The Desolation You Witness
Echo Magazine Article

Back to Home Page

Doug Owens M.Ed.


Every day we see people standing by the side of the road holding tattered cardboard signs asking for employment or money. When the evening comes and they drift off into various abandoned areas set up camp try to get some sleep. Exposed to the elements, unable to support themselves, disparaged and in frequent contact with law enforcement and the emergency room they meagerly exist day to day.  In Charlottesville, we fortunately have The Haven and PACEM to ease the suffering but in most communities there is little more than soup kitchens for comfort. Why does this cycle of homeless despair need to happen? If you talk to these individuals a very high percentage will tell you they desperately want to work. So how is it these individuals find themselves in this terrible economic position. Why aren’t these people holding jobs, participating in family life and experiencing a pleasant existence? What can be done to eliminate the suffering?

Through my “Lets Grow Now Employment Program”, and from my work with the State of Virginia I’ve heard a thousand life stories of why people find themselves in bad financial situations. No matter what the story the plot always leads to poor decision making, inadequate self marketing, inappropriate social/soft skill sets and no understanding of the need for focused, constant learning for lifelong career success.  

How can people go through life with such a meager understanding of what it takes to win in this very competitive employment environment?

There are three factors at work to explain this. First, is an unhappy and creative less educational system that focuses on testing and is totally fixated on children attending college. There is no planning or activities for successful vocational outcomes for the vast number of  non academic or the hands-on learners attending school. There are no classes on the nuts and bolts of career success, psychology of vocational winning and self marketing. Second, are the government and corporate policies that, on a whim, ships manufacturing jobs overseas eliminating accessible employment. This also eliminates the on the job training and apprenticeships that were the backbone of working class achievement.

Third, the corrosive effects of American culture on self esteem.

We live in a society that is based on the concept that power, control and wealth are the primary measures of success and happiness and this is of particular importance to those that operate the government. What has happened is that gradually these power individuals who own the government have set up a pressurized dehumanizing system that benefits their lives and depreciates the resources and happiness of the lower and middle classes. Monetary benefits have usurped democracy.

People in vocational crises and homeless individuals are the fall out of this stress inducing rigged environment that affects us all. This high stress situation is caused by the inability of many people to generate income to acquire food, shelter and support their families. This unnatural pressure causes erosion in health, the family structure and child rearing behavior that results in all types of activities indicative of destructive stress reduction.  Frustrated people take out their energy negatively on themselves and others. Children and young people are abused psychologically and physically by people who have themselves been abused - a cycle is established of generational desolation.

When young people are abused, abandoned or live for extended periods in depravation they internalize this inflicted trauma as their fault or see themselves as the cause at an unconscious level. They begin to judge themselves in deep psychological manner as inferior or bad. There is a part of them that believes that if you are bad you do not deserve things or that you need to be punished.  They then set out to create or react to situations in ways that are destructive but fulfills this unconscious ideation.  This thinking in conjunction with modeling of the adults who were around them as they were growing then governs their level of achievement.

These three factors in dynamic interaction are what I contend with as I work with individuals to get them employed and out of their dismal situations. It accounts for the seemingly irrational behavioral activities of bright people resulting in addictions, mental illness, health problems, abject poverty, criminal justice involvement and often incarceration.

The government then wonders why people are not achieving success, engaging in self harm and abusing other people. The self loathing and subconscious pummeling from all this abandonment affects your goal attainment strategies. self confidence, learning capabilities, persistence, and decision making are affected – individuals become very creative at self sabotaging and self punishing behaviors. These are the processes of the American shame machine that results in the ever growing tidal wave of people with unhealthy self esteem living in cars, under bridges and sleeping on ventilation grates.

So where is the rehabilitation for these individuals? There is none. Vocational crises people do not have the money, influence or golf club memberships to shower on our government representatives so they will take action on education and creative employment initiatives. Instead the government/corporate community sets up profit machines (prison businesses, title and paycheck loan companies, and alternative to incarceration companies) to further denigrate the disenfranchised. Many of the people I see have been incarcerated and upon release are dropped on the sidewalk with only a few dollars, large fines to pay, no skills and are expected to integrate back into society in spite of the enslavement of employment criminal background checks.

I have limited control over these depressing forces of the societal meat grinder that results in the suffering that I observe. The only tools I have at my disposal are my vocational/goals expertise and compassionate friends who want to see change. To do something, I decided to establish two systems that are small steps working to correct the negative vocational environment.  The first is Lets grow now ( my vocational education experience that instructs on positive self esteem development, vocational survival behaviors and pleasantly assertive success training. The second is the Vocational Justice Network.  This is an organization of friends that attempts by influence and action to remove obstructions of a governmental/corporate nature that result in neglect and abuse.

Individual Empowerment Experiences

Let’s Grow Now –

This is a program I fund and operate in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District with a large focus at The Haven, Charlottesville’s great homeless resource. It has been functioning for two years and is an educational program designed to meet the employment and achievement aspirations of homeless individuals and people in vocational crisis.  I believe you become what you think about. My mission therefore is to get individuals to think, talk and behave in ways that leads to personal power and vocational success in spite of their negative experiences. My prescriptive skills program ( approximately 25 “mini success courses”) goes beyond the traditional application filing, resume and cover letters and works to improve self esteem, form good psychological habits and develop strong self marketing skills. By building long term relationships and forming a supportive accepting atmosphere the program communicates to people the idea that they deserve to work. It also communicates that they can with effort win and offers an experiential common sense training plan for reaching goals.  The courses I teach are about pleasant assertiveness, building rapport with business people, proper telephone prospecting, how to develop a vocational network, using “I want to work cards”, interviewing techniques, becoming a constant learner, the importance of persistence and many other goal attainment lessons.  Most importantly, they develop understanding and skills in dealing with anxiety, rejection and failure which are critical to real world success.

Societal Information and Action Activities

Vocational Justice Network

The Vocational Justice Network is a group of individuals dedicated to action about making change in the vocational system that benefits the economically suffering. Much of the conflict and misery in our society is the result of economic deprivation of citizens due to work issues. Poor educational experiences and systemic obstructions to employment success are a large part of the current situation. The result is a large numbers of individuals exist in vocational crisis and many are homeless.  Change is necessary.  The change VJN is working toward is encapsulated in the following goals:

Reform of the State Employment Commissions.
Reform of the Veterans Employment Programs.
Advancement of Let’s Grow Now’s Vocational and Goals Attainment Education.
Assist Organizations that make possible Employment for Individuals with Disabilities. Ending governmental employment/opportunity poisoning.
Increasing transitional/sustained employment for homeless individuals. 

Members of the Vocational Justice Network strive to establish appropriate vocational policy and end the educational neglect of our homeless neighbors.  Visit for more information. Sign up if you like. I am always looking for dedicated vocational change advocates.

These two social change structures are working to change a system that is misinformed, very punitive and simply does not work in making lives better for the homeless individual. Judging by the large number of referrals I receive, the satisfaction of the people who I serve and the number of people who find work using my lessons, my innovative program should be supported.  As of yet, no governmental organization or individual has come forth to help me fund what I am doing.  I wonder why this is?

Back to Home Page