Monday, March 10, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 29: Welfare Drug

I have a friend with a troubled past. He calls most every day to check in. Last week, he made a particularly surprising request: “because my welfare is getting re-instated and I have some back check, would you mind holding onto some of them so I don’t blow it all?” He knew his spending habbits, the way it could go up in an hour after visitng the crack dealer. He knew that people preyed on him when he had money, that they suddenly were his best friend. He knew those friendlships lasted only as long as the money lasted. He wanted me to hold on to it to keep him accountable to only spending it on his needs, not his wants. I was impressed with prudence of his suggestion.

He called me today before he went to pick up the checks. We arranged to meet at my bus stop at 5:20 to hand off the funds. Then he started talking about wanting a cell phone. I tried to quickly to dispel that notion, identifying it as a nice to have, but not a need. He agreed. I thought we were good. I got to the bus stop at 5:20, and at 5:45 he still hadn’t showed up. A little later while cooking dinner, I get a call from a 206 number. Sure enough, it’s my friend. He discussed how things got hectic activating his phone, and how he’d take out family (i.e. friends) to Old Country Buffet and paying for a motel room for a week. By this point in his story, I was feeling disappointed. The idea of restraining spending to get himself stabilized in and out of detox wasn’t looking like a reality.

While thinking about the whole incident later that night while grocery shopping, I realized my friend isn’t really to blame. Relative to my friend, I think he did quite well with his temporary fortune. He did use some of it for a phone, which is his primary way of serving and blessing others. I’m more struck by our government and culture that shells money out like this on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Welfare doesn’t inspire anyone. It doesn’t stir up aspirations. It’s more of a cheap condolence from the system: “we can’t get you any housing, but you will get some money at the end of the month…” Maybe it’s a conscience clearer for human services. It’s without a doubt that my friend would need a very special environment to succeed in contributing to society again. I just wish he had that environment and wasn’t forced to cope by taking the welfare drug. I’m embarrassed that I’m not creating that environment for him and others.

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