There's a guy at the door. He looks banged up. "Hey," he says, "I heard you might have some vouchers so I could stay for a night in a hotel?"
I invite him in. Before the recession hit, I could offer vouchers for a hotel 4 times a year to those who knock on our door. Now, due to shrinking funding, people get only one voucher. Ever. Once your name is on the list as having received one, you can't get another.
"I'm sick," he says, and I can hear it in the scratch of his voice. He sits down to tell me his story: he was thrown of his roommate's house, had to leave in a hurry when they got into a fight.
"I can't remember right," he says, "but he kicked me in the nose and broke my nose tunnel." He puts his hands up and closes them in around his eyes. "Angry like a tunnel," he says. "I can't remember but he took me down onto the carpet, and carpet wouldn't break your nose. I remember, I'm pretty sure he kicked me. He says he has a witness, but that guy's lying."
He tells me the cops had pulled him over, and wanted to talk with him. Now he needs a lawyer, and has a court date set next month. He's worried: he doesn't want to go to jail or have court-ordered supervision.
"Can I get a voucher?"
Here's the thing: the police want us to give hotel vouchers to people who "deserve" them. I appreciate the police department's willingness to be a part of this system to help people: I sign the referral forms, which must be taken to the station to be exchanged for the hotel voucher. This gives me a sense of protection because folks on the street understand that the police are involved in this transaction.
So does this guy "deserve" a referral form for a voucher? He had a home, got into a fight and got kicked out of it. Drink or drugs were involved, no doubt. And the cops are already onto him for one reason or another. There are a limited number of vouchers.
And ... he's sick--probably mentally as well as physically--and he's on the street. I give him a referral form to get a voucher.
(Want to read more of these stories? Click on the "Search this Blog" box to the right and enter the words Human Nature.)