How Patrick helped a homeless person through computer coding

Help can come in all forms, in all sorts of ways.

Yes, giving a homeless person food, money, or something to drink can act as baby steps to helping them, but in order to fully connect with them, we must transcend this. In saying this, we must give empathy and not sympathy. We must understand them and share their feelings, share our experiences and more.

Prior to You Over Me, I myself, like many of you, have always felt nervous in approaching the homeless to try to start a conversation or simply ask their story, worried that they would take it the wrong way and react badly, even though I’ve really wanted to. Why can’t it be as easy as it looks when they’re human beings as well?

That was until I read about Patrick McConlogue’s story.

A computer programmer in his late 20’s, Patrick would walk past the same homeless man who lived with his bags of belongings near the Hudson River everyday on the way to work. Both men were around similar ages, and every time he saw him, like myself and others, Patrick would feel a mixture of empathy and shame for not going over and helping him, as he wanted to but was always just too nervous.

One day, Patrick saw him using old boat chains to exercise, lifting them up and down in a similar re-enactment to a Rocky Balboa scene. He decided to approach him with the intention of wanting to help him out.

Rocky Balboa training scene
Rocky Balboa training scene

He gave him two options: either he would give the man $100 cash, or use his own laptop to teach him to write computer code. An unusual proposal, but one that could change the man’s life for a day, or forever.

The man revealed his name as Leo, and then accepted the latter offer. Patrick believed that if Leo could master coding, he would be able to turn his life around with a skill that many people can’t even possess and hopefully get a job.

Patrick teaching Leo to code
Patrick teaching Leo to code

With a second hand laptop, three books on Java, and the programming language, Leo and Patrick began these one on one sessions. Although Leo had a limited knowledge of computer basics, Patrick realized that he had an extreme willingness to learn about coding, along with a remarkable memory that could easily remember word for word.

Coding, more complex than you think
Coding, more complex than you think

Leo even proposed an app idea for a smartphone- a car-sharing one that would monitor the amount of CO2 emissions you’ve avoided, an idea that spurred from his interest in the environment and to make the world a better place.

“It has become the best part of my day. I usually spend my working life staring at a computer screen, but here is a real human being, who is enthusiastic and focused. It is a pleasure to spend time with him,” said Patrick.

Leo works hard every day for three hours with him, and it’s become a surprising friendship that both of them did not expect.

Something interesting that I gathered from this story was Patrick’s realization that the homeless are more complex than one might think.

“I always thought homeless people were isolated, but Leo is part of a very supportive community. He says the hardest thing is not the practical challenges but society’s view of him. There is an assumption that homeless people are addicted to something or mentally ill, but Leo doesn’t drink or smoke; he became homeless after he lost his job and then his accommodation in 2011.”

We hope that Patrick and Leo’s story is one that will encourage you to look past the myths that surround the homeless, you might be surprised at what you find. I once saw a homeless person holding a sign with the line,  “If you don’t see us, then we don’t exist” written on it. Like Patrick, let’s show them that we care, that we do see them and that we do value their existence.

“If he said he needed anything, I’d jump through hoops for him, but I don’t ever want him to think we are anything but equals.”

Not only has Patrick’s approach proved that we need to start seeing the potential of the homeless, but to actually become that stepping stone to help or motivate them to turn their lives around. Let’s put their needs over our own as they’re much more in need of it.

#youoverme

Written by JC

Quick Info: Homelessness & Domestic Violence

Now that we’ve given you the big picture, let’s give you a quick background.

domestic

As you can see through our various true stories below, homelessness can happen to anyone, even the happiest of people. A critical factor that directly contributes to this increasing social problem is domestic violence, a problem that is faced by many in the country.

domestic

In Australia, one woman is killed each week due to domestic violence, with one in three experiencing it generally (Homelessness Australia, 2012). National Shelter (2014) found that domestic and family violence topped the leader board of causes for homelessness with 23%, with 55% of females citing this reason as being without a home.

So far, police in Australia have dealt with an average of 594 domestic violence matters. If you were in the situation, would you make the call to take your child away from the problem to protect them?

When women do eventually leave these abusive partners, they’re jumping into a safety net that’s full of holes. The demand for shelter throughout Australia is so high that every second woman has to be turned away, and majority of these women will end up homeless.

I used to work with a woman that had to crash on the couches of her fellow co-workers to try to escape the harsh conditions with her husband at home, and I was able to track her down to see more into her story. I met up with Sarah* (name changed), who now lives with her three-year old daughter in a community house shelter that only has room for five families at a time, charging $25 a night.

women

“I was a victim of violence. I never phoned the police as although I was always afraid, I loved my husband. He was the father of our child and because of that, it becomes hard to speak up”, she said.

“Don’t look at me and stereotype- I wasn’t homeless because of drugs, alcohol, addictions. People don’t understand that being homeless is also a choice and in saying that it becomes a situation that goes beyond my control”.

Although she could rely on the generosity of her co-workers in providing her a couch throughout this period of hardship, as opposed to living on the streets, it still constituted as being ‘homeless’ due to her lack of homely elements such as a sense of security, stability, privacy, and safety.

Nowadays, she is still without a proper home, but is working towards putting herself and her daughter in more homely conditions.

“Living here is probably the safest and most secure I’ve felt in a long time even though it isn’t a permanent thing”.

What would you do in Sarah’s* situation?

Please take a minute to think about the complexities behind homelessness. Many do not simply ‘choose’ to be homeless. Factors such as domestic violence directly tear families apart, leaving many women without a home and without a sense of dignity. Homelessness is not a matter that we should overlook but rather, take time to pick apart the pieces. Let’s realize the importance in recognising the homeless, and help those in need in ways that we can. 

#youoverme

SOURCES:

Homelessness Australia, (2013). Homelessness in Australia. [online] Available at: http://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/images/publications/Fact_Sheets/Homelessness_in_Australia_v2.pdf [Accessed 22 Aug. 2015].

National Shelter, (2015). Housing Australia factsheet. [online] WA: Shelter WA, pp.2-12. Available at: http://www.shelternsw.org.au/publications-new/factsheets-new/226-housing-australia-factsheet/file [Accessed 22 Aug. 2015].

Written by JC

Spotlight on Chris Gardner: from homelesss to multimillionaire

Chris Gardner
Chris Gardner

Chris Gardner- a picture of perfectness filled with fatherhood and a multimillionaire business. But life wasn’t always this way. Growing up with an abusive stepfather that regularly beat his mother and being raped by a man as a boy certainly affected him greatly. Gardner’s ex-partner, Jackie, gave birth to their son, Christopher Jarrett Media Gardner Jr., in 1981, the same year that he was working as a research lab assistant at UCSF, which only paid $8,000 annually- an amount that was not enough to support a family, and eventually quit after four years, becoming a medical equipment salesman.

Gardner recalls a pivotal moment in his life, when he came across an immaculately-dressed man named Bob Bridges driving a red Ferrari whilst offering him his spot in a parking lot. “You can have my spot”, he said, “but I gotta ask you a couple questions… What do you do? How do you do it?”. The man answered back with, “I’m a stockbroker”.

More determined than ever to follow this man’s path, he began directly visiting investment firms to try and find work, but found himself taken into custody instead due to $1,200 of fines in unpaid parking tickets. After being released, Gardner went directly to Dean Witter Reynolds’ stock brokerage, and was accepted into the training program. Despite this being an unpaid internship, his determination to become the best shone through, and he would always be the first and last one in the office, always trying to reach his goal of 200 calls a day. However, this unpaid role meant that it began a struggle to support living expenses whilst also solely supporting a two-year-old son.

Chris Gardner and his son
Chris Gardner and his son

Gardner and his son secretly struggled with homelessness with none of his co-workers knowing about it for over a year. He would often make every effort to put his son in daycare, stand in soup kitchens, and slept anywhere where he and his son would be safe, such as at the office after hours, motels, public transport. In one case, they slept at MacArthur station in Oakland, CA, locking the door and sleeping the whole night on the bathroom floor, with people constantly banging loudly on the door wondering what was going on inside.

The bathroom floor where Gardner and his son slept overnight
The bathroom floor where Gardner and his son slept overnight
The toilet scene, as scene in Will Smith's 'Pursuit of Happiness'
The toilet scene, as scene in Will Smith’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’

In another case, the father and son duo often had to wait in line for rooms provided by the local church. The lines for the rooms started at 6pm, and you had to be out by 8am the next morning. On numerous nights, they missed the cut, meaning that they had to sleep in subway stations or waiting areas.

Eventually, his willpower and refusal to give up lead to him being employed by Bear Stearns & Company, where he became a top earner through his ever-lasting determination. In 1987, he founded his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich, in Chicago, and the rest is history.

“I couldn’t tell you that we were homeless, I just knew that we were always having to go. So, if anything, I remember us just moving, always moving”, says Gardner, looking back.

The first day that him and his son had their own roof over their heads will forever be etched clearly into Gardner’s mind. “On the first night we slept on the floor because we didn’t have any furniture yet. The next day we were walking out the door and my little boy got very upset. He said ‘papa, you forgot to bring our things’. He was upset because he was used to having to take our stuff with us every day, wherever we were. I don’t know how to explain the beauty of it, to be able to say to my little boy ‘we are home now, we don’t have to bring our stuff anymore.'”

He believes that homelessness that can affect anyone in the city, no matter the race or no matter how lazy or not lazy you are, and success is in the reach of anyone, if you try hard enough.

We hope that this inspirational story of Chris Gardner shows that there are more complex stories behind the homeless- hard work is not a word that is non existent in their vocabulary. I myself definitely do not have the ability to become a stockbroker!

Below is Gardner’s story made accessible through Will Smith’s adaption of it in ‘Pursuit of Happiness’.

Written by JC

MYTH 1: How come homeless people don’t just go and get a job?

homeless wall street

Over the years, we’ve heard so many assumptions and stereotypes of the homeless that we can’t even count them on one hand anymore. One of the most reoccurring ones being that the homeless are simply too lazy to work. Many people with comfortable shelter over their heads always seem to find the time to question, “How come homeless people don’t just get a job?” In saying this, they don’t ever wonder if there are actually jobs readily available, or if any barriers persist, such as being able to work without a proper home or address.

Actually, one third to one half of the homeless population are employed, with the employment rate holding around 44%- a statistic that may surprise many of you. This might raise questions as to why these people don’t have proper housing as they must earn some sort of money to be able to do so, right? Most of this population are working minimum wage jobs, ones that don’t actually provide enough money to pay for the basic living expenses in many parts of Australia. According to Janda (2015), our country still tops Deutsche Bank’s global list of expensive countries chart as the world’s most expensive country to live in. On top of this, many of the working homeless are underemployed, meaning that they don’t get enough hours to support themselves, or if they did have a home before, are lacking significantly in the ability to pay the bills. The average rent for houses increased by 75.8% between 2002 and 2012 (National Shelter, 2014), and between 2009-2010, it was found that there was a shortage of 539,000 private rental dwellings that were both affordable and available for renters with gross incomes at or below the bottom 40% of income distribution. In saying this, many people who work for low wages find themselves without a home when the company that they work for cutback their hours or staff. In such a world, there are many working people living around us in cars, shelters, or simply on the streets.

But wait, so why don’t they just get multiple jobs to get more money so that proper shelter is possible? It’s not really that simple. Getting enough hours at multiple jobs can be extremely difficult- employers have to be happy to make a schedule that accommodates the time schedule of the employee’s other jobs. Coming from personal experience, even working for jobs that pay much higher than minimum wage, I’ve certainly had difficulty maintaining multiple jobs at the same time due to conflicting schedules.

Although jobs provide money, money alone in many instances is not enough to rent an apartment. What?!… You might ask. It’s true, to get accepted as a tenant of majority of apartment complexes, one must have a stable credit history and a job that pays triple the monthly rent. Let’s put this into perspective- if a room in an apartment or house only costs $650 a month, those who rent it must earn at least $1950 to cover the costs. So although a homeless person may earn at least $650 a month, most apartment complexes won’t rent to him if he makes not much more than this.

As mentioned before, the lack of an address is an issue. Employers are put off by irregular postal addresses as they can’t properly put them on postal addresses. On top of this, many homeless people don’t own actual phones, so communication between the employer and employee will be difficult, and contacting them for interviews would be hard.

Many homeless people also don’t have cars- which makes it difficult in commuting to and from jobs. Samuel Meixueiro, a homeless man living in a church in Kansas had been walking on foot for five to six hours each way everyday to work. “I’m not a vagrant. I have a job. I’m doing the best I can”, Meixuerio said. A police officer who heard his story immediately went out and bought a bicycle for Meixueiro to help him on his journey.

Samuel Meixueiro getting his new bike
Samuel Meixueiro

Before you judge a book by its cover, please take some time to always consider the multiple layers behind it. Homeless people may look a certain way, but many of them are much more hardworking than some of us are. Like this police officer, let’s put their needs over our own.

Read more about Samuel here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3252610/Kind-hearted-cop-gives-bike-homeless-man-learning-walk-FIVE-HOURS-way-work.html

SOURCES:

Janda, M. (2015). Cost of living: Australia tops Deutsche Bank’s global list of expensive countries. [online] ABC News. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-17/australia-tops-the-global-charts-for-cost-of-living/6400358 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2015].

National Shelter, (2015). Housing Australia factsheet. [online] WA: Shelter WA, pp.2-12. Available at: http://www.shelternsw.org.au/publications-new/factsheets-new/226-housing-australia-factsheet/file [Accessed 22 Aug. 2015].

NFL stars spend a day in the life of a homeless person… and are shocked at what they find

In recent times, it’s hard to ignore the soaring amount of homeless people living on the streets. “Will they be cold out here? What happens to them if they don’t get enough money to buy food for the day? Where are there families?” are just some of the many thoughts that constantly run through our heads when seeing them. Whilst it’s impossible to stop and talk to every single homeless person on every single street, how you react to even one of them speaks a great deal more. Whilst it’s great to simply tell you what they deal with on a daily basis, it’s even better to show you.

Chris Long
Chris Long

Chris Long and William Hayes, two players from the NFL’s St Louis Rams decided to see for themselves the hardships that the homeless constantly suffer from. These two men, who usually live the opposite of life on the streets and are worth millions, put themselves in homeless shoes for a couple of days with only $8 between them, where they panhandled, slept outside, and begged for money.

William Hayes
William Hayes

During this time, they were questioned by police repeatedly just for walking past looking homeless, asked to leave their makeshift home for the night due to trespassing, and stared down by many who didn’t think twice about it. They even met Marty, a chronically homeless man that has made his home in an empty building in St. Louis, who used to own a wrecking company became homeless due to a bitter divorce and DWI’s. Upon meeting him and hearing his story, both players immediately wanted to help out, and were able to put him and another into temporary housing, helping them support them for the first two months.

With only those $8 between them two, begging for money for dinner became a must. Chris managed to get $5 from a generous driver, which meant that the two could now go and buy a burger each from the fast food store, instead of going to the soup kitchen for a small free meal, and it was then that they both realized how much such a small amount of money actually meant to the homeless. In many cases in everyday life, many people simply use spare change or spare silver coins to drop into people’s hats- think about how big of a smile you can put on their faces if you give more! After all, they’re much more in need than we are.

This experience led to many realizations, firstly by Chris, that “the causes of homelessness are so multiple and layered”. How we treat others is important, as none of us have any idea what they’re really going through.

“Now when I see a homeless person, I see lives on detour. Mothers and fathers struggling to be reunited with their children, faces that have been deprived of sleep and shelter. Individuals living in fear and loneliness. Human beings looking to reclaim their dignity… I just can’t look away anymore”.- Chris Long.

We at You Over Me feel greatly inspired by this video, and would like it to give some insight into the hard lives of the homeless. When we’re sleeping warm and comfily in our beds in Winter, many of them are constantly being told to move along at night or don’t even have the warm protection required. Imagine being looked down upon every time you walk the streets! Let’s bind together and realize that we are all the same, and they deserve the help that we are able to give.

Video source credit: Tony Bologne II 

Written by JC

Interview with: Joe

'Joe'
‘Joe’

Here at You Over Me, we see the power of engaging with others. So we took some time yesterday to go talk to someone special to find out his story and the reason why he is where he is today. We met up with ‘Joe’ (he preferred not to be pictured), a 39 year old homeless man that is usually situated in Newtown, and I drive past him everyday that I go to work. He always has all of his possessions packed into three or four bags next to him. He’s certainly not your average joe (pun intended), and showed me that there is definitely always more the eye. 

Q1: How did you come to live here?

I used to live in a little house with my wife at the time, and owned my own business (he described it as a paper printing company, similar to Kinko’s). It was destroyed by the downturn in the economy and the Internet and personal computers coming in- not many people needed to come in and print documents anymore as they had their own printers at home. It was so sad, I’d owned the company for over 10 years and had built so many relationships from it. After that, my wife and I started to grow apart and eventually she wanted a divorce, which because of a prenup that we signed before, I had to give her most of my money on top of expensive divorce fees.  I spiralled into depression and drinking. I’ve been homeless for about two years now.

Q2: What do you do everyday? Do you have job?

Contrary to popular belief, some of us work bloody hard everyday. Although I no longer have a home, everyday I’m trying to pick myself up and save up for something small. I wasn’t always like this (homeless), and I don’t believe I always will be. I work as a cleaner in the city, and so every morning I wake up at about 6am and go to the gym on the corner where they let me use the showers and get ready for work. Real nice of them. Rand, the owner he’s a good bloke, always helps me out when I’m in need. I work damn hard and haven’t called in sick even for one day. But the rental and housing rates are just too high, I can’t afford it at the moment and haven’t been able to get too many shifts.

Q3What’s the hardest part of being homeless?

Everyday is a struggle. Finding something to eat that is substantial, finding shelter when the shelter homes are full. The other day, I went into Maccas to get something to eat, and it was humiliating. Everyone was looking down at me because of the way that I was dressed. I used to be like everyone else, but it sometimes seems like we’re a completely different race or group from others. I didn’t get any shifts the week before as the company that I work as a cleaner closed for a week and didn’t need me, so I didn’t have much money for food. I wanted to get a burger but I only had a few dollars in my pocket, and I was missing 50 cents. So I couldn’t get the burger as I didn’t have 50 cents. It’s also hard because although I don’t have an alcohol problem anymore, sometimes when it’s freezing out here and all I have is one thin blanket, sometimes not even, I’m going to go to the liquor store and buy a drink when it’s that cold to warm me up a bit.

Joe, like many others, are not simply homeless because they choose to be. Many hardships and personal traumas have led to such situations, and many of them are working hard to change that around. We hope that this interview has helped bust the myth that homeless people are lazy and don’t actually have jobs. Clearly, that’s not the case. Stay tuned for more interviews!

Written by JC

Meet the Melbourne man placing the needs of the homeless over his own

Nasir Sobhani
Nasir Sobhani

Less than five years ago, Nasir Sobhani depended on any type of drug that he could come by, leading to a downward spiral that nearly ruined his life.

Now a changed man, Nasir has been sober for a few years and works as a barber, taking two days off a week to travel around Melbourne to give haircuts to the homeless for free.

“A homeless person doesn’t get the respect and attention needed”, Nasir says. “So letting them know that they are worthy of human interaction is actually the main purpose here”.

homeless 2
Nasir’s first client

His first patron was a heroin addict who wasn’t jobless (as everyone would assume), but washed the windows everyday for the barber shop where Mr Sobhani worked at.

“I asked him to let me cut his hair, so we sat down together and we shared out stories about our past… After I was done… his mum even came in and was taking photos and was in tears”.

Whilst talking to Nasir, he made sure to let us know that the connections created with these homeless people were held in high regard, and that the difficult stories that were shared from them only made him want to help them more.

Let’s encourage people to be more like Nasir- let’s place the needs of the homeless over ours #youoverme in order to pave the way for a better world.

You can follow his journey here:

https://instagram.com/thestreetsbarber/?hl=en

http://www.thestreetsbarber.com/

Written by JC