No Quick Fixes

Posted on January 18, 2011

Ours is a culture of quick fixes. Learn a language in five minutes a day. Lose 14 pounds in 14 days. Become a millionaire by scratching a lottery ticket. We expect problems that have resulted from years of bad luck and bad habits to disappear overnight, and when one quick-fix doesn’t work, we quickly lose patience and move on to the next “sure thing.”

It was no surprise, then, that when Ted Williams burst into the headlines just after the new year, people expected a quick turnaround. Despite a very complicated history that included a decade of homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, and estrangement from family, the expectation was that he “take advantage” of all the opportunities that were flowing his way and “be good.” “Listen to your mom!” is what The Today Show’s Matt Lauer advised him.

It would have been enough to make anyone’s head spin. This individual went from living on the street and panhandling at traffic lights to having a new house and a lucrative broadcasting contract within a week. He went from invisible nobody to special guest on The Jimmy Fallon Show, Entertainment Tonight, and Dr. Phil in the blink of an eye. With so much invested in his success, people needed to believe that a “fairytale ending” was possible. Disappointment was not an option.

Did we really believe it was going to be that simple?

Less than ten days after skyrocketing to fame, Ted Williams was arrested for disorderly conduct and voluntarily admitted into rehab soon after. Of course, public reactions ran the gamut. “It is truly amazing that Americans always get sucked in by people like Williams. The man is a drunk and almost beyond hope.”  “I grew up with one of the best BS artists on the planet…Ted is about one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

Others seemed to feel more compassion. “I am very happy that this homeless person is getting another chance in life: most homeless are more likely to win the [lottery] than to be given such a good chance. I wish him well.”

Regardless of whatever opinions and feelings we may have on the subject, one thing is certainly true. Chronic homelessness is not a quick fix. The spiral into homelessness is often exacerbated by a number of complicating factors, and it can take years. It only stands to reason that true recovery would also take years, and some people struggle with it for the remainder of their lives. Three decades of research tells us that people like Ted Williams can’t even begin to heal without the support and stability that permanent supportive housing offers.

So let’s not kid ourselves. The path is long and the issues are complex. If we are going to insist that people turn their lives around, it only makes sense that we invest our hopes and resources in the strategy that offers them the best chance of succeeding. With permanent supportive housing, we might not get that “fairytale ending” that we crave so much, but we can get something even better: an end to homelessness.

A Man In Need Of A Second Chance

Posted on January 11, 2011

By now, we’ve all heard the story. “Homeless Man With Golden Voice Finds Fame.” It began with a YouTube video that went viral over the new year’s day weekend. The footage depicts a bedraggled man standing at a traffic intersection in Ohio holding a cardboard sign – a sight familiar to many, though most of us respond to this sight by driving quickly past without bothering to look. A reporter from the Columbus Dispatch stopped and filmed the man, 53-year-old Ted Williams, and in less than a week, his “golden voice” had earned him a number of television appearances and lucrative job offers.

Speaking to The Today Show’s Matt Lauer on the morning of Wednesday January 5th, Mr. Williams described his experiences with homelessness. It’s an experience we at Virginia Supportive Housing have encountered many times. More than a decade on the streets. History of substance abuse and incarceration. Painful estrangement from family members. Despite his TV appearance makeover, his gaunt face, wiry frame, and trembling hands betray years of hard living. And yet his smile is luminous and his eyes sparkle with emotion.  Following the interview, Matt Lauer declares that Ted Williams is “just a man in need of a second chance.”

We at Virginia Supportive Housing couldn’t agree more and, in fact, second chances are really what we are all about. Look back at the faces of the VSH clients featured in our blog and newsletter over the course of last year. Read their testimonials. Although they don’t have “golden voices” and they haven’t appeared on The Jimmy Fallon Show, they do share something in common with Ted Williams, and that is the desire to be something more than merely “homeless.” They want to transcend the suffocating limitations of that label and rediscover the purpose for which they were put on this earth. Like Mr. Williams, we all have a “God-given gift” that defines who we were meant to be. And despite whatever bad mistakes or poor choices we happen to have made, we are all deserving of a second chance.

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