Beware of Counting

By August 7, 2018leadership


I finally made it home after a grueling afternoon of interventions. I’m grateful for some incredible moments and successes with the last dozen of struggling peeps, which more than made up for the journey’s rough beginning. 

One young couple, pushing their carts along a busy thoroughfare in the 110F heat, couldn’t open or drink the waters I gave them fast enough. By the time I was able to locate new socks, underwear and some protein drinks, they had already finished their waters, 4 packs of apple slices and a container of oatmeal-raisin cookies. Rarely have I seen people so truly famished. They were definitely in a storm and had put on some strong faces to conceal it.

Besides, this young couple was just plain lucky I didn’t know that oatmeal-raisin cookies were on board or I’m the one who would have needed the intervention. 

A key step to a successful Strategic Intervention, whether with homeless or executives, is designing the “pattern interrupt” so the person’s response to the storm isn’t the same one that perpetuates it. Unless the expert can create an insulated, teachable space in the midst of someone’s storm, even the best advice is just one more rule or burden.

Perhaps this is why I am still amazed that people in their storms – like this couple and many hundreds more in interventions over the last few weeks – can step into that quiet space of gratitude, courage, future-focus and action-orientation where injections of change can take hold.

Of the rough “loner men” who I pulled over for, several were all business, satisfied with only a bus pass and the Hero School flier. While rejecting my offer of groceries, socks and protein drinks, one man replied – in a voice as rich as Barry White – “No thanks, I got everything I need right here,” as he waved the flier back at me.

But perhaps the most grateful person this afternoon was the woman in Molasky Park who was using discarded grocery bags to pick up plastic trash…throughout the entire park. 

I initially walked out to several of the tables and camps of people, yet no one besides this woman wanted to walk back to my truck to get groceries for themselves or others. For the two “high and homeless” girls, splayed out on a blanket along with their various belongings, it took a good ten seconds for my question to register. When my words finally came into focus, one of the girls said, “I can’t… I’ve got to watch my dog,” pointing to a little red-haired dog running freely 40 yards away. Ten seconds later she added, “Thank you though.”

One table of dudes, young and old, responded only with mumbling and a few twisted facial expressions that I loosely translated as, “Man, unless you got cash or alcohol, tobacco and firearms, just get out of here.”

No oatmeal-raisin cookies for you. 

And definitely no firearms.

The good news was this park was free of all the prior peeps we had intervened with over the past couple of years. Some I’ve seen living in neighboring apartments. And aside from just a few other bright spots, there was this lady cleaning the park of plastic trash.

She wasn’t any healthier than the others. In fact, she appeared to be recovering from recent burns across her face. So I began with rewarding her heroic behavior, offering her 3 large trash bags from my truck. This allowed me to also give her a box of groceries, footies, protein drinks, bus passes and more. I couldn’t tell if the tears of joy welling up in her eyes were from the gifts or from the gift of being appreciated. Anyone going above and beyond for others in spite of their circumstances gets my highest respect , admiration and appreciation.

I pray we see her on the 10th to help her get to the next level. 

No ID – and deep-seated fears of facing what a government computer might say about them – remains the biggest physical obstacle for the vast majority of those on the street. When agencies began datafying and tracking homeless people in the early 2000’s, primarily to justify funding, they failed to account for the human cost of quantifying a being whose primary motivations are freedom and autonomy. Interfere with those, and it’s next to impossible to motivate them to change anything.

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” -William Bruce Cameron

One final redeeming stop was at an apartment complex where we’ve delivered hundreds of truckloads of groceries for years as part of a “homelessness prevention” initiative. It was there I was approached separately by two residents who each called me by name.

Meeting people in the city who have graduated from a Hero School – or who have married a graduate – is truly a thrill, especially when they’re as put-together as these two men. That they also altered their plans to help get the groceries out of my truck and into the hands of the families that need them further spoke to their heroic character. 

It’s becoming clear that next week’s Summer Hero School will be as diverse as it will be extraordinary.


©2018 Hero School Inc.