This morning Claudia, Ana, Weston and I were given a new identity to share: Phil Gonzalez. Phil is a single father of two children, Noah and Victoria. He lives in Alamosa, and was recently laid off from his job at Pizza Hut because Little Caesars opened down the street. He also lost his home, and he and his children have no place to live. He doesn’t have any other job experience besides making pizzas, and needs to go fill out three new job applications at the other pizza restaurants in town. Along the way, he needs to fill out a volunteer form at VolCom in order to collect his Food Stamps, and pick up an admissions application to Trinidad State Junior College. We were each given a dollar to buy breakfast and were told we had to be done by noon in order to get lunch at the shelter. Our phones were also taken away—a part which I loved those few hours.
The four P-H-I-L huddled together and decided to split a spinach-feta bread square as we tried asking around where each of the pizza shops were located. We walked down the windy streets, stopping along the way to pick up additional applications at Arbys and KFC. Claudia had her thumb out the entire way, hoping to catch us a ride. It was over an hour walk to Little Caesars, and when we got there we were told that they didn’t have any applications to hand out. They weren’t hiring. SLV Pizza Company told us the same thing. So did St. Ivan’s Pizza.
Time was running out before our deadline, and we were an hour from where we needed to be, so we each set out to try and find a ride. Within a few minutes, we were in luck. A kind man named Ken agreed to drive us back into town.
What was the point in running around all over town trying to collect job applications? Why did this scavenger hunt matter? Because this happens to real people, every day. Across the country, in our own hometowns, and right here in Alamosa.
During our de-briefing we discussed how the experience was overall. For starters, it made me appreciate the transportation La Puente provides the volunteers, because that was a really far walk for one who is trying to recover from being ill—and I love to walk. With no public transportation in or out of Alamosa, if you don’t have a car and are unemployed, chances are you won’t be finding a job either…
While walking to Little Caesars, I thought about what it would be like for Phil Gonzalez to be running around trying to find a job to provide for his two children. At the same time he’s trying to make some money, how are his children affected by their father not being present? If he’s a single father, and does find work at a minimum wage pizza shop, he’d have to work long hours to possibly just make ends meet. Who is going to pick up his children after school? Help them with their homework? Play with them? Teach them? Protect them? Love them? What will they eat for dinner? Where will they sleep tonight? …These are but a few of the many emotional struggles one might face in this situation of unemployment and homelessness.
Hundreds of families in the Valley are struggling with unemployment, homelessness, housing difficulties, and much more right now. Is it out of laziness? Is it because they want to live off the system? I don’t think so.
I’ve seen so much pride in the guests staying at the shelter. They each keep the bedrooms, bathrooms, dining hall and kitchen looking spotless. They sign up for chores, wait patiently in line for the meals, and are always extremely polite and appreciative. They want to provide for themselves. They are trying to look for jobs, but no one is hiring.
Today was really eye opening. Put yourself in their shoes next time you are quick to judge someone. You never really know their story, until you take the time to listen.
Evening hike just outside Alamosa: