Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Big Bill

My group served at St. John's Hospice on Monday morning. We had somewhere in and around 327 men come to the shelter that day for a meal. (I think most of them just wanted to get out of the heat!) Before all of the men came, I had the pleasure of sharing a meal with a man who referred to himself as Big Bill. He was a fairly big man, hence the name, but was as friendly as he was large. I talked to him about the basics and discovered yet another person thrashing the stereotypes of a homeless man.

Big Bill traveled from Georgia after he was laid off from his job. He got hooked up with a ministry called Traveler's Aid, and through a network of missions, ended up at St. John's. He is currently looking for work so that he can get back on his feet. Big Bill didn't really make any bad decisions to get in his position. The jobs simply aren't available in his manufacturing and factory line of work. He says that the places he used to work for found cheaper labor overseas. Big Bill is well educated, but his field is getting smaller and smaller in the US. He goes over to an employment agency nearby and answers different ads. One thing I found to be interesting was that he has been offered jobs outside the city, but lacks the transportation to get there. The focus right now is getting a job where he can take public transportation so he can save up for a car. Then, a whole new world of opportunities is opened to him!

The one thing that stuck out to me about Big Bill was that he recognized the fact that his situation wasn't ideal. He knows it's a process to move out of where he's at right now. At the employment agency, he told the man he wasn't above washing dishes, if that's what it took for him to get a job. The man told him that he was overqualified for that kind of job and that they wouldn't have enough time to train him to do it the way they wanted. Yes, training. For washing dishes. (What?!)

The truth remains that people without a home are still people. As we finished up lunch and got ready to work, Big Bill told me he had a few interviews lined up for this week. I look at Big Bill and I am humbled by the way he is willing to accept a lowly position washing dishes in order to start working his way back onto his feet. Talk about swallowing one's pride. It's safe to say that Big Bill got his name not only because of his physical size, but the size of his character, his heart, and his determination to get back on track with life.

-Tim, CSM Philly City Host Summer 2008

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