Catching Up With Camelot, Part Two

April Baer- Last year at this time, Pamela Wagner was spending her days solving utterly basic problems-where she and her family were going to stay at night, where their next meal was coming from. Today her concerns are a little more complicated. Pam's proud to say she's found work, as a telemarketter. She makes $200-300 per week. But the job has one huge logistical problem - it takes her away from home from two in the afternoon, til eleven P.M. or later.

Getting day care vouchers from the county was no problem. But Pam was unable to find a day care provider for such a late shift. Pam was missing days at work and running out of excuses. At one point, the couple was so desperate that Eduardo, who suffers from a serious heart condition, checked himself out of Metrohealth hospital against medical advice, just so that someone could stay with the kids.

Eduardo Lauriano- I wan't too worried, at least I die, at least I die with my family.

AB- What salvaged the situation was a county program called Starting Point, a child care resource service. Through Starting Point, Pam found a couple certified to offer day care - and who even offered to provide transportation.

Pamela Wagner- See, and this is a real plus for me because most places you have to transport them yourself. They do charge me a fee - but it's a small one.

AB- After the boys are out the door, Pam's on her way to work. Again, she has no car, so the trip will take about ninety minutes.

First she walks to the bus stop...

PW- It's about ten minutes from home to here, so it's going to get really interesting during the winter, with the snow and ice and all that.

AB- Then she hops on a crowded RTA bus that runs from downtown to Public Square.

Amid the noisy chatter of the Broadway line, Pam is psyching up for work. She's trying not to worry about what Eduardo's doctors say - that he needs a heart transplant or he'll be dead by the end of the year - she's trying not to think about the fact that she still doesn't have any medical coverage of her own, or about the bills coming due at the end of the month. Right now, she's just getting ready to spend six hours on the phone sweet-talking people who may be less than happy to hear from her.

PW- Its a mental thing. You have to be constantly upbeat, you have to SMILE ya know, and sound like you're positive all the time. There's some days I don't feel real positive so I have to keep that mental image of being positive.

AB- Stepping off the bus downtown, Pam walks across Public Square, smiling at a street musician, and stopping to chat with a couple of homeless people she knows.

Pam says if there's anything she misses about living in Camelot, it's the close friendships formed out of necessity on the street. She heard just the other day that another friend has died, a tall Native American people used to call "Chief". Pam says he's the third to go in the past year. She continues on through Tower City, past opulent shop windows, down to the RTA rapid terminal.

It'll take us another twenty minutes to get to the West Side. After this she'll switch onto ANOTHER bus, to get to DialAmerica's Rocky River office. Now that things have quieted down a bit, I ask Pam if she feels she's better off now than last year. She nods, and says every day she thanks God - and her own hard work.

PW- I'm not going to say we won't be homeless again. I'm not going to say that I'm going to be this rich girl someday, OK?

AB- But Pam says she'll always be trying to improve life for the family, and give a little something to those around her. Pam says she believes what she learned on the streets is that kindness isn't what you're obliged to do for other people, but what you want to do to help them.

PW- These here are our books, give us our key cues, basically.

AB- At 4:30, Pam is settling into her cubicle at the offices of DialAmerica, a company that tele-markets magazines, sharing the proceeds with non-profit groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She lays out a stack of folders and papers, and warms up her warmest, friendliest voice.

PW- Good evening, is this mister so & so? My name is Pamela and I'm calling for...

AB- Her shift manager, Brian Patterson, says it's that voice, seasoned by hardship, that reels the customers in.

Brian Patterson- Pam's unique, she stands out because of her passion, she lost a brother to a drunk driver. The commitment she puts into it is higher than some of the other ones just because of that life experience. She's hard not to notice.

PW- Did you know that every year in this country... what? Oh, I'm sorry - have a good evening.

AB- Pam says she likes this job, not just because it brings home money, but also because she feels she now has the chance to learn new technical skills, take her success even further.

PW- Good evening, is this mister so & so? My name is Pamela and I'm calling for...

AB- Much in the same way Eduardo had to learn to live indoors again, Pam's had to re-learn the art of keeping it together, and holding down a job.

PW- Good evening, is this Mister....

AB- It is possible that the customers - the ones who don't immediately hang up - can recognize some of the struggle in her voice. The years sleeping outside, trying to keep a little boy from shivering, smoothing over family quarrels so she'll have someplace to stay, getting re-acquainted with yet another case worker.

PW- Did you know every sixty minutes in this country drunk drivers claim the lives of...

AB- Maybe they'll hear that persistence, and maybe tonight they'll buy, earning Pam her next commission.

Pam and Eduardo have kept up as best they can with their comrades from Camelot. One man, they say, is staying with his mother. Another was offered money for rent and tuition at Cleveland State, and has been attending classes regularly. Several others have slipped back to the streets, sleeping under bridges or on sidewalks. And as the demolition crew continues its work this week, the original plan to develop it as retail space has been scrapped. The space will be used by a local charity group. In Cleveland, April Baer, 90.3 WCPN News.

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