My Story
 
 Email  Greg.staffa@hotmail.commailto:Greg.staffa@hotmail.comshapeimage_2_link_0

I think most people out there have their own idea how someone becomes homeless. Often they feel it’s Drugs & Alcohol or Mental Illness. Most people would say “Homelessness can’t happen to me”  To those people to become homeless you would almost need a “How to book”

The sad thing is good hard working people are suddenly finding themselves homeless. So I wanted to share my story, not for pity but because I think many people who read this will say “wow, that could be me” Im not perfect, I won’t lie and say I did everything right because its easier to look back and find a bunch of shoulda woulda coulda but I try to do what believe is right.

In 2001 I found myself homeless for the first time due to events in my life. I learned a lot during those 9 months. The first few months were a blur as I continued to work full time while living out of my car but then 9/11 happened. Working in the airline industry during that time made things tough. Over the next few years I would be laid off several times and then called back. The thing that it taught me was to be careful with my money and I promised myself I would never be homeless again. During those 9 months homeless I felt ashamed. I kept it a secret. I tried to be much more hidden. It worked out well except when a federal fugitive decided to hide out in the area I was sleeping.  One day I was taking a day time nap and I was half hiding under my blanket in the back seat of the car.  I hear a knock on my window and as I get up I realized about 20 cops have guns drawn and aimed at me

Slowly I pulled myself up and after 9 months of being homeless I got a studio apartment in Roseville. A Year later I got a 1 Bed room apartment and then the following year I moved to a nicer 1 bedroom apartment in Burnsville Mn.

During those 3 years I started to realize I had nothing to feel ashamed about.  I realized getting out of a abusive situation was nothing I should feel ashamed about.

I started to speak out about my past homelessness. I also tried getting involved in politics because I felt they were clueless to the process.  I remember at 1 point when I tried to get assistance. I did not have a job andwas driving AND living out of a junker of a car with almost 200,000 miles on it. When I applied I was told I was too rich.  They told me my car had about $700 value and I would need to sell that.  When I asked where would I live since I was living out of the car they told me I could get on the 2 year waiting list for housing.  When I asked how would I get to a job they told me I could take the bus. It just felt that they wanted me to dig myself into a deeper hole before they would try to help me get out of the hole. To me that is stupid. Never really considered myself a 
politician but when you run for office your also given a platform which I used to speak out about homelessness. When I ran for Mayor I had a fun time running. The mayor had been there a long time and I was told that if I could get 5% of the vote I should consider that to be very lucky. I got 20%.

A few months later Francisco Serrano was arrested and that changed everything. Serrano was a homeless undocumented immigrant who was discovered to be living in a local High School.  He even took some classes.  The local media went nuts over the story. They wanted to share more on the homeless life story so they looked for another homeless or former homeless person to talk to that could relate to this story.  They remembered a former homeless guy just lost a mayors race. I became the go to guy for Minnesota homeless. From 2002-2005 I rebuilt my life. I continued to work for Northwest Airlines. I paid off debt. I did a little traveling. I enjoyed life. I wpicked to do some consumer tests stuff for the Pioneer Press.  9 of us for a year would test products  and report back what we thought. For one of the stories I got to be on the news during a fashion segment

             

I traveled but usually day trips because it was cheap especially when you work for a airline and fly free. One fun trip was traveling to New York and finding myself on the Spiderman 2 set. Happened by accident but I did get to meet Kirsten Dunst.  

Things were looking better and better each day.  My only real set back was when a luggage cart tipped over on me. I have had chronic back pain since and I tore some ligaments in my ankle and some day the Dr’s say I will need it fused.  I was in a cast for a few months But things kept looking up. 

2005 Was my year. During the summer I got the chance to spend 2 months filming Prairie Home Companion as a extra. It was a closed set so there were times we would be hanging with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Woddy Harlson & the rest. The experience was amazing. My hope was that I just wanted to be on screen for 1 second. Sure enough, a few minutes into the film I spot myself just for a second. We did not get paid but how often can you say that you spent the day hanging with Meryl Streep.   
                                
  

Things were going well at Northwest Airlines. At this point I had been at there 5 years. I had survived the ups and downs in the airline industry. Financially I was doing ok. I had paid off a lot of my debt. I have not had a credit card since 2001 (it’s 2011 and I Still don’t have a Credit Card. At this point I was making $20.20 a hour with Northwest Airlines 

It came time to take another big step. Buying a house. I qualified for a $250,000 house but instead I went small and bought a $155,000 town home.

  


                 

Fast Forward to today and the complaint that people toss out in regards to foreclosure is

 They must have bought more then they 
    could afford so it’s their fault

 They did not make enough and should    
    never bought a house.

Neither fit me. I was making $20.20 in a Union Job that I had been at for almost 6 years and I bought a house almost $100,000 less then I qualified for. I thought I was doing the right thing. My interest rate was high at 9.5% But it was written into my mortgage that if I paid on time for 2 years I could refinance.  

Can you imagine the pride of going from homeless in 2001 to homeowner in 2005 I qualified for my hose, It was not handed to me.

But in 2006 I was lifting a bag when I felt a pop in my side. For weeks I saw Dr after Dr trying to figure out how to fix what ever was broken.  I was put on light duty and Northwest started the process to accommodate me into a new position given my new restrictions as outlined in my contract and NWA policy.

But then one day I get a letter from the insurance company saying they had a new Dr that they wanted me to see.  I was seeing top Mn Dr’s and the next thing I know Im at a physical therapist in a strip mall to see a Dr who was 40 min late.

He runs me through a series of tests and I wait a few weeks to get the results.

His result?  Im fat and thus any injury must be my fault.  He went on to say that 


Northwest Airlines let me go on the spot.

Several Dr’s saying 1 thing, 1 strip mall Dr saying something different and because strip mall Dr’s decision gets the insurance company off the hook the decide his vote wins.

I was NOT fired, I was let go. My job required me to lift 75 pounds.  Had it been a work comp Northwest Airlines would have accommodated me but because it was now deemed my fault due to my weight Northwest was now off the hook.  I was let go for not being able to perform my job and was let go on the spot

My union Rep tells me to go directly to my District Union office and who to talk to. So I go to my District, my Union gave the guy he told me to see a heads up that I was coming.  I show up, he meets me,  I have the Dr report in my hand. And right off the bat he says “We don’t do medical issues, were not Dr’s” I tried to get him to look at the report which I considered a joke and he told me it would not do any good.

I don’t/didn’t buy that. Yes, the Union is not made up of Dr’s but to not look at the report? If someone got Aids and the company found out and let that person go citing medical issues, the Union won’t look into that?  What if the company found out a person had cancer and fired them for that citing medical issues. So the idea that the Union would just accept “medical issue” as a reason without looking into seems wrong.  

My getting let go was done by upper management. The good news was not all management felt what happened was right. I had gotten a lawyer and we were taking it to court. The down side was that the court process was over a year long.  So some in Northwest Airlines Management helped me find a job within Northwest. I wasn’t fired, just unable to perform the job I was hired for and on my own.

So the goal was to find a job that were within my restrictions that I could do pending my court hearing.  We found a job but it was at a $1000 a month pay cut and loss of seniority. 

The understanding was WIN the court case and EVERYTHING would change. The court case was not for Money but for WORDING. Work Comp or Fat. If it became a work comp 

The union would get involved because work comp isnt a medical issue
Any loss of pay/seniority would be made up and Id get back pay
NWA would finally better accommodate me into a new position

So I worked my new job at Northwest while I waited for my hearing.  Some have asked was there any ill will aimed at me in my new job. My answer,None. In fact Northwest Airlines had 8 of us including myself fly out to Eugene Oregon to represent the company for the 2008 Olympic Time Trials for several days.  

I was also 1 of 50 Northwest Airlines employees who got to fly in a Rare test flight of the A380 a Double-decker plane.  Its the largest passenger airliner in the world.  It was a experience of a lifetime.  The A380 was just coming out and it was so new that it required so many hours in the air before it could start to take paying passengers.  It came to Minnesota, home of Northwest Airlines and 50 employees and 50 media types and business people got a hour flight on a plane that holds over 500. The point is I did a lot while waiting for my case to be heard that I doubt Northwest would have let me do if lower-mid management had any outright ill will because of the upcoming hearing.

        

During that year wait my union had no contact with me.

The biggest problem I faced was the pay.  I knew I had to get through the year. My lawyer said if I won Id get back pay but back pay did not pay my mortgage so I picked up all the overtime I could for that year to make up for that loss.

I went from $20.20 down to $13.92 which was a big hit, but I had faith in my case.

I was sure of my case. I would be getting a lot of back pay after I won my case.

In 2008 I felt comfortable enough to do my first 48 State Road trip. I had read about these 3 guys who wanted to see how fast they could drive the 48 states.  I love to drive and I thought how fun to drive all 48 states.  The one thing that troubled me was they got a bunch of press but did not “use it” I thought what a great way to speak out about homeless issues.  Some have said some of us do these crazy things just to get media attention. Fact is if you just stand on a corner and talk about homeless issues nobody would listen. So I did my trip in about 8 days time and was amazed with the coverage I got. But what made it all worth it was emails and letters like this one.

 

Finally my court hearing date arrived.  A few weeks later the judges decision came out,  Several pages but it all came down to 1 paragraph (Dr Hope was My Dr. and Helms was the strip mall Dr)


It is “unclear” how their Dr reached his conclusion

Their Dr “offers no anatomical explanation for such a casual connection”

Their Dr offers no “logic or common sense”

In english what the judge is saying 

“YOU CANT JUST LOOK AT A PERSON AND SAY YOUR FAT, ANY INJURY MUST BE YOUR FAULT” 

It was what I had been saying for a year and to have a judge come out so strongly in her entire decision against what Northwest did felt amazing. 

But just because I won, does not mean I won. 

 

First thing I did was go to my Union because it was no longer a medical issue but rather a Work Comp.  My union would not look at the Dr report.  A report that a Minnesota judge ruled lacked logic and common sense and had NO anatomical explanation.  I was upset because had my union actually read the report as I had asked over a year before things might have moved faster.  

So what was their response  “Be thankful you have a job.”  They figured I had gotten this far, I had a job just be happy.

The next thing was to get back pay so I did not have to work insane hours. But when I first learned id get back pay I failed to ask the right questions.  The biggest question being HOW was back pay calculated.  I figured for every hour I worked at $13.00 pay would be recalculated at the $20 rate or if I worked 40 hours they would give me a additional $7 x 40 for the year.  Over time worked would be refigured as well.  Turns out they do a much easier way.  They look at your pay check avg before injury and compare that number to your new avg. So if before my injury I was getting $2000 a check and now I was getting $1500 the insurance company would give me $500 x 1 year.  So when they looked at my paycheck it was (making this number up cause its easier) $2000 pre injury and $2000 now. The insurance company did not care I was working a extra 20 hours a week The insurance company came out and said “He’s making the same amount ZERO backpay owed. 

I was shocked, but it was my fault.  I never asked.  At the same time I knew I would not have made it that year making $1000 less a month for a year while I waited.  I tried going to my union again and again their reply was just “be happy you have a job”.

Around that time the Northwest/Delta merger talks heated up.  Northwest stared saving it’s money to look bigger so it held off on overtime for everyone. We tried to get the insurance to recalculate my back pay but they were not obligated. To them they saw that for a year I had made almost the same. To them that was good enough.  

I suddenly saw where I was heading and it wasn’t good.  My mortgage had been sold to various groups and currently was with Litton Loans and with my credit union of 33 years, I knew my first step was to refinance. I had paid my mortgage on time so far so I knew I should be able to. But Litton said they did not do refinances and my credit union replied with 1 sentence “pay or lose your house”

I was lost. My Contract and NWA’s own policy say 1 thing yet Im not seeing it

Before the fat report came out It was viewed as a work comp.  A guy named Greg Lambert with NWA was in charge of the accommodation program. I qualified and we were working on setting me up for a job same union, same seniority and same pay.

What stopped this process was the Fat report that changed it from a work comp to my fault.  Now I had a judge ruling that ruled the fat report crap and reverted everything back to BEFORE the report. I had qualified back then for accommodation and nothing had changed.  The job I was at now was like a loaner car, something you get while your real job is being worked out.

But everything there was so Union focused. Without the union getting involved I was kept silent. 

For weeks I continued to try to get my back to refinance and they refused to talk.

Then I was Dealt a new blow. Just a few months after winning my case I was informed that my department was cutting by 1 and given that I no longer had seniority I became that 1 to lose my job.

So suddenly there I was. I was working in a department I should never have been assigned to. Making $1000 a month less then I should have been and having a seniority that was incorrect. Talk about wrong place wrong time. I was told given the merger my only real option was to take the severance.
I accepted the severance and then went right away to the Union. The unions response was you took the severance, there is nothing they could do.

Had the fat report never come out Id still be working today.

Need to pause and explain some things. The reason I should not have been at that job 

Instead Im suddenly laid off again During the worst economy in my lifetime and im disabled.  For almost 10 year I was with the airline industry which is a very physical job. But now....
I have a well documented bad back
Torn abdominal wall that hurts every time I bent twist or lift
I can no longer lift more then 25 pounds the rest of my life
I have torn ligaments in my ankle that the Dr’s want to fuze

Meaning my resume is almost worthless and my job search even harder then most. 

By this time I had already fallen behind on my mortgage. The one thing I did not see coming at least not as fast as it did was my bank freezing my assets before the sheriff sale had even been announced. All my assets and savings wiped clean. I should have seen that coming and moved those to another bank. But I knew I had the severance was coming so that would help a little.

The severance came but it was $3500 short. I couldn’t win. My lawyer wrote to their lawyer who responded that they don’t pay any disability while a person is laid off which included adjusting my severance. Basically what that meant was that once I won my case there was no incentive tokeep me because if they laid me off they do not have to pay a dime.

My lawyer got me 2 professionals to do my resume and help me with my job search and that got me nothing. The sherif sale was set and things were looking bad.

Could I really become homeless again?

It could not be happening, You get hurt at work and that costs you everything? 

Denial set in. I worked so hard to pull myself in 2001.  I kept looking at my union book and reading what SHOULD have happened after you got hurt at work and none of it happened.  My union did not seem interested even though my contract was walked all over and a judge ruled I was wronged by NWA. And it all stemmed back to the “fat report”

The day before I lost my house I was still in denial. Late that day friends came over to help me mad rush pack and put everything into storage. Dec 18th 2009 I lost the house and have been homeless since then.

I was lost, confused and more.  This was not 
how America worked it’s not how unions work. 
How could the report that a Minnesota 
judge ruled lacked common sense be my downfall?  
When you strip it down, I lost everything 
because a dr did not like me being overweight. 

Being homeless in Minnesota is tough during 
winter.  I am very lucky to have the car.
But it was very tough to lose my house a week 
before christmas and two weeks before my 
birthday.  Two days before my birthday it was
-23 It makes things tough, you feel alone and
helpless.
                 

I returned to Minnesota continued job search. March 2011 unemployment ran out making life a little tougher.  But I realize i’ve been lucky.  Am I perfect? No
Did I make all the right moves?  No  But getting hurt at work should not cost you everything.  In the mean time Ive tried to be the best man I can be.  I have strived to help others and in the end I can still hold my head up high.

Hundreds of applications but almost no interviews.  Depression, self doubt filled my head.  

I kept saying to myself  “Homeless defines WHAT I am not WHO I am”  

I lost EVERYTHING.  No facts, No medical or anatomical facts yet this Dr report cost me my job and my home. This wasn’t a case of two different Dr’s reaching two different conclusions.  This wasn’t they agree to disagree.  This was 1 Dr forming a opinion based on a bias.  To have a Judge tell a Dr he is unclear, lacks medical evidence, lacks logic & common sense is a shocking statement.  Northwest Airlines let me go because of that report.  

By Summer 2011 it was a race against time and money.  With Unemployment running out and getting nothing in disability my money was running out fast.  I was putting in for any job possible. But found nothing.  My meal budget daily was $5 by late summer. 

At the same time there grew a growing political interest in my story.  A Minnesota Senator had invited me to the Capital to meet with him and a effort is being made to get me a meeting with the Governor. Given Delta has a Hub here there is strong ties between the Governors office and Delta. The hope is The Governors office can put in a good word request for Delta to review my situation. Also US Rep Keith Ellison said he would like to meet with me.  Both are great news, the only downside is If your rich and powerful you get a meeting right away.  If your a avg person you get put on a waiting list and their people will get back to you someday.  I keep reading how the Governor met with the owners of the Minnesota Vikings.  I wonder if they went through the same waiting process I have to go through.

Have I made perfect choices?  Of course not.  Im not perfect. But the last few years have been a nightmare.  Losing my house and job over a BS Dr’s report and now on the verge of losing my car because the insurance company is sitting on a check because they want to drag out the process.

How much more do I have to lose??

Lifting 1 single bag while doing my job cost me
   -the ability to lift over 20 lbs the rest of my life
   -my job of 6 plus years
   -my home
   -ruined my credit
   -and now will cost me my car

At what point have I sacrificed enough? 

Im tired of being told that what happened was wrong yet here I am.

Im tired of fighting. Im tired of trying to survive.  Im scared to death to lose my car.

Im tired of it all.   I just want to wake up, find out it was a bad dream and go....... 

       

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