Friday, January 1, 2010
At the Fair
About two months ago, Derek and I visited a friend working day labor at the Coastal Carolina Fair. We put together this reflection.
Errol is 50 years old with a salt-and-pepper beard and calloused hands. Spasms in his hip and pains in his chest cause him to walk with a delicacy that belies an athletic wit. At dawn this morning he went to a day labor agency in the downtown and requested work. Tonight, he is at the Coastal Carolina Fair working on contract with that day labor agency. In a bright orange vest, he weaves his way between kids and couples and colored lights, sweeping up $4 lemonades and grease-stained napkins, the remnants of other people’s pleasant evenings.
His hip has gone numb. He is tired. But he wishes he could work longer. He arrived at the day labor agency at 6 AM and won’t return from the fair until midnight, but only five of those hours were on the clock. Five hours at minimum wage minus the standard $5.50 transportation fee won’t leave him with much to show for his day’s effort. Certainly not enough to treat himself to a lemonade. Certainly not enough to put even a little into savings. He’s trying, and he’s tired, but he’s no closer to escaping homelessness. He will go back to the day labor agency tomorrow. He may get work. He may get turned away.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition calculates that a full-time worker must earn $15.13 per hour in order to be able to afford the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom Charleston apartment. A worker earning minimum wage would have to put in 92 hours per week every week of the year in order to afford that apartment.
Errol doesn’t want a two-bedroom apartment. He just wants a place of his own to lay his head, a place to continue his misguided devotion to the Yankees. And he wants to be paid fairly for what he does.
A local news station recently reported that over the past two years a day labor agency in this community has seen a 30% increase in the number of men coming to it in search of work. The men who find it there are almost always paid minimum wage.
What would a day labor agency look like if it were created from the perspective of homeless workers rather than profit margins? In Every Story, whose founders both voluntarily reside at Star Gospel Mission, is answering that question while helping homeless and near-homeless workers like Errol on their paths to self-sufficiency.
The fairgrounds look exceptionally clean tonight. Did you notice?