Thursday, November 21, 2013

MikeFox WoW's Pop-up Hearthstone: Take that you pesky kids!

The Hammer Has Fallen... or Has It?

After I posted my blog that was critical of SWSC and the Hearth Act, I was acutely aware that some people might not take it well. I went through Monday night and Tuesday half expecting the hammer to fall and that I would be asked to leave the shelter.

I breathed a bit easier Wednesday, despite my blog being circulated on Twitter and other sources, and went to my A+ Certification class confident that no actions would be taken.

I came back in Wednesday night at 11:30pm, and was told that it was my last night in the shelter.

I was stunned. The hammer had fallen. Hard.

Was it because someone had read my blog and decided this troublemaker had to go? Was it because my time at the shelter had been extended one day too many?

The really sad part was I got a call about an interview and I was looking forward to going to it.

I lay awake half of the rest of the night worrying about it and thinking about what I would do. I doubt I got 3 hours of sleep last night.

In the morning, I contacted the Guest Advisory Council president, the person who lives in the shelter that acts as a liaison between guests and staff, and I told him my fears. We went around trying to find out why I was barred. I filed a grievance, asking for a hearing, based on the appearance that my First Amendment Rights had been violated and that I felt misled about the Shelter Plus Care Voucher, which I felt I could qualify for.

Finally I talked to the Case Manager, Bill Hoetzlein, who assured me that a) he'd never read my blog, b) he wasn't the one who put the order in (which surprised me) c) that he would make it a policy that no one was kicked out without a rules violation unless they had adequate warning, and d) my time at the shelter was drawing to a close, but probably not immediately.

He wanted to discuss it with his staff, and told me to call him later in the day.

A few other bits of information: Apparently the Shelter Plus Care Voucher is only accepting Mentally Ill clients now. This might be a violation of the Hearth Act. I'll have to check on that.

The 30/60 days to find a job and find housing has apparently been increased to 90 days. I was at class and missed that meeting.

I'm not sure what I'll do at the moment. I'm tempted to contact the ACLU, because that appearance of violating my First Amendment Rights bothers me. I am of the firm belief that the Hearth Act is being misused here, as an excuse to kick people out of the shelter simply because they haven't found jobs or housing. I will try to keep everyone posted.

Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Story Idea: 'Threads'

I have so many story ideas bursting through my head right now, I'm going to make a point of sharing them all with you!

*Gasp* I hear some of you writers say! 'Michael, don't you know that people *STEAL* ideas over the Internet?'

Yes, I do. In fact, there are elements of my first novel, 'Theater Boy' in the plot of 'The Matrix.' Now I'm not accusing the writer of The Matrix of stealing my material, but I have to say that I didn't even see The Matrix, which came out in 1999, until 2001, and I was dumbstruck. How could another writer steal my ideas?

For the record, I posted snippets of 'Theater Boy' online in 1997. It IS possible that the ideas were stolen, but since the whole story wasn't stolen, I really can't complain. But on the other hand I can't really use those ideas any more because I'd be accused of copying The Matrix.

But my point is,  writers not only steal all the time, but they also come up with similar ideas all the time. My imagination was sparked by 'Star Trek,' and other science fictions shows and novels. But they can't copyright the idea of space travel, or time travel. They might get you if you use the word 'Tricorder' in your writing (unless you write for Star Trek), but other than that, taking a little something from someone else's idea and coming up with something new, is nothing new.

So with that in mind, comes the idea behind 'Threads.' Threads could be a movie, or it could be a TV show. I'm not sure and that's one reason why I'm posting. I'd like your ideas on where to take it. Now there has been some prior influence from other shows that made this come to mind. "Early Edition' comes to mind. This is not, however, the plot to 'Early Edition.'

Meet Oliver Hardy Henry. His mother had a wicked sense of humor. But he has a sense of the future. Whenever he meets someone, he gets a vision of the next ten days in their life. When he gets these vision, he can literally ask himself, 'What if I do this?' and the vision will change accordingly.

Now when Oliver was young, he used to try to help his friends all the time. He'd tell them if they were going to flunk a test, get dumped by a girl, dump a girl, miss the winning basket in the state championship, etc. His friends didn't believe him at first, then got pissed off at him when he was right.

Soon he had no friends, but he did get married.

Now his marriage is on the rocks, and no matter how hard he tries to imagine it working out, he can't see it happening. So he does nothing for his relationship.

He does have a relationship with his children, one of whom is starting show signs that she has the 'gift'. He really has to talk to her, to make sure she doesn't make the same mistakes he did. Like telling bosses what was going to happen, and getting fired. Like playing the lottery, winning, then having the IRS come down on him, like playing the stock market big, and not paying attention to the ten days between his vision and the reality.

So he has learned. As we start the pilot, he's talking to a psychiatrist, explaining all this to him. Explaining that the only way he can live a normal life is to do nothing at all with his gift, or just use it in small doses, like the stock exchange. He sees a stock broker every morning on the subway, and looks at his paper to see where the stocks are headed in ten days. He replays the last 9 days in his head and figures out where to put a small amount of money so he can help pay the bills.

Oliver can't see his own future, only how he affects others. The psychiatrist asks him to tell his future, but Oliver see him dying from a heart attack. He asks himself what if he tells the guy, and he sees the doctor dying on an operating table. He asks the doc: 'You got insurance?' The doc says yes. 'You'll be fine.'

So this is how Oliver leads his life, seeing other people's future lives, but not his own. Until he accidentally bumps into a woman running down the street, and sees her being hit by a car - in less than a minute. He chases after her, leaps in front of her to save her, and only then realizes that he has put his own life in jeopardy by saving her, because she is part of a crime syndicate.

How will Oliver get out of this mess? Why don't you tell me? Okay, he survives, and at the end he lets himself win just enough money to open a detective business. For whatever reason, the secretary he hires is immune to his visions, he can't see her future, and the person who does all the footwork in the business is on the incompetent side.

Can he save his marriage, his daughter, his business and everything else from what will happen in the next ten days?

I'm not opposed to working with someone on this. So if you have Hollywood connections and would like to work with me on this, let's get together.

MikeFoxWoW's Pop-up Hearthstone: Pesky AI Priests

Monday, November 18, 2013

How the Hearth Act Isn't Helping Homeless

Last week, during the regular Wednesday meeting at South Wilmington Street Center (SWSC), in Raleigh, NC, the center director, Frank Lawrence, told the collected faces of those homeless men living in the shelter that they had 30 days to find a job and then 30 days to find housing, or (assumably) they would be required to leave the program.

I was at a class when this happened, but the way everyone is talking about it, it's a done deal. Frankly, this stunned me, though, really it shouldn't have. Let me go into a little bit of the background of how SWSC has worked in the past.

As I stated in my book: 'Project Five-Star: The Five Points of Hope,' I've been coming to SWSC off and on since 2005. I'm currently in my 4th iteration of coming to the shelter. I come there because I have no job and no other place to live. That's what a shelter is for.

To put it simply, the only way you could be put out of SWSC was to break the rules. For whatever the reason, many of the men in the shelter seem eager to test the rules. For instance, the guy in the bed next to mine not only has food in the dorm, an infraction, but eats it late at night. So at 2:30 in the morning when I should be sleeping, the noise of his crunching penetrates my earplugs and wakes me up. Normally I turn a blind eye to such behavior, but this morning, I reported him. SWSC is short of staff, though, because of budget cuts and these things often slip by the wayside.

Cell phone use is also prevalent in the dorms, when that's also verboten. Why do they do it then? I think it's systematic of why they're in the shelter in the first place: They challenge authority, and sometimes authority bites back.

So the bottom line for SWSC was a kind of revolving door. Even now I see the same faces I saw back in 2005 when I first entered the shelter. They come in, use the emergency list to maybe get a bed for the night, get back on the waiting list for the program, get into the program, then after a few weeks break a rule and are asked to leave, starting the process all over again.

But those that follow the rules and make an effort to keep out of trouble and the sight of staff, didn't used to have to worry about leaving the shelter. But during Wednesday night meetings when the center director, Frank Lawrence, gets us all together, he began to warn us that things were changing. Something called the 'Hearth Act' loomed and the shelter was going to change.

In 2012 I was unemployed, living at the shelter and trying to find work when I was hit by a car. My shoulder was dislocated and ligaments in my knee were torn. My job search was temporarily put on hold while I healed. After two months of healing, I received a small settlement that barely dented my medical bills, but gave me a little bit to live off. I left the shelter to do some traveling and see if I couldn't start my own business. When the money ran out, I came back to the shelter, technically still healing, but a little bit more mobile than I was before. I found that times had indeed changed in the 4 months I had been away.

Now we have to report to groups based on what we were doing. Despite the fact that I was still injured and can not do physical labor, I was put in a group that was supposed to be searching for a job. We were told that our beds were only guaranteed for one week at a time (if we followed the rules) and at any point, we could be asked to leave the shelter if we did not follow the rules, which included weekly status meetings.

But the changes weren't all bad. The shelter now offered classes on a variety of topics, mostly given by Wake Technical Community College. They included truck driving classes, hospitality, agriculture, and such skills that some employers were looking for. I took advantage of the Hospitality class.

Yet despite all that I still could not find a job in a field that I could perform. Manual labor is right out, as I can't do any heavy lifting. I can't stand for long periods of time, as my knee gets very stiff. So three-fourths of the jobs that were presented by our 'facilitator', or group leader, were not an option for me. The ones I can do, however, have a large number of applicants, and would you rather hire a 20-something with energy or a fifty-something who looks like a truck ran over him? (It was a car.)

So after almost a year of being in the shelter, I was presented with a notice that said I had 30 days to find work or find housing or I would have to leave the shelter. I was very despondent.

But a ray of hope appeared in the form of a Section 8 voucher from the Raleigh Housing Authority (RHA). I thought my wishes had come true and that soon I would be out of the shelter.

The voucher from RHA had two limits to it: The amount of rent it would pay was limited to $526/month, and it had to be used within 60 days or it would expire. I thought for sure that I'd find a place quickly. I didn't want to stay in SWSC any longer than I had to. Then I started looking for housing. In Raleigh, I found, the average rent is considerably higher than $526/month, and not many complexes take Section 8 Vouchers. After a week of looking but not finding, I asked for help from the shelter. My 'facilitator', Shantavia Alexander, was unfortunately injured herself because of a pinched nerve in her back. She was in and out of the building to the point where I did not see her.

I continued my pursuit of a place to live, but in the meantime, 30+ men from the shelter were booted at the end of August 2013 because they had lived there too long. No other reason, other than they had not found jobs. I can't speak for all of them, but I tried like a maniac to find a job in my time.

I was not one of those booted, because I had that voucher and it still had 30 days left on it. Again I asked for help, but received nothing more than a list of places that at one time or another took Section 8. The problem with the list: most of the properties on there either had age restrictions, 55+, 62+ etc., or they wanted more money than the voucher paid for.

I was stuck between a rock and a hard place and time was running out. I went to RHA and, per their written instructions, asked for an extension in writing. They said they made it very clear that no extensions would be granted. I asked if they knew of any place that would take the voucher. They said no, but there must be a lot of them because they had plenty of applications. (Personally I couldn't see the sense of that statement. You had the applications, but you couldn't tell me where they came from?) I left my written request with them but could not track down a place before the voucher expired.

I moved around the shelter carefully, expecting at any time to be removed, but that day hadn't come yet. I did get a verbal aside from my facilitator that the day was coming, but she didn't give me a particular day. What she told me, though, was that there are no excuses for not having a job. I felt for her, really, because she missed so much time in August and was in a wheel chair or walker and moves slowly through the hallways, but she's not using her injuries as an excuse. Except for the time when I needed her the most, to help me find housing when I had a voucher.

Still, I looked for work, and tried to establish my own business, called 'I Choose Not To Talk,' an organization that promotes a better understanding between introverts and extroverts. I established an Indiegogo campaign to raise money, and started designing buttons and T-shirts, hoping that enough money would be generated to get me out of the shelter before the hammer fell. So far, I've been wrong. The campaign is in its last 7 days. Please donate!

But then Wednesday came along and now everyone in the program has been given an ultimatum: Get out on your own or we'll put you out.

When I found this out, I was livid. Is this what a shelter is for? I know that Frank Lawrence, the center director is embarrassed by the fact that there are people living in his shelter who have been there more than a year. He made it sound like he was doing a bad thing by giving homeless men a chance to recover. Apparently other shelters don't give that much time, why should he?

Well, after having the 'Hearth Act' stuffed down my throat for the last 2 years, I sat down and read it today. Here are some highlights that have a bearing on me:

c) CERTIFICATIONS ON USE OF ASSISTANCE.—Each recipient shall certify to the

Secretary that—

(3) it will assist homeless individuals in obtaining—

(A) appropriate supportive services, including permanent housing, medical and

mental health treatment, counseling, supervision, and other services essential for

achieving independent living; and

(B) other Federal, State, local, and private assistance available for such


Actually, SWSC has provided quite a bit of that assistance, but not the one I needed most: permanent housing. I tried to apply for a Shelter+ Care voucher, and was told that only disabled people qualified for that. Part of the problem with the Section 8 voucher was the limits put on it by RHA. Limits of $526/month. Shelter Care + doesn't have that limit, and I'm told neither did RHA until recently. The fact is I may not qualify for SSDI, but I AM disabled. I do have difficulty performing physical labor.

I am in the process of getting help from Vocational Rehabilitation. They recognize that I have a disability and have helped me in two regards so far: They arranged for all my teeth to be pulled and dentures made; and they are arranging for me to take computer certification classes at NCSU. Mind you, it took them almost a full year to begin those services after I applied, but the process has begun. I can't easily attend classes when I'm not sure where I'm going to sleep from night to night.

I don't believe that those who wrote the Hearth Act had it in mind that  people would be kicked out of shelters just because they've used it for longer than a year or even 60 days. As Frank has said, it is meant to hold shelters accountable for what goes on in them. Yes, I agree with that, but accountable should be to the occupants of the shelter, not to some government agency that seems to think that there should be a time limit to such stays.

Or better yet, SWSC should be accountable to actually providing the services that the act states it should provide. The problem is there isn't enough staff, and both staff and 'guests' are becoming frustrated with their end of the stick. Staff has too much work, and guests don't get enough of the services they need.

This is not what the Hearth Act is all about. Because if this is what they meant, to kick homeless people out of the shelter after a certain amount of time, then they lack empathy.

So let's look at ways the Act could help, if written properly:

  • Let's get homeless men and women priority in hiring for government jobs. Not that working for the government is stable, but every little bit helps.
  • Let's better define what makes a person disabled. I was denied SSDI because I can be retrained. Fine, I working on that. Give me time to finish that.
  • Separate those seeking help from those not. Give better service to those that are seeking help, and basic services to those not.
Those are just a few suggestions to make the Hearth Act a little better. I'm by no means an expert in any field, but I know what works and what doesn't and right now, the Hearth Act isn't doing what it's supposed to be doing.

So 30 days to find a job, then 30 days to find housing. What happens after that? I fear that revolving door will return. Or worse: that the shelter will close, because everyone will be kicked out. But don't tell that to Frank, because he insists the shelter will remain open.

Will I get the help I need to accomplish one or both of those goals? Because I sure didn't the last time through.

I have worked my butt off for the last 4 years to prevent being homeless or to get out of being homeless without much to show for it. I take that back. I've become old and tired before my time. But even that works against me, making it that much harder to find a job or get income rolling in.

But neither my facilitator, nor the case manager, nor the center director, nor Wake County government, nor the State Assembly, nor the Governor of North Carolina, nor Congress, nor the President of the United States knows what I've gone through to find a job and live at this shelter.

As I stated in my book, the only thing keeping me alive at the moment is Hope. Wasn't that the theme of a recent presidential election? I'm not seeing much of it right now.

The staff sees a sheet of paper once a week showing how many jobs I applied to, but they don't see me walking 45 minutes each way to use Wake Tech's computers to not only apply for jobs, but to do what I can with no money and limited time and energy to build my own business. I may lack the business skills to make it work, but I have the drive and initiative to make it work. But I can't do it alone and my energy is running out.

And so, apparently, is time. I'll have to live in the woods, go to classes two nights a week, then drag myself back to the library to put more effort into raising money.  It might pay off someday, but I don't have time to wait forever.

All because someone thought giving homeless a time limit in shelters was a good idea. And I'll bet that person never spent one night in a shelter.

If you can't give me a job, a business loan or housing just give me the one thing I need the most right now: Hope.

There are no excuses for a lack of empathy.

The Indiegogo campaign for 'I Choose Not To Talk' is in its final days. If you'd like to donate, please start here:

Alternatively, if you'd like more information on Project Five-Star, you may purchase the book at