Richard Loek's website

Stigma – what would you do

As the last couple of weeks have unfolded I’ve seen many aspects of humanness that I’ve not seen or perhaps simply ignored.

Stigma – what a sharp and stinging word!  You don’t even know what the stigma is associated with and you already know it hurts.  There is meaning being created.  Or even worse – judgement from others helping to reinforce the infliction (creation) of stigma.

Yesterday, May 22, 2015 at around 4:25 PM, Mary and I were returning to our office on Winchester Boulevard in Campbell from running an errand.  We found, or noticed, a mountain bike outside of our office.  As we entered the building we were met by a young man, maybe 18, maybe a little older.  Hard to know at that point (I later determined he is around 21).

The young man asks if we do health insurance.  We both say yes and invite him into the office.  We also encouraged him to bring his bike into the lobby, which he did.

After just a few moments of speaking with Ronnie we determined he really is not looking for insurance.  He is looking for someone who cares enough to help him.  He has been homeless and living on the streets of San Jose.  He came to California from Nebraska. “I just want to get home to Nebraska,” he says.

Ultimately he was looking for $109 for a Greyhound ticket to Lincoln Nebraska.  Mary dove right in – calling agencies.  After several calls it was suggested she reach out to a church in his hometown.  Mary asked Ronnie what church may be supportive of him.  She called the pastor.

Well, this was not Ronnie’s first episode with needing a ride home.  The pastor will be talking with the family to see if the church will buy a ticket home.  If they buy the $109 ticket Ronnie will be on the streets for three weeks.  The $109 ticket requires advanced purchase.

While Mary was making her calls I was making my calls.  There were a few agencies that were open at 4:30 PM on Friday before Memorial Day weekend.  Most unsettling was that the City of San Jose’s homeless hotline was an answering machine and very vague about what number to press.  I dislike automated voice response phone systems.  Seemed any path I chose I was left with the option to leave a message.  Frustrating!

I was asking Ronnie many questions.  Much was learned about a young man on the streets.  He chooses to be one his own as he does not feel safe with groups.  He has extreme anxiety in groups.  He also mentioned he had been molested on the streets.  At the age of 14 he witnessed his uncle kill his mother, grandmother, step-father and wound his cousin.

Do you think this young man has some stigma he is dealing with?

What words would you use to motivate Ronnie to step up and push through his fears?

Would you take $109 out of your pocket for a bus ticket?  If we were to put him on a bus for Nebraska with just a days notice the price was more like $280 or more.

Ultimately I offered to take Ronnie to the City Teams shelter.  They would provide him a meal and a place to sleep for free for a week.  There after it would be $5 a day. Because of his anxiety he was not able to embrace this option.

He has Mary’s and my email address – heart broken, we had to let him continue on his adventure.

There is so much more that Ronnie and I spoke about.  I would like to figure out how to best support our homeless population.  The people, yes they are people, truly need our support.

We are all connected – how will you help?  Rather, will you help?

I asked Ronnie if he had considered the military.  He lit up, smiled and said yes, but sadly stated, “I don’t know if they will take me with my tattoos.”  I called the Army recruiter and got a message machine at 4:50 PM on Friday.  Well, we don’t know if they will take him.  He has a tattoo over his right eyebrow in addition to his arm and neck and who knows where else.