Willie, But Unable to Find Work

willieGive a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. -Chinese Proverb
Sunrise to sunset, clattering their cups and holding signs, homeless people line the streets of downtown Indianapolis. People passing by quicken their pace, attempting to evade the discomfort or fear they feel when they see panhandlers.   A few compassionate people will make small donations of money or meals when they walk by. The more cynical observers just wonder, “Why can’t they just get a job?”

But, Lee Willie Nelson (72) of Indianapolis is a working man. He boards the bus each morning and travels downtown to the Indiana Business Journal’s building, where he has cleaned the parking lot for most of the last seven years. Every day, Nelson arrives early and completes his work, then visits the IBJ’s front desk to collect his check, which serves as the day’s lunch money. It’s a tedious job, but it’s work. That’s all Nelson really wants.

After spending his lunch money on some shrimp fried rice—his favorite meal—at China King, a tiny inner city Chinese restaurant, Nelson moves on to his next daily endeavor. “I panhandle,” explains an embarrassed Nelson. “It keeps me going, but I don’t like it. I like to be working.”

Every day after work, Nelson visit several locations downtown, panhandling and begging for money. He’s even been sent to jail a few times for it, thanks to the city’s strict attitude toward the practice, which prohibits panhandlers from soliciting at a variety of places: bus stops, sidewalk cafes, on public transportation vehicles or within twenty feet of an automatic teller machine or an entrance to a bank. But a stricter ordinance is in the works.  City officials hope that its passing will attract more business and tourism to Indianapolis.

Before finally deciding to settle down here, Nelson led the life of a drifter, constantly searching for a steady source of income. After leaving his post at a drilling machine in his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas, Nelson traveled all over the country. From Little Rock to Chicago, Las Vegas to St. Louis, Milwaukee to Indianapolis, he’s seen a lot. Everything except consistent employment, that is.

Of course, Nelson’s situation is an anomaly. Although he desperately wants to be employed and work a full-time job, he doesn’t have a social security card or any other valid source of identification. It’s virtually impossible for someone like Nelson to be hired for even the most basic entry-level job, because, technically, Lee Willie Nelson doesn’t exist. And, being unemployed, he doesn’t possess the necessary funds to acquire a new ID.

Regardless, Nelson is overflowing with life and charisma, having more energy and enthusiasm than one would ever expect from someone his age, let alone someone his age that’s living in the conditions that he endures everyday. He constantly rattles off rhymes and original aphorisms. “Be happy and be snappy,” he repeats, and despite his history of misfortune, he’s both. In fact, Nelson even considers himself blessed.  He is, just not with monetary wealth.

Thanks to Mickey Maurer’s commentary in the Indiana Business Journal, Nelson now has a job, even if it only pays for the day’s lunch, and, beyond that, thanks to the help provided by the employees at Quintegra Resourcing, Nelson receives groceries every month and has a roof over his head.

“Willie is a true friend that we respect so much,” explained Mark Clevenger, President of Quintegra Resoourcing, “Willie has taught us way more than we’ve ever done for him.  Let’s be honest, we all struggle with different things in life. I have my struggles. Willie was homeless and needed some help.” That being said, Clevenger isn’t naïve. He doesn’t expect everyone to feel the same.

“I understand people’s reservations with giving money or helping [panhandlers]. People always reference the old saying, ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for life.’ That’s great, but who is going to take the time to teach him?  I don’t think judging and then doing nothing is the answer either.”

Though Quintegra Resourcing recently moved to a new location in Fishers, relinquishing their close proximity to Nelson, the Quintegra family checks up on him monthly, often taking him to the local Marsh to go grocery shopping.

From spending time with his Quintegra friends to flirting with the Marsh employee behind the deli counter, Nelson enjoys and is thankful for every little detail. Every exchange of words. Every can of peaches he can fit into the grocery cart. Every laugh. Every jar of pickled eggs he can find. No kind gesture goes unnoticed. As Nelson frequently repeats, “It’s nice to be nice, and it’s so convenient when someone else knows you’re nice.”

Over the last several years, the employees at Quintegra have learned just how nice Nelson really is, and they’ve even helped him fill out numerous job applications. All to no avail.  There is no market for a 72-year-old man with no identification.

But Lee Willie Nelson is a working man. Despite his inability to land a real, steady job, Willie arrives at the IBJ’s building early each morning to complete the small job that he’s thankful he does have, and you’d better believe he does it with a big smile on his face. He’s blessed, and, to Nelson, the relationships he’s developed with his friends at Quintegra are “worth more than a million bucks”.

Article Written by Tyler Wagner, a senior at Covenant Christian High School who had the privilege to interview and spend the day with Willie Nelson.  Tyler plans on majoring in Creative Writing at Butler University in Indianapolis.

 Article sponsored by Quintegra Resourcing who considers themselves very blessed to have a great friendship with their “Main Man Silly Willie”.

Quintegra believes successes in life are meant to be shared and sharing brings joy. Our desire and commitment is to generously share our prosperity with organizations and individuals who are dedicated to compassionately serving humankind.