealth always comes down to saving every week,” he said, adding that the best formula calls for an automatic tithing to God and a mandatory savings deposit each week. “People who are poor are the people who have never learned how to save.”

Several of the men were quite knowledgeable about more sophisticated forms of investment, such as IRAs and 401-Ks. Hartman asked about what the best choice might be when a person comes into a large amount of money.

“Buy a crack pipe,” joked one back-of-the-room attendee to a smattering of laughter.

Major expressed irritation at the jokester’s comments.

“Man, that’s just ignorant,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys in here who are just barely hanging on, and that fool has to go and say something stupid like that. What if that dumb comment made somebody start craving and go back out and use again?”

Life Programs For People On The Margins

While meeting the immediate food, clothing, and shelter needs of the homeless is of first importance, the Mission’s Reverend Dan Rodgers said that these are just the first steps in working with the men who come to the facility.

“Ultimately we never want to see them again,” he said. “I don’t say that in a mean way, but in the sense that if we prepare them to be successfully integrated into mainstream society, we really will never see them again.”

An audit conducted in 2004 on the Cherry Street Mission seems to show that the facility’s programs are indeed effective, with over 74% of the men who complete the program maintaining independent living one year after leaving the shelter.

“Also, we don’t set limits on the amount of time men can stay here,” he said, noting that some local shelters put 90- or 180-day time limits on clients. “Sometimes a person is not ready to commit to working through the program, and we are willing to wait until they will make that leap of faith.”

Major, among other classes, is currently taking a computer software class, learning skills in such programs as Microsoft Word and Excel, as well as learning how to navigate the Internet. Major’s previous work experience helped him out.

“I worked at a couple of oil-and-lube places that used computers, so some of this is easier for me,” he said. “Anyone who thinks they can get by in the 21st century without computer skills is crazy.”

The training facility can accommodate over a dozen students at once. Major said that he is also learning the basics of hardware at the facility.

“Maybe this knowledge will help me out on a future job,” he said. “You never know what an employer might need.”

Major works off and on as job opportunities are made available at the Mission by employers needing day laborers, but he said his case manager doesn’t want him to get too ambitious about full time work yet.

“Part of my problem in the past was when I would get that first big paycheck, then I would get the urge to go out and use drugs again,” he said. “This time I want to make sure I have my head on straight before I start worrying about those big checks.”

The Mission makes available an internal savings arrangement for men in the program, said Hartman.

“It’s too easy for these guys to get a $400 paycheck, and then run right down the street to the crackhouse,” he said. “They smoke up a whole week’s worth of work in two days.”

Another class that Major attends regularly is called “Thinking For A Change.”

“This class gets you to stop and think, and it’s helpful because a lot of us are very impulsive,” said Major. “The instructor, Mo, is really good at getting us to think through different situations.”

Other classes that the men attend are called “Offended No More” and “Relapse Prevention.” Major said that these were good classes, but that the most important are the 12-Step programs.

“Groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) are filled with people who have been where you are now,” he said. “I disagree about how they use the words “Higher Power” instead of “God,” but there are a lot of wise people in those rooms who can help you start thinking better.”

Reconnecting To Mainstream Society

One of the difficulties faced by many homeless people involves damage to personal relationships. Drug use and criminal activity by some homeless men have caused them to alienate themselves from their families and friends.

“My wife decided that she couldn’t take being around me any more when I was using,” said Major. “I don’t blame her. Money that should be spent on household necessities ends up going into the crackpipe, and people tend to be pretty cranky when they come down from the high.”

Major and his wife are currently separated, but they get together at least once a month.

“We love each other, but how I acted in the past makes it hard for her to believe that I am going to straight this time,” he said. “I just pray and do the right thing every day. If God wills it, we will get back together.”

One of the most significant causes of homelessness is this issue of strained relations, said Hartman.

“Some of these guys have angered their relatives, and they literally have nowhere else to go,” he said. “Sometimes living here is a good way for people to realize how important a person’s family is.”

Major, whose mother died over the holidays, used the funeral as a way to reconnect with some family members he had not seen in years.

“It was a sad time, being a funeral and all, but there was some good that came out of it,” he said. “I hope to prove to my family that I can contribute again.”

The most important connection, according to Major, is with God.

“If you separate yourself from God, you are left trying to fight these demons all by yourself,” he said. “The only reason I haven’t completely destroyed myself is because God had mercy on me, and it will be through God that I will be able to get through this.”

Major's story can also be found at the Toledo Free Press website.


Anonymous said...

Great story Mike.

Lisa Renee said...

I agree, it is a very well done story. I also hope everything turns out for him.


Stephanie said...

I wish him the best. He seems to be on the right track.

historymike said...

Much obliged for your kind words for Major (and kudos for the article, although it was mostly just transcribing Major).

He's a very interesting man with an incredible amount of wisdom, despite his life choices.

Or maybe BECAUSE of his life choices...

Stefan Schmidt said...

Much obliged for your kind words for Major

Huh? I am confused…. Why would you thank someone for ‘complimenting’ this below average (even by Black standards) individual?

Let me make a prediction here: he remains homeless, contracts aids from an infected syringe and dies shortly thereafter.

His life will be completely non-consequential (the most use that will be derived from that body will be fertilizer; this nourishment will allow more plants to grow and donate oxygen; which we need to breathe).

What do you see in those blood-shot doped-out eyes?

I see a complete waste of organic compounds that could be more use to us in the ground nourishing plants than being concentrated in his body.

He is the very embodiment of inefficiency.

historymike said...

We see what we want to see, Stefan.

I have seen Major up close for several days, and he is clean, sober, and alert - and with anything but "blood-shot, doped up eyes."

Stefan Schmidt said...

I have seen Major up close for several days, and he is clean, sober, and alert - and with anything but "blood-shot, doped up eyes."

He is a crack junkie (you wrote this).

He is homeless because he has no self control.

He will most likely remain homeless until he dies.

If you think you can reform him somehow then you are wasting your time (his struggle does make for some amusement, however).

What makes you think he will change?

He is a lost cause Mike.

historymike said...

I have no interest in "reforming" anyone, Stefan. He has to do that on his own.

I just pointed out that he has several months of sobriety, thinks clearly, and seems to be making progress.

Whether he will ultimately be successful? Only God knows, and He ain't telling.

Calico Jack said...

I don't know if you remember Toledo's bag lady, Elaine Higgins. Elaine was homeless by choice, as social services could tell you. Her social worker had arranged for an apartment, furniture and relief several times, and Elaine always returned to the street. A close family friend of mine told me that she had known Elaine before Elaine became the bag lady. Elaine's life was normal enough, except that she liked to go to construction sites and pick up workers for quick sex in the back seat of her car. She also liked to be called Poochie.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Great story Mike!

With Major's faith and God's help, he can make it.

Any plans to check back with him and see how he's doing Mike?