Have you ever played Monkey in the Middle for an extended time?

You’re placed in-between two people who are tossing the ball to each other. It’s your job to try to intercept their throws and catch the ball. You are stuck there until you are able to do so. Really, it’s only fun for about two minutes. If that. Often futile. Always frustrating.

Michael, a soft-spoken man who carries a spiral notebook and pen, sat and shared about his experiences of being in the middle one day while at St. John’s Park. He’s been homeless since December 2020 when he was evicted from his girlfriend’s apartment in Manitowoc. He was grateful that the police put him into a hotel for the night. The next night he slept outside. A member of a local church gave him a ride to the bus stop and $20 cash. Eventually, he got a bus ride to Green Bay. He was helped by St. John’s Homeless Shelter and is currently enrolled in their Summer Safe Sleep program.

His goal is to enter NEW Community Shelter’s year-round program, but he has been unable to prove residency as of yet. He has no permanent address, yet he clearly lives in Green Bay. How do you prove residency when you’re homeless? It’s not as easy as you might imagine and involves chasing possibilities but rarely catching them in time.

In constant pain, Mikey experienced carpal tunnel syndrome when he was working and continues to suffer from other painful ailments: severe arthritis and issues with his spine. He was taking strong medications but, worried about dependence, he stopped taking them and has been off of them since 2018. He needs a new doctor and treatment plan. More calls to make. More appointments to schedule. More running after possible avenues.

His conditions make it difficult to hold down a job, as he cannot stand for long periods of time or use his fine motor skills for extended periods of time. He’s been in a 3-year fight to get disability payments from the government. He needs to get a functionality test in order to qualify. More chasing.

In order to qualify for any reduced-income housing, he has to have income. He owes back child support, but without a job he’s unable to catch up. He can’t even catch his breath.

He’s worn out from attempting to catch the ball and chasing down dead-end leads. It’s hard to stay focused, optimistic, or energized. It’s exhausting to keep trying. What happens if you never get out of the middle?

For now, Michael is continuing to try. He showed me his notebook. It’s filled with tasks that he’s trying to complete in order to rebuild his life. He spends time daily making calls to various agencies running down leads.

He’s making an effort to grow as a person. He’s quit the powerful medications, has abstained from alcohol in four years, and is cutting down on his nicotine usage. He deals with his own negative feelings by walking away and listening to music. He believes respect is a crucial characteristic in life.

He’s made some friends and has lead efforts to help with maintenance and other building projects with St. John’s. As long as he can rest periodically, he’s able to do good work. He enjoys the activity and the part of being a team. But life feels like it’s on hold most of the time.

More than anything he wants to finally catch a break and get out of the fruitless game of Mikey in the Middle so that he may move forward one step at a time.

This story was written by Deb Weaver from The Salvation Army, participating in the 2021 ENGAGE program.