BLOG: "Smoke Before You Blow"

If you're homeless, chances are you're a smoker. I write that not to judge or to preach the health risks. I write that because it's been part of this experience. The men trade cigarettes, sell cigarettes, smoke 'em while waiting for dinner and evening chapel.

One place you won't see smoking is inside Oliver Gospel Mission. It's not allowed and if you're caught? Banned from the Mission for life. It's dangerous. This is a more than century old building. It would catch fire and collapse faster than the Twin Towers. At least that's how it's explained to you by Carlos. Carlos is the tough, but lovable Federal Security Administration officer who greets you, checks your identification, goes over the rules at OGM. I know it would be rare if a fire started here, but I peek through the blinds on the window over my bed to see if I could jump should a fire break out in this old building. (FYI, I've determined I could leap from my window across 5 feet to the neighboring parking garage. I've also determined I've put way too much thought into this.)

Come to find out Carlos is full of one liners like the "quicker than the Twin Towers" statement. After chapel ends, Carlos hollers "Smoke before you blow!" That means you can smoke one more cig out on the sidewalk before you take your breathalyzer. Can't have any alcohol in you if you want to stay here. You must blow a 0.000 before you get a bed. I passed with flying colors, choosing not to take a few pulls on the whiskey bottle before chapel.

If smoking is their one vice, most staff here don't give the men too hard a time about it. Life's tough and if a cigarette helps it feel better then they aren't going to get in the way (within the rules, of course.) That's not to say OGM staff would like to see smokers quit before they get a job, get a home, get on with their lives. Consider this: OGM staffers tell me smokers are 8 times more likely to fall back into other bad habits that made them homeless in the first place. The smoking addiction hits the same area of the brain that deals with other vices. So clearly the stakes are higher here to quit beyond the health risk factors. Dragging on a cigarette makes it easier for you to be dragged back into homelessness. BH