Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Golden Voice of Homelessness

His name is Ted Williams. One You Tube video of him has nearly 7 million views as of today. He is the “Homeless Man with the Golden Voice” that has been featured in almost every media outlet these past couple of weeks. He’s been on various national TV shows, been offered voice over work and announcing gigs, and offered housing. He is riding his 15 minutes of fame for everything they are worth. Good for him!

Let me state right now that I hope Ted Williams makes it

As someone involved with programming and housing for homeless people I see a lot of familiar themes in this man’s story. He had a job, apparently served in the military (His mom showed a picture of him in uniform), had a family, has a talent, and he lost all of that to addiction and “other things”. That is not an unfamiliar story to those who work with the chronically homeless.  And believe me. We don’t really know the whole story.

But I am watching with interest as America seems to be fascinated with this particular homeless man. Sure, the video is amazing. Here is a disheveled homeless man who has this booming God given announcer voice. People want to help him. So now he is being given housing, job offers, and all kinds of assistance. But will he be able to deal with it? Already the signs of stress are showing, he had a heated argument in a hotel with his daughter, she claims he’s drinking again, law enforcement had to respond. 

When will America start seeing a clearer picture of the chronically homeless? Maybe they will now, through the story of Ted Williams. “Hey they gave him jobs and housing, he is off the streets, he says he has been sober for 2 years, he should be fine!” “All he needed was to get off the streets and he’ll be OK.” 

The thing that bothers me most is that Mr. Williams needs guidance. I hear about the job offers, TV appearances, etc., but what I really want to hear is that someone is intensely working with him and counseling him at every step of this journey. I know he met with Dr. Phill so that is a hopeful start. But long after Mr. William’s 15 minutes are up, he will need counseling and support. 

I see it all the time with the chronically homeless men that come through our doors at Community Missions. One man I know is personable and likeable, helpful, smart, skilled, and earnest. He would be someone that you would instantly think, “With just a little help this guy would be fine, get him somewhere to live and he could make it.” But, you’d be wrong. His issues run very deep, the emotional and mental health challenges he has cause him to constantly repeat his disastrous downward spirals. In the 4 years I have known him he has been given multiple opportunities for help and housing. He has taken advantage of all the help that comes his way, he tries very hard, but ultimately he flames out and fails or abandons the programs and people that are helping him. He is in a program as we speak and I hope that this is the one that will really get to the roots of his problems and help him overcome the demons that haunt him. His journey to what you and I would consider a “normal” life will be long and difficult. 

 So as America watches The Homeless Man with the Golden Voice, I hope we see some things. I hope we see that homelessness is complex and the roads that lead in and out of homelessness are difficult and tangled paths.  I hope we see that it is possible to make it out, but that making it out of homelessness requires lots of help and resources that may not always be available. I hope we see that "homelessness" is not a one size fits all description.

I hope Ted Williams makes it out of homelessness. I hope he can reconcile with his family. I hope he can stay away from the addictions that tempt him. I hope he can deal with his 15 minutes of fame.  I hope he can hold down a job using those amazing vocal pipes. I hope that in a year or two he is still doing well. I hope.