BLOG: Wear Your Walkin' Shoes

After lunch I take some time to write and video blog. I wonder how you get from point A to point B with no car, no money. Probably a typical dumb thought for someone who drives everywhere everyday. What if you have to get together paperwork to apply for a job? You walk. So I head out Bull Street towards DHEC and Dept of Social Services. Two offices I'm sure the homeless, especially the homeless looking for jobs, must visit at some point. Halfway there it hits me that I haven't had any water in four hours. Drinking fountains aren't exactly around every corner anymore. And for that matter, benches. There are very limited places to sit and rest your feet in DT Cola. I'm hoping I can find a drink of water in a lobby somewhere. I'm wishing I had taken the advice given to me by OGM staffers. They said "wear your walkin' shoes." I certainly wouldn't classify these 10 year old boots as the "walking" type.

I wanted to walk from Washington St out to DHEC and Social Services on Bull to see what it may be like for people like Donald. I met Donald at OGM the day before I became "homeless." He moved to Ridgeway, SC last year from Colorado to be closer to family. He was born in this area. In Colorado, he worked in the trash industry. When his daughter was 10, Donald lost his wife and mother in law. As a single parent, Donald raised his daughter. She's now 24 and supporting herself in Colorado. So, Donald moves to Ridgeway with no job. Starts his search on day one and lands a job in 2 weeks. But there's a problem. His new job is at Columbia Farms and he has no car to get from Ridgeway to work. An army vet, Donald tells the VA about his problem. They send him to OGM. Through the Hand Up program, Donald has a place to sleep and eat while saving enough to rent an apartment close to work. For 6 months, Donald stays at OGM, wakes up, walks from OGM to Columbia Farms. A mile, give or take. He tells me walking to work is no fun, but he does it because he's determined to get his own place. He tells stories of walking across the Gervais St bridge and having bottles thrown at him by passing cars. The winter walks are tough, too. Donald's determination pays of. He is now a graduate of Hand Up, has his own place, and continues to walk from home to work and back 5 days a week. A job at Columbia Farms is no cake walk but Donald says he "puts his head down and stays at it." What a success story and an example of what people mean when they say Americans persevere through tough times.

Looking back, Donald is able to offer some perspective on the public transportation and government offices offered by Columbia. He remembers being so frustrated how tough elected leaders have made it for guys like him to get back on their feet again. Offices that need to be visited frequently for people out of work are strewn all over town. Donald wonders why many of them can't be in one central location? And, the public transportation. With funding always up in the air and routes being cut, how are people with no job, limited money, no home supposed to get around with routes being taken away? Where are the business owners who have their hands tied because they want to hire people but can't because they have no way of getting to work. Means of transportation I'm told is one of the first questions asked in interviews.

Donald's questions make me wonder if our elected leaders truly understand what it's like to walk this path? And what we can do as a community to do more than just feed the homeless? What more can we do to make it easier for them to feed themselves? Perhaps at least considering some of Donald's frustrations would be a start?