By Tom Carr
Liz Coon moves her piece on the game board and finds shes become
homeless because of domestic violence. The game board directs her to
the Goodwill Inn, a shelter in Traverse City.
Thats not really how she became homeless, though Coon can relate to
the end result.
I had no money to rent an apartment with and I was on disability for
a stomach surgery, she said. So I called (Goodwill Inn) and they
said I qualified to come in and stay, which was very nice.
Coon is one of five people who played a demonstration of the game they
call Ups and Downs. Four of the players are homeless and one was for
six years until recently.
Their reasons run the gamut: Divorce, medical problems, drinking, job loss.
John Daniels, who volunteers at the shelter, had asked several
residents to design a game based on their experiences.
The exercise was to portray their stories in a fun, creative way.
When we were developing this game, the idea was starting at the
ground level of having a place, but being able to fall into
homelessness or climb all the way out of it, he said.
Different residents created different versions. One game, etched on a
pizza box, imitated Monopoly.
The version the group has adopted and continues to refine is designed
after the childrens game Chutes and Ladders.
But this is not childs play.
With a roll of the die, players ascend ladders that reflect the goals
people often must achieve to climb out of their predicament. Players
advance upward toward the winning square by getting a job or finding
an affordable car.
Or maybe they obtain a Bridge card the 21st century equivalent of
food stamps to reduce their basic living expenses.
On the other hand, they may land on a square that signifies going
through a divorce, getting laid off, getting drunk or fighting with
Land on one of those, and a player slides back downward toward living
in a homeless shelter.
Or worse yet, living out of a car.
Tom Ockert, who worked on versions of the game, explains:
Youve got to keep everything moving forward, he said. Its easy to
fall into the structure of depression.
For some, its drinking and drugs. Even without those vices, self-pity
can take hold.
Then youre just putting every forward step that you wanted to make
in the background because you had this craving or this feeling of
depression that your life has lost its value, he said.
The players laugh as they learn of their fictional fates.
Yet theyve all lived the game.
Ockert became homeless after financial problems brought on by illness.
He spent the last several years alternating between the shelter,
winter nights on church meeting-room floors and staying at friends
He finally has a subsidized apartment and praised the gameboards realism.
Homelessness is a lot of chance, he said. If youre active, out and
trying to look for a job, something could knock you out. Like if you
get too wet, and your pants start chaffing you or something. And then
youre feeling ill and disabled or whatever. And you go to apply for a
job. And youre wet and sore, and youre not in your best joyful mood
to encourage an employer to hire you.
Peter Horrom retired in May after a 30-year career in the Army,
including seven tours in Iraq.
Peter said that when he retired, he made arrangements to have family
and church members show up at the airport.
It was like after midnight when I came here, he said. I got here to
Goodwill Inn about 2 in the morning. I had to do all the paperwork and
Hes been staying at the shelter ever since, hoping his pension kicks in soon.
At least he knows his situation should be temporary.
Still, waiting is a reality for people without a home, says Ockert.
He was on a waiting list for two and a half years to get into his apartment.
Youre waiting to get your Bridge card. Youre waiting in lines to
take a shower, he said.
So the game has made it difficult to obtain some of the things they
wait for in real life. Like an identification card or a checking
Daniels plans to make several copies of the game.
He wants to have community groups play it with the designers to help
them better understand the issues.
Lynn Cifka, homeless after a divorce and medical problems, said
developing the game has benefitted her already.
Its helped my self-esteem a little bit because I like being creative
anyways, she said. And just trying to get out there to educate
people. To say, This is our situation.