A novel idea: part four (help and hope for the homeless)

There was once a con artist, a phony preacher, a wolf in sheep’s clothing: he called himself Tony Alamo. In the 1960s, he said that Jesus had called him to faith and also called him to a street ministry in California. He reached out to prostitutes, drug abusers, and the homeless, developing a commune which operated several businesses for the benefit of Alamo’s so-called ministry. In the 1970s he relocated to Arkansas, where again his church owned several businesses including a clothing factory which sold decorated leather jackets to a number of famous and wealthy individuals.

Nothing is wrong with helping the poor in Christ’s name, giving them jobs and a place to live, while selling the work of their hands to interested customers. But Tony Alamo became a millionaire while those he supposedly befriended remained destitute, hunting through dumpsters for food because he paid them so little. He subjected some of them to verbal and physical abuse. He claimed their young daughters as his wives. Alamo eventually was charged, convicted, and jailed for tax evasion, child abuse, and violation of the Mann act. He died in prison in 2017.

Jason Hero never met Tony Alamo or any of Alamo’s victims. But Jason abhorred the way Alamo took advantage of the poor and helpless. Jason especially abhorred that Alamo misused the name of Jesus to commit his crimes, “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Jason had compassion for the homeless; but, until he won the lottery, he was not able to do much to help them.

Consulting with experts in charitable work, including attorneys, Jason established the Jason Hero Foundation and Jason Hero Enterprises. The first act of the Foundation was to open a daytime homeless shelter in the inner city. The shelter included shower stalls and a clothes washer and drier, as well as soap, shampoo, towels, and laundry detergent. It maintained a directory of soup kitchens, food pantries, and overnight shelters in the area. Every day, staff was available to consult with the people who visited the shelter. Jason persuaded doctors, nurses, dentists, barbers, social workers, and counselors to volunteer their services at the shelter on a rotating basis. As incentive for their services, his Foundation offered them financial assistance toward their student loans and other professional expenses. Pastors and Christian leaders were also invited to visit the shelter, pray with the homeless, counsel them, and encourage them. The Foundation kept a small paid staff at the shelter to keep it in good repair, to coordinate the schedules of the volunteers, and to make sure no one was abusing their access to the poor and homeless.

Next, the Foundation purchased an empty industrial plant in a smaller town nearby. It also built an apartment flat near the plant. Homeless people who visited the daytime downtown shelter were advised that they could relocate to the town and work for Jason Hero Enterprises. (We’ll assume that the plant, like Alamo’s, produced clothing.) They would be paid a livable wage, with their money first deposited in a Hero Enterprises account. From that account they could buy meals in the company cafeteria, food in the company grocery store, and lodging in the company apartments. On company property the rules were strict: no tobacco, no alcohol, no marijuana, no illegal drugs. Prescription drugs were handled through a resident nursing staff. Professional security endorsed the rules and prevented violence among workers and among residents. Anyone who was asked to leave for violating the rules, or anyone who chose to leave, was given the balance of their account in U.S. dollars. Volunteers, like those who visited the downtown shelter, made their talents available to factory workers and their families, to anyone who lived in the company apartments. Jason Hero Enterprises deducted taxes, offered health insurance, and fulfilled all the obligations of any business. Any financial losses were covered by the Jason Hero Foundation; any profits went to the Foundation and not to Jason.

Third, the Foundation purchased farmland outside of town and began raising food for the company cafeteria and grocery store. Housing units were built, and people receiving services at the downtown shelter could choose to live and work on the farm or at the factory. The same rules applied at both places, and the same services were offered. Jason’s goal was not to establish a permanent workforce at either Enterprises location, but rather to help the poor and homeless recover their lives, develop useful work skills and good work habits, and be prepared to reenter society as productive citizens.

Once again, I had hoped to develop this history in the form of a novel, with conversations, events, successes, setbacks, and dramatic conflict. But this sketch suffices for the present. Next comes Jason Hero’s political career. J.

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If I won the lottery

What they say is true: you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. I bought a lottery ticket once to use as a visual device for a lesson at church; we were talking about coveting and about contentment. God could have made a good joke from my lesson by making that ticket a winning ticket, but in his infinite wisdom he chose not to make me a millionaire. I can still dream, though, that someone buys me a lottery ticket as a joke and it wins the big prize, or that I pick up a scrap of paper in the grocery store parking lot and it turns out to be a winning lottery ticket.

What would I do if I won the lottery? For convenience, we will assume that the prize that week was one hundred million dollars. Instead of accepting the full prize over twenty years, I would ask for the smaller immediate pay-out (Why be greedy, right?) which is about half the total prize. Then federal and state income taxes would claim roughly half of that prize. If I won one hundred million dollars, then, I would have about twenty-five million dollars to spend. Here are a dozen things I would do with that money.

Ten percent would go to churches and to charity. To prevent a large gift of unexpected money to any one place, and the problems that kind of gift can cause, I would limit each gift to fifty thousand dollars, giving me the opportunity to help fifty different groups. I would start with congregations that have been important to me over the years, places where I have worshiped and places where I have benefited from their ministries. I would also support charitable work and mission work through certain organizations in the church. In addition, I would give gifts to museums, libraries, and fine arts organizations like the local symphony orchestra. I would support public television and public radio. I would send a gift to my alma mater. What I would not do is start supporting charities about which I know nothing; and I would not give a gift to some organization that started asking me for money after I won the lottery.

Next I would pay off my current debt, which seems large compared to my annual income but would be rather small compared to twenty-five million dollars.

Afterward, I would set aside $250,000 for each of my children, my nieces, and my nephews. I have chosen that amount very carefully; it is more than enough to get them through higher education (or to pay off their student loans), but not so much that they could drop out of life and not work at a productive job. Until each of them turned thirty, the money would be in a trust. Certain expenses would automatically be approved: student loans, tuition, room, board, and fees at a college or university, and other normal living expenses for a college student, including buying and operating a car. The trust money might also be available for medical expenses, if necessary. Otherwise, the rest of the money would not be theirs until they have begun a fruitful life as an adult.

After all that, I still have twenty million dollars left. I would give half a million dollars to my parents, to help them with their retirement years. Then, before spending money on things I want right now, I would set aside money for my future. I would put two million dollars in a low-risk investment, designed to deposit one thousand dollars in my checking account every Monday. Yes, I would be spending the principal of that investment. On the other hand, I would draw a salary of fifty-two thousand dollars a year, and the fund should last for the next forty years. I would create another account, perhaps half a million dollars, to cover my health insurance and other medical expenses. That also should last at least forty years.

I would set aside $200,000 to replace the family vehicles; that should be more than enough to provide reliable vehicles to replace our aging fleet. I would also spend up to $100,000 to make improvements to our house—flooring, wall-paper, maybe new windows and doors. I wouldn’t want to waste too much money on this house, though, because I want to buy a new house.

I would willingly spend one million dollars to buy a larger house with features that shelter me from the noise of the neighbors. (No more Mrs. Dim!) The house would have enough rooms, beyond the bedrooms and kitchen and dining room and living room, that one room could be for television and video games and jigsaw puzzles, another for musical instruments and recording, another as a library, another as a study, a place someone in the house for woodworking, and a guest bedroom or two. The property would have more flower gardens than lawn, and the house would have porches for spring and fall to enjoy the outdoor weather.

At this point I have managed to spend a little less than ten million of my twenty-five million dollars. What should I do with the other fifteen million dollars? I would set aside one million dollars for a new business to provide needed services and employ other people. One idea I have for a business is a lawn care service that does not use loud machines. Workers would use rakes and quiet mowers and trimming devices—no blowers or loud gasoline engines. I would pay them a little more than the competition and would charge customers a little less, since expenses would be lower given the equipment we would use. If we haul leaves and clippings away, I would find a property where they could be mulched, and then my company could sell mulch to our clients. If someone else likes this idea and wants to start this company, you have my permission. You don’t even need to give me credit or pay a commission for the idea. (I was going to call it Stealth Lawn Care. Feel free to use the name or to change it.)

I am aware of a building project that has closed down due to lack of funds. I don’t want to be specific about this project, but if I won the lottery I would commit up to one million dollars to get it moving again. Whether I became a partner of the original planners or bought them out does not matter; I simply want to see this project come back to life.

For one to three million dollars, I could endow a professor’s chair, either at my alma mater, or at a local college. I would not want the endowment to be named for me—it could be named for someone who has effectively taught at the college—but I would like to support higher education in that manner.

Finally, I would like to get involved in help for the poor and homeless in the area, beyond just giving fifty thousand dollars to some organization. I would like to spend two million dollars or more providing facilities to help the poor and homeless—overnight shelters; and daytime shelters where they could take a shower, wash their clothes, and simply rest somewhere other than the streets. I would encourage a doctor and a dentist to volunteer a few hours one day a week to help the people who come into the daytime shelter. More than that, I would like to begin a business that could provide work for the poor and homeless. I’m uncertain about what kind of work it would be—maybe assembly of machine parts, or sewing a line of clothing—but it would provide work and income for these people. Perhaps the workplace, daytime shelter, and overnight shelter could be linked, along with meals and medical care that they could purchase with the money earned from their work. Tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs would be banned from all these facilities. Oddly, some ventures of this sort have turned into cults and have abused the people they were trying to help. I would establish a board of directors to make sure this did not happen in my organization. Religious counseling and services would be provided, but we would go great lengths to make sure that they remained legitimate and helpful.

After all this, I still have nearly ten million dollars to spend, and I have no fresh ideas to offer. I suppose I could put more than two million dollars into the help to the poor, or I could start up more than one business, or I could endow chairs at more than one college. The point is, though, that I cannot even imagine spending this kind of money if I had it. I don’t know why the Lord has chosen not to give me a winning lottery ticket. I cannot see anything that I want to do being objectionable to him. All the same, I have to trust that he knows what is best for me; and I should do the best I can with what I have.

J.