Feb 6, 2009

What's in a Craigslist Ad?

I had a "slow" day this past week, although it was more than made up for by the pace of the rest of the week. I saw only 11 youth on this slow day, but my log sheet flowed over the page at 69 different youth by the end of the week.

On this "slow" day, I had the chance to help a couple of young people at the computer. They each were trying to accomplish something by writing ads for the oh-so-popular Craigslist. What would we do without it? This is a tool that homeless people use as well as "normies." This is actually nice. Craigslist requires that you have internet and an email, both of which are widely available to almost all "normies" and also to homeless through libraries, courtesy internet terminals, and better social service outlets. Once you have these things, everyone is equal. You don't need a phone, a credit card, or any credentials. Cash and facts are king. Anyway... I digress from my story.

One young person wanted to sell something... something handmade. The other wanted to find a room to rent that fit their meager budget. Both youth are struggling with issues and making progress. They both have one or two very significant issues that are the underlying cause of their homelessness. In addition to these primary causes, years of decline and homeless episodes have left them with countless secondary issues with which to contend.

Both of these two youth had already posted ads on Criaglists. However, I wanted to take the time to help them improve the ads. Neither were very grammatically correct. Regular readers will know I can't completely help them on that score, but I can help improve it. And both contained significant "errors" in how they presented their propositions.

I was hit hard by how much these two young people had learned to define themselves by their problems. Their ads both contained inappropriate self disclosures about their problems and pasts. Because they have had such a tough time, they were putting their weaknesses and difficulties right out there for all to see. While I applaud their openness, I thought it best to discuss with them that self disclosure might have boundaries on the internet. I wanted them to be honest in their ads, but that putting the best foot forward was a time honored and valuable strategy. With my assistance, both rewrote their ads. Then they posted them on their own.

Since that day, I have been reflecting on my feelings of compassion and empathy for them. How would I feel if I had to define myself by my failures on Craigslist? I imagined possible titles: "Man who got laid off seeking any old job. Please call." "Jerk who forgot wife's birthday seeks new living arrangement." "Man who allowed himself to get ripped off wants to unload his overpriced merchandise on you."

These young people have many challenges to overcome and live with primary and secondary issues. However, God does not see them in terms of their problems. I know that God sees them in terms of how he made them and how he wants to restore them. Youth need encouragers in their lives, who can help open their imagination to how God sees them. They need positive labels. They need people who say "YES" instead of people who seem to always say "NO," "NOT now," and "Maybe someday."