The Complaint Department

Welcome to Motif’s new complaint department. We are past the age when letters to the editor were numerous and needed sorting and selection. Motif gets four or five “letters to the editor” a year. What we get instead is the modern version – phone calls (some of those belong on “SNL”), texts, Facebook messages and little spurts of social media madness, partial thoughts and gut reactions – often from people who don’t seem to have read past the headline of the article they’re complaining about. We regularly are informed that we’re all going to hell, usually for failing to condemn homosexuality (in our opinion, one of our less controversial stances, but one that still strikes a chord among some, who we presume are not regular readers). So, we’ve decided to go Festivus and occasionally set aside a little room for the airing of the grievances (we might even air our own).

The article that gathered the most feedback recently (not including April Fool’s jokes) is our piece on flyers (motifri.com/flyinginpvd), the folks flying signs by the roadside, hoping for money. One reader told us about a flyer who supposedly had a car, and a trunk with thousands of dollars in it – pretty much the urban myth our interviewed expert, Meghan Smith, told us, in the article, was a common but never substantiated story. (Our reporter was frankly worried about accidentally contributing to this myth while under cover, since, after flying for a little while, he did walk back to his car a few blocks away).

The reader telling us about it swore it was true, but only because he heard it from “a guy.” We can’t find any first-hand verification – if anyone reading this did, in fact, witness something like that first-hand, we would love to hear about it. So far, being two degrees separated from the source in a one-degree-separated state, we have to keep it confined to urban myth status.

The other noteworthy feedback we received was a reader arguing that the reason the flyers can’t get jobs has little to do with the economy and lots to do with their inability to pass drug tests. This objection does score some points for truthiness. The subjects we interviewed were out there working corners – not easy or fun – and the ones who said they were looking for jobs seemed sincere about it. But one flat out told us he couldn’t find work because of his criminal record. Failure to pass a background check, failure to pass a drug test – these are certainly likely impediments to getting jobs.

There are different degrees here too – a misspent youth or moment of indiscretion can produce the same results as a career of criminality. Medical marijuana use will knock you out of drug test contention, the same as an active opiate addiction. We went back to Smith, the outreach program manager for House of Hope in Cranston, to ask her about this. “We have a broken system of care,” she said. “A lot of people who want to go into detox can’t get a bed or can’t get to where the bed is. That’s layer one of the problem. Layer two is that we have a broken community health care system, so people aren’t able to access help for trauma or mental health issues, and substances are what’s available. That’s not hard to access, to help someone cope or survive in the short term. In the moment it’s what can get you through to the next moment.”

What about concerns that giving money to a flyer will simply feed an addiction? “It’s painting with a broad brush. There are plenty of flyers where that’s not going to happen. But is it possible that the change you hand out is going to go toward a drug habit? Yes. It’s also possible that my coworker’s paycheck is going to go to support a drug habit no one knows about. But my boss doesn’t say they’re not going to pay my coworker because of where the money is going. You’re an adult giving to an adult. Self-determination is what it is.”

If they are suffering from an addiction, from a mental illness perspective they are still in need of help and slipping through cracks in a system that might offer them other paths, in a perfect world. So yes, it seems entirely likely that the job-acquisition challenge for some of these flyers might be drug or mental illness related – but they’re showing some work ethic by being out there, usually standing, pulling in very short dough for their time and/or effort. Seems like a willingness to try that could be channeled somewhere, given a chance. “Being a human to a human seems like a great place to start,” says Smith.

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