This is part 2 of our series, Engineering Hope for the Homeless with Ryan Satcher. Last episode we talked about Ryan’s background and motivation for doing good and helping Reuben who is a homeless man in San Francisco. If you haven’t heard the last episode please take a listen.

We left off at the point where Ryan met Reuben at a homeless encampment near his work in downtown San Francisco. In this episode Ryan seeks to understand Reuben and how he can help his situation. He spends time getting to know him and tries to come up with various solutions and gadgets to meet his needs.  What he learns through the process is that what Reuben really needs is so much more than that.  We hope you are as intrigued and inspired by this story as we are.  Please see below how you can get involved.  This is an ongoing project that could really use all of our support.


Ryan Satcher: Rather than trying to tackle homelessness as a whole subject, which is really intimidating and daunting. We thought it might be better just to find one person who’s homeless and understand what are the challenges they face and see if we can help them in some significant way and then maybe, from that experience, glean something that would then apply to a larger group of people.

Nathan: Welcome to Project Doing Good, the podcast where we inspire people to go good through highlighting organizations, stories and people doing good in their communities. I’m Nathan …

Cameron: And I’m Cameron.

Nathan: This is part two of our series, engineering hope for the homeless with Ryan Satcher. Last episode we talked about Ryan’s background and motivation for doing good and helping out Ruben, who was a homeless man in San Francisco. If you haven’t heard the last episode, please take a listen.

Cameron: We left off at the point where Ryan met Ruben at a homeless encampment in downtown San Francisco. Ryan sought to understand him and to see how he could better help his situation.

Ryan Satcher: Ruben ended up being the person who was easiest to talk to. He was very frank and pretty open about what it was like to be homeless and right off the bat, we were asking things like, “Where do you get water? Where do you get food? Oh, you get food stamps every month? Where do you use the bathroom?” He talked about how using the bathroom’s very hard because there aren’t that many public bathrooms available and so a lot of it’s dependent on how strong of a relationship you have with the restaurants in the area and if you have a good relationship with a restaurant, then they may let you use or frequent the bathroom on occasion because they know you’re a good person. You’re not going to trash it or do anything like that. We started hitting it off with some of those questions and then that’s how everything started.

Nathan: There are many important lessons Ryan has learned and is still learning through this process. He didn’t just jump into the project without giving it careful thought to figure out the best ways to approach the situation.

Ryan Satcher: I think in some ways both Chris and I, or probably more so Chris, we’ve kind of been planning or we’ve been mindful about these types of topics and these ideas for a long time. We came into this week-long project at least having a rough idea of some of the things that work, some of the things that don’t work in these types of situations. I think giving the timeframe, it became pretty apparent to us, as we started to talk to Ruben, that you can’t solve the homeless problem for everyone in a week. Trying to do that, it doesn’t make sense but what you can do, I think, is everyone can make a difference in someone’s life within a relatively short period of time if it’s focused in the right way. That’s what I kind of proposed to Chris as an alternative.
I think we settled upon that as being the goal of the project, especially after we hit it off with Ruben. Things were so smooth with him. It just made sense. Things were starting to align in that direction. If Ruben’s really open to us, we can plan to meet up with him and he’s going to tell us things about what it’s like to be homeless that will help us potentially help him in a significant way, then why really try to push things and find more people and force things in such a short period of time that maybe make it more difficult to take advantage of this opportunity?

Cameron: Ryan actually worked with Ruben and talked to him and tried to understand what his specific needs were, not just the perceived need. He always wanted to use his background and passion in engineering to meet those needs.

Ryan Satcher: We were asking him questions about where do you get water, where do you get food? How do you use the bathroom? He was telling a little bit about what life is like from that perspective and then we were trying to really focus on something that an area of need that felt tangible for us, something that we could do. I was personally really pushing to find something that we could build, something that we could make for him because that’s where my skills kind of cater best. We were trying to dig around for things like that and we were asking is there anything that, if you had on a daily basis, it we’d make your life substantially easier? One of the things that came up is he was like, I don’t know if it took a lot of thought, but he was like, “It’d be really nice to have a hot bowl of ramen, to be able to heat up food,” and we were like, “Cool, that’s awesome. Let’s see if we can maybe help you out in that space.”
We went back and, having that being said, Chris went off and did a bunch of research and was trying to think of things that we can make. What I love about Chris is he’s just very mindful and he thinks about things from different angles, different perspectives and so his big thing that he was trying to push for was let’s not just make Ruben something that he can use to heat up food, but let’s make something that, one, is a sustainable thing, something that if he were to lose, we could not only give it to him but we could teach him how to make another one so he could keep making these. If he wanted, he could also teach other people how to make these things in his community. That was the whole mentality.
Chris found this thing called a penny stove, which is a little stove you can make from a soda can or a beer can. It uses a variety of different alcohol types. We settled in isopropyl rubbing alcohol that you can buy at Walgreens. If you make it correctly … The reason it’s called a penny stove is because you cut a can in a way where you smash it down so it’s about a third of the size and you poke a bunch of holes in the bottom of the can. You can actually use two bottoms and you poke a bunch of holes in one side.
Then you fill it with this isopropyl rubbing alcohol and you put a penny on top of the holes and then you douse the whole thing in alcohol and you light it on fire. The alcohol burns up and then the alcohol, as it’s burning, the flame finds its way into the vat of alcohol inside and that starts to burn. What happens is the penny helps maintain pressure inside so that it’s burning at an optimal rate but it doesn’t build up so much pressure that it blows up like a bomb, because when it gets to be too much pressure, the penny will jostle and bounce and it releases gas.
We had to do a couple other things. We had to make a pot skirt, which took a little while to iterate on, which is basically the thing you put around the penny stove that supports whatever it is you’re trying to cook, so the thing you’re trying to cook doesn’t sit on the flame itself. We had to kind of optimize that to make sure enough air could get in so the stove wouldn’t burn out. We iterated on that, we did a design sprint one night, made something that worked.
Then we took it to Ruben and we found him a couple days later and gave it to him. Then we also showed him how to make one from scratch and that was kind of where we got to in the week that Chris was around is we were able to successfully hand off this stove and hand off the knowledge in order to make a new one and we gave it to Ruben hoping that, one, he could then use it to make some ramen. He can make some hot food with it and then, two, long term if it went well, that he would then teach other people how to do it and it could be this perpetual thing.

Nathan: Things didn’t always work out the way he had planned and this is the first of many little inventions Ryan built but didn’t necessarily prove as useful to Ruben as he had hoped.

Ryan Satcher: Yeah, here we are. We made this awesome penny stove. We boiled water with it. Technically it’s perfect. It does everything it needs to do. It’s totally sustainable. All you need is an Xacto knife or something like that or a box cutter, which I feel like is not too hard to come by, and you need a can and something to poke holes. You could use a pen, even, and then some rubbing alcohol and you got a stove. We gave it to him and then Chris had to go and I kind of just, because Ruben lives and hangs out a block from where I worked, I would just keep tabs on him. Long story short, the penny stove didn’t last very long. I think actually by the next time I saw him, which is probably three or four days later, I think he already lost it and I actually don’t know if he ever even used it.
We learned from experience that things don’t always work out the way you envision them, even if everything looks technically perfect. That’s happened countless times for a bunch of people. We shouldn’t be too surprised but it was funny because we really thought we had put in the time and effort needed to give him something that would be really useful and to do something that would be beneficial for him and potentially for other people and it totally backfired. He didn’t use it to get high or anything, to my knowledge, but I don’t think he ever used it. He probably maybe recycled it or something.
This is where a really valuable lesson I learned about what it’s like to be homeless kind of started to manifest and part of that lesson was also understanding that abstraction can be a really dangerous … not dangerous but something that you need to be mindful of. What I mean by abstraction is we defined this thing for Ruben kind of in a vacuum. He said he wanted a way to have a hot bowl of ramen but we never really asked him if he wanted a stove and we never got that back and forth of is this really the thing that would be most conducive for you? Is this going to be something that you’re excited about, that you want to use? We just assumed that that was the case and I think that’s a really important lesson learned is that he has to be a serious part of the process and he has to be personally invested in order for that thing that you do to be successful.
If you want him to use it, and I’ve learned this multiple times, I also learned it with a sleeping bag I made him that also kind of backfired a little bit. I think he appreciated the sleeping back but the effort I put in to encompass and put together a sleeping back with a tarp with a sleeping pad that was all in one that was portable, that I thought was a really dope idea because then he could bring it with him wherever he goes, he didn’t see it that way and ultimately the tarp ended up disappearing two days after I gave it to him because someone stole it and now he just has a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag which is still useful but it’s no different than finding a sleeping pad or sleeping bag. What I made him now doesn’t exist.
Again, coming back to that idea that you have to avoid abstraction and you need to really integrate Ruben or whoever it is that you’re trying to work with into the process and make sure that they really have a say in what’s being made, so you know ahead of time that it’s going to be worth your time and effort. The other thing that has been helpful is just getting to know him over a long period of time. I feel like now I have a much better understanding, a much deeper understanding of what really helps him and what he really needs. I still don’t know everything but having known him for the last couple months now, I have a much better understanding of the things that if I give him something or I help him buy something … Like, if I give him this money, is he really going to use this money for what he said he was going to use it for or is he going to use it to buy heroin at the civic center? Now, I have a better gauge. Early on, I had no idea. It was always a 50/50 guess.

Cameron: A lot of people would burn out by this time, if their two inventions, which seemed very clever and practical, didn’t work out but not Ryan. Even after his friend Chris left, he kept on trying to help Ruben. He thought what he had to give was his engineering skills but he starts to see what helps Ruben is really so much more than that.

Ryan Satcher: It’s definitely a frustrating aspect of the whole process is investing time and effort into something only to see it blow up in your face. I can say this now, having done it a couple times first hand, it is frustrating. It’s not like this whole process has been super … I’m not always elated and high and super excited about what I’m doing. Sometimes it pisses me off a lot because the things that I clearly see in my mind that he needs to do in order to get out of homelessness, to get off the streets, seem so simple and so easy and so straightforward and yet he doesn’t always see it that way and I may not find out till later. Then the byproduct is that he loses a huge opportunity for him.
I guess what I’ve learned and what I’m trying to say is that this stuff takes time. Time is the key thing. It’s not money. It’s not resources. It’s time. You have to invest time with a person to get to know them and it takes a lot of trial and error, too. In some ways, I always float back and forth between having a personal relationship with him and also viewing this whole thing as an experiment. I kind of hop between both sides but from the experiment perspective, I found the things that seem to be working now and I feel like are beneficial for him are things that I didn’t expect. They just happened to evolve from spending time with him and getting to know him and hanging out with him at different points of time of the day and learning more and more about him.
The thing I’ve learned now that’s really helpful for him, it really hasn’t been the products I’ve made for him or the things I’ve made for him. The thing that’s been really helpful for him is the mentorship I’ve given him. It’s the time I’ve taken to spend with him, to hold him accountable for the things he’s trying to do and help keep him on task, keep him focused. That, I think if there’s anything I’ve done for him, that’s probably been the thing that’s been most significant which is not at all what I expected.

Cameron: Ryan passed on the mentoring that he received from so many great people in his life and started to look even deeper as the weeks went on to understand what Ruben really needed.
Ryan Satcher: When we were trying to find out what things would be helpful for him, one of the things that we also tried to do, purposefully, is to build rapport with him and that involved understanding him as a person and understanding his background. We did also ask a lot of the questions about how long have you been homeless? What were you doing before you were homeless? What do you like to do? What are things that you find enjoyable? In that process, one of the things we found out was he used to be a tattoo artist, which is pretty cool. If you ever meet Ruben, it’s very apparent because he has tattoos everywhere. Yeah, it was cool to find that out, that he was a tattoo artist, that he wasn’t always homeless and he actually used to be pretty successful, or so it seems. He said he used to manage two different tattoo shops. He was tattooing pretty often, getting paid really well.
At the time, that actually gave me the idea to, I wanted to see if I could get him some work. I didn’t, at the time, I had no idea how to get him work so I said, “Hey, you know, I work for this company up the street and it seems like you’re a pretty good artist. If you’d be down to sketch something for my company, like a piece of artwork, I would pay you for it. I think it’d be pretty cool. It’d be cool to have local art at our office,” and he got really excited about that.
He was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just tell me what you want. I’ll do it with a pencil and I’ll go over it with pen. I can make sure this is just what you need,” and so I got him a little flyer from our office and I brought it over. I gave it to him and I was telling him about our company and what we do and how we work with amputees and he was into it. He was so into it and he was talking about his vision for the piece of art and stuff like that.
Long story short, he did end up doing this piece of art. It actually is in our office on a wall. I put it up as a piece of art and I even paid him for it. That was cool because that worked. He followed through with what he said he was going to do and I think it kept him focused and it also kept him happy for a long time because someone valued what he could contribute. They weren’t just giving him money or giving him stuff because they felt bad for him. I was giving him money because I felt like his artwork was good and it was valuable, in and of itself, regardless of whether it came from him or someone who wasn’t homeless. It was still good. I think that, for him, was really exciting.
I started to realize that having that self worth, to feel like you’re valued for the things you can contribute to other people is a really important aspect that people need to think about when they address the homeless population and the challenges of being homeless. I don’t know for a fact because I only really know Ruben. I don’t know that many other people who are homeless but for Ruben, that’s a huge issue that he struggles with, that he goes constantly back and forth on is feeling as if he has self worth, as if he has value that he can contribute to other people. When he does feel that way, really amazing things happen and when he doesn’t, things tend to fall apart.

Nathan: A few more weeks passed and Ryan kept checking in on how Ruben was doing before and after work, to make sure he was okay. Then one day something incredible happened.

Ryan Satcher: One day, I remember going to work and he was super pumped because he said this dude named Frank had come by and said that Ruben looked like a pretty stand up guy and he happened to own a restaurant around the corner and if Ruben was ever interested, when he got back from vacation a couple weeks later, that he would totally be down to see if Ruben might be a good fit for a job there. He was telling me about this. He was like, “Yeah, man. I just got this job offer from this restaurant guy who works nearby, sounds like he’s got an awesome restaurant.” I was like, “Man, that’s awesome. This could be huge for you. You can go from making anywhere from one to $10 a day standing at a corner for six to eight hours in the sun to making minimum wage in San Francisco, which is pretty dope.”
I was really excited for him and so I definitely kept tabs to see how things were going and over the next couple weeks, or after two weeks had come by, I went to check in on him. I was like, “Hey, how’d it go? Did you talk to Frank? Is he really going to hire you? Is he actually going to hold to his word?” I talked to Ruben. He’s like, “No. I haven’t gone yet. I was going to go today. I really wanted to go but then something came up and I had to meet with my guy over at civic center and I went then I spent all day at civic center and the guy never showed up. He owes me money. I had to get the money first,” and-

Cameron: And the guy is the drug dealer?

Ryan Satcher: Yeah, yeah. Because that didn’t go well that day, Ruben didn’t feel very motivated to go in and talk to Frank about a job and so when he told me that, I was blown away. I was like, “Are you serious? You’re going to pass up a potential job opportunity just because you couldn’t get the money from your drug dealer that he owes you today? That just doesn’t make sense to me.” I was talking to him about it. I was like, “Hey, are you going to go tomorrow? I think you should really go. This seems like it could be a huge opportunity for you.” He’s like, “I don’t know, man. It depends if I can, again, meet up with my guy at civic center.”
I was like, “What if I give you a ride? What if I drive you there? Would you be willing to go, that way you don’t have to walk? You don’t have to worry about finding the restaurant. I’ll look it up for you. I’ll help get you directions and we’ll go. I’ll take you there.” He’s like, “If you drive me, I guess I’ll go. Yeah, why not? If you give me a ride, I’ll go. I’ll do it.” I was like, “Alright, cool. I’ll meet you here tomorrow right after work at six o’clock and let’s go. We’ll go over.”
The next day rolled around and, yeah. I met up with him and I was like, “Hey, man. Are you ready to go? Let’s do this.” It was funny because he was so hesitant. Right off the bat, he was like, “You know what, I don’t know, man. Maybe it’s not good. I haven’t taken a shower in a long time. I really wanted to take a shower first before I came in for this interview. I don’t smell that great. Maybe we can postpone. I’ll try to take a shower tomorrow. The shower bus is going to come on Tuesday. I think that might make more sense, then.”
At this point, I started to get a little frustrated and so I pushed back. I don’t know if I should’ve but I did because it was clear to me that he wasn’t very motivated to do this or had apprehensions about it that were so powerful that they were actually preventing him from taking action and so I really pushed him. I was like, “You know, I think it’d be great if you smelled better. That would be great but I don’t think that justifies not going. We really should go. I’m going to get my car, I’ll pull it over and we should go.” I went and got my car. I drove back over to him. I was like, “Let’s head over. Let’s do this.” He was like, “Okay. Fine. You’ve got your car, I’ll go. I’ll go.”
Got in the car and we drove over. It turns out the restaurant … This also [inaudible 00:22:57] my mind but the restaurant’s only two block away, totally walkable. There’s no reason we had to drive. We could’ve walked but we drove anyway and I cross the street to go in the restaurant and Ruben, I look back and he’s not following me. He’s still by the car and he’s pacing outside the car and he’s talking to me from across the street saying like, “Hey, I don’t know. Maybe we shouldn’t do this right now. Maybe we should wait,” and it’s just so clear to me that for whatever reason, he’s super self conscious. He has so little confidence in himself or confidence that this is going to work that he’s seriously contemplating just not doing it, not going. It was weird because it reminded me about how you feel when you’re going in for a really important job interview that you want.
Say, when I was interviewing for Apple. All of the sudden I remembered what that felt like and how nervous you get and you start to think about all the ways that you’re inadequate, that you don’t measure up to the job that you’re applying for and all the things that they could say about you, about why you don’t deserve this thing, et cetera. I started to realize that he was apprehensive for the same reasons and his mind, it was almost better to not go and just know in the back of his mind that he had a job offer that someone offered to give him a job and feeling good that someone offered to give you a job, that was better to him than going and potentially finding out that they don’t want to hire him because he’s homeless, because he smells bad.
I was like, “We have to do this,” so I just walked into the restaurant. I didn’t wait for him. I was like, “Hey, man. I’m going in. Follow me if you want, I guess, but I’m going to go talk to Frank to see if he’s here.” I walked in and I went up to the counter. I went up to the bartender. I was like, “Hey, could I please speak to Frank? The bartender looked at me and was like, “This is Frank speaking. What’s up?” I was like, “Hey, Frank. My friend Ruben is here. He wants to talk to you. He said he met you a couple weeks ago,” and as soon as I said that, Ruben followed me in the door and saw Frank and they made eye contact and he was like, “Hey, Ruben. What’s up? You came! I’m so excited you’re here.” I was like, “That’s awesome, guys. I’ll let you guys talk,” and then I stepped out.
When Ruben got out, he didn’t necessarily say anything right away but we just walked over to my car and we got in. When I got in the car, I was like, “Hey, what happened? How’d it go?” This is me trying to be realistic, trying to be a bit of a stoic, realizing he is homeless. I don’t know how many people are going to give a homeless person a job and how many people would also remember or keep their word if they randomly told some homeless guy, “Hey, man, I’ll hire you if you show up in a couple weeks.” Had that mindset but, yeah, he turned to me and was like, “Yeah, man. Frank said he’d give me a job. He said I could start dishwasher duty next week on Friday.”

Cameron: One of the things that happened during the interview process is that Ruben needed someone to be his point of contact, so Ryan offered himself as a reference because Ruben really has no one else in his life.

Ryan Satcher: He had a falling out with his family before he became homeless so he doesn’t really know anyone in San Francisco. All his family’s over in Oregon and they don’t really talk at all. He’s been on his own for a while and he doesn’t have a phone because having a phone when you’re homeless is really tough. Even if you have one, it usually gets stolen a day later. I gave Frank my contact information and gave him my email and stuff and was like, “Hey, if you need to contact anyone, if anything changes, just let me know and I’ll let Ruben know and I’ll make sure he’s here.” That, I think, helped make things happen, too, which is really, really useful. I was super excited. I was blown away.
Ruben was really pumped he was totally in shock because I genuinely think he never expected that to happen and so it was really cool to see that. I haven’t been that happy in a long time, just seeing how much joy he got out of the small victory, that milestone, was amazing. It just kind of spiraled from there. We’re driving back and he was all pumped. He was like, “You know, man. How much is the minimum wage in San Francisco again? I might be making like $14 an hour. If I’m making $14 an hour and I work eight hours this weekend, I could potentially start to get some new clothes. Maybe that’ll help me eventually put a down payment.” He was already starting to plan out his life from now this new foundation.

Nathan: Things were looking really great for Ruben and it was way more than Ryan ever expected. It had only been about five weeks since they had met and now he was helping him secure a job and change his life for the better.

Ryan Satcher: For probably the next two to three weeks, life was awesome. I would see Ruben on my way to work and I would say, “Hey, man. How’d work go over the weekend?” He was working Friday and Saturday at that point in time. He was telling me awesome things. He was like, “Yeah, man. I put in 12 hours over the weekend. I’m going to go get my paycheck next week. They’re feeding me. They’re giving me food so now I have dinner and leftovers every time I go, which is awesome. Not only do they give him food but it’s like gourmet Italian food. The food, it’s a five star restaurant on Yelp. It’s not just a hodgepodge place. This is actually a pretty top notch restaurant and so the fact that they’re not only hiring him, they’re paying him, but they’re giving him food and they let him shower there so he has access to a shower whenever he wants, when he goes to work. It was just amazing. It was so cool to see that things seem like they’re really coming together.
At that point, I was starting to phase out a little bit because I felt like he was in a really good place. I didn’t feel like I needed to help him as much because now he had a sense of worth. He had this responsibility. Things seemed to be going well. He was getting along well with the staff. The first weekend he was there was actually just a trial weekend. They were trying to see if he fit in and could get along with everyone at the restaurant and he passed with flying colors and Frank was very stoked about that. Ruben was really stoked about that so things were going really well.
Then they got even better, which is, again, blew my mind and, again, why I give Frank so much credit because I really think he’s an amazing person. After probably … It was either the second or third weekend that Ruben was there, after he finished the weekend, Frank spoke to him and said, “Hey, man. I really want you to work here full time and I really want to have you here. I think you’re a really good person. You’re picking things up really fast. If you continue to work well and fit with the restaurant and what we do, I could see you not just washing dishes but I could see you cooking for us. I could teach you some recipes. I could really see you doing a lot more here.
“Before we get to that point, though, there’s a couple things I want to make sure that happen. One, I want you off the street. I don’t want you living on the street anymore and, two, I want you to get clean. I want you to get off of whatever you’re on right now and if you can do those two things, I promise I’ll bring you on full time.” I was like, whoa, that’s pretty amazing. On top of that, what he said is, “To help you get off the street, I’m willing to put a down payment, first and last month rent, on an SRO or single-room occupancy in San Francisco for you and I’ll sign for you, too. I think you could be a really good fit and I’m willing to do that for you if you’re willing to work here and keep it up and eventually get clean.”
When Ruben told me that, I was like, “This is everything. The stars are aligning. Everything is coming together.” Now not only does he have a job, not only does he have a place to shower, not only is it access to good food and food for part of the week, but now he has someone who’s going to pay for him to get off the streets. He’s literally not going to be homeless anymore, which was in some ways the whole goal I had in mind when I started working with Ruben is I was trying to think about how long I should do this and what it should be like. In my mind, what sounded reasonable is I want to work with Ruben and help him until he’s no longer homeless, until he’s off the street and with kind of a stable job. In a course of four or five weeks of hanging out with Ruben, all of the sudden it was happening. It was done. I was like, “This is easy. You just help the guy get a job and everything comes together,” and it was awesome.
It was either the next week or the week after that I happened to be going by the restaurant and I asked them, I was like, “Hey, how’s it been going with Ruben? I haven’t seen him in a little while. Just curious what’s been going on.” He was like, “He didn’t show up last weekend. He stopped coming.” I was like, “What? What do you mean?” Like, “He just didn’t come. He was coming here for a while. Things were good. Everything was vibing with everyone at the restaurant and then last weekend he didn’t come and I don’t know why.” When they told me that, again, I always try to be realistic. I knew that was a possibility but I was still in shock and I was really, really concerned. Since I hadn’t seen Ruben in a while, he just wasn’t around for whatever reason when I was walking to work, I started looking for him and started trying to find out where he was and what was going on.
I eventually found him, again, in the alleyway where he usually hangs out and I spoke to him about it and I was like, “Hey, man. What happened? I was by the restaurant and they told me you didn’t show up. You’re not working there anymore.” He was like, “Yeah, that’s true.” I was like, “What happened? Can you tell me a little bit about what happened?” You could tell he was really frustrated. He wasn’t happy about it. It was something that was a really sore subject for him and when we really got into it and I asked him what happened, basically he said that it was Friday, it was his day to go into work. He was helping a friend move some stuff, as a lot of homeless people do from time to time, from one spot to another, moving a tent, moving artwork, whatever it might be. You’d be surprised how many arts there are who are actually homeless that really value the artwork they make.
After he finished helping his friend move his stuff, he asked his friend what time it was and his friend’s like, “Oh, it’s 6:01,” and he was like, “No.” He had to be at work at six and he was always on time and Frank had actually told him one time that he was like, “Ruben, I really like having you here but I need you here when we start work and if you ever are late, just don’t bother coming,” and so when Ruben realized that he was already late before he even left for the restaurant, he was devastated and he took what Frank said to heart and he really believed not only at he shouldn’t come that day but he actually thought he got fired because he was late and so he didn’t come the next day either and he just stopped coming.
It was like this negative feedback loop where he felt bad about going that one day and he really didn’t feel like he could face Frank and show up the next day and apologize for being late for work because he thought Frank would just be pissed. Frank went out of his way to give him this job and here he is not showing up on time, which is someone who comes from a military background, which Ruben does, he served in the military for 12 years, did eight torus in Iraq and four in Afghanistan, I think he understands the importance of punctuality and I think, for him, he really thought it was a big deal. In reality, that actually wasn’t the case. Part of it is that he never confirmed with Frank that he was fired. He just assumed that he was fired and so I think that was a big thing.
When I found out from Ruben that he didn’t show up for work last week, I was telling him, “Hey, man. We should go back and talk to Frank and really get some closure on this and find out at least if you really did lose your job. You probably did because they haven’t had someone to wash dishes for two days but maybe that’s not the case. Who knows? He did go out on a limb to hire someone who’s homeless to begin with so no one knows.” Finally convinced him to build up the courage to talk to Frank and then we called and turns out Frank’s out of the country for a week, which doesn’t work out very well. We waited week and Frank came back and then we coordinated a time to meet up.
By then, I bought Ruben a watch. I usually don’t try to buy Ruben many things or give him money because I feel like in some ways, or at least in my experience, that doesn’t add a ton of value to his life or really make … It’s always a very short impact but I did cave in and I bought him a $10 watch on Amazon because if we learned anything, punctuality and having a sense of time is important if you’re homeless. I don’t know how you’re ever going to really maintain a job, especially one where they do care about punctuality, if you don’t have a watch or if you don’t have some means by which to monitor time as it goes and passes throughout the day.
I did buy him a watch and then I was hoping that maybe we show up to the restaurant. We talk to Frank and be like, “Hey, Frank. Ruben’s got a watch now. He doesn’t have any excuses if he’s late anymore. Maybe you can give him a second chance and we’ll see what happens.” We went to the restaurant. We managed to catch Frank. We went right before they opened to kind of make sure we weren’t disrupting their business hours, which was Ruben’s idea which was a good call. We talked to Frank and I don’t know exactly what was said because I basically just brought Ruben there and made sure he went and he actually got in touch with Frank and then I left and let them talk it out. What Ruben told me is basically they spoke and Frank was super pumped that Ruben came back.
He was like, “It’s good to see you. I care a lot about you. I really wanted you to work here. I really wanted to have you on staff but I was going out of the country and I needed someone that weekend and you weren’t there, so we did hire someone else to fill that weekend and now to fill your absence so I’m sorry. We can’t re-offer you the job that you had but I do care about you. I want to see you get off the streets. I still want to see you not be homeless anymore. I think you’re a really good person. I know you better now. I know you’re a smart guy. If you can get an application to me for an SRO, I’ll still put down the down-payment for first and last month rent. I’ll still sign on your behalf but you need to get me the application. You need to do that part and then I’ll uphold my end of the bargain.”
That’s what came out of that interaction. Ruben got closure about the fact that Frank, although did hire someone which anyone would do, I think, in his situation that runs a restaurant, but he got closure on the fact that Frank still cares about him as a person and always has. It wasn’t about trying to get someone who’s good at washing dishes. Frank hired Ruben because he’s trying to help change someone’s life and he still was a man of his word in that circumstance. That’s where things are now. Last time I spoke to Ruben, I really tried to push him to take this application process serious and try to find an application for an SRO to get that to Frank as soon as possible not let this opportunity drift away.
I talked to Frank via text afterwards and what Frank was telling me is basically he thinks if Ruben can get into an SRO and off the streets, get the access to a shower, clean himself up, the odds of him getting a job will exponentially increase. He’s willing to place that bet on Ruben that he can do that, but the thing he pushed me really hard on is he’s got to get into an SRO. It’s not going to happen otherwise. That’s where we left it. I spoke to Ruben probably three or four days ago, again, emphasizing Frank’s message, saying, “Hey, you should really get an application for an SRO.” We were actually supposed to meet up on Wednesday after work so that I could look at his documents and help walk him through and he never showed up. Actually I haven’t touched base with Ruben since and I don’t know what’s going on.

Nathan: Thank you for listening. Stay tuned, as we will follow up next week with part three of this series.

Cameron: If you want to help Ryan’s project and have access or connections to organizations or resources for Ruben, like housing and health care services or rehabilitation programs, then please email us at That’s

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