The Worst Case Scenario

There is an increasingly accepted theory that nearly everyone living in the United States is but one paycheck away from homelessness.
With an ever-worsening national economy, an expanding middle class and rising poverty levels, more and more media outlets are telling stories of people who have found themselves homeless after being laid off from their well-paying jobs, unable to find work and unable to keep up with the mounting cost of living.
And though Tulsa lags behind the national norm in terms of the failing economy, many locals have seen their net worths decrease, thanks to recent plunges in the stock market.
During our daily perusal of news and current events, Tulsa Business Journal came across a particularly provocative post on the Freakonomics blog (, in which co-author Stephen Dubner posed a quorum to a few of his friends. He asked them to imagine they had just lost all of their possessions and money and found themselves living on the streets.
He then posed three questions: What’s the first move you would make? What’s the first organization you would turn to? What would your extended plan look like?
Undoubtedly most everyone has wondered something similar of himself, has contemplated the drastic turn his life could take at any minute, without any warning at all.
The editorial staff at TBJ thought we’d pose this possible quandary to a handful of locals who made our 40 Under 40 lists in 2007 and 2008. Here is what they had to say:
Liz Hunt, Principal/Owner, Hunt Media & Marketing LLC
“This exercise was a sobering one for me and cause for pause as I realized that this situation could happen to anyone, at anytime, especially given our current economic climate.
“As I’ve been focused on preparing the holidays, negotiating my way through this scenario was an opportunity for me to think outside of myself and realize just how fortunate I am.
“I’m making several assumptions in this exercise. I’m assuming that I’m physically and mentally healthy, have no substance abuse addictions and have maintained my college education, work experience and rich family and social networks.
“Although my life has changed as I have known it, I’m resourceful, tenacious, hard-working and possess good coping skills, education and work experiences. All of those things are inherent to me and can’t be taken away, regardless of what’s occurred to me.”
1. What’s the first move you would make?
Outside of willing myself to be in a positive state of being, I would try to garner perspective and gather my focus so that I could develop a plan. I would initially search for basic needs such as shelter, food and clothing. My first move would be to reach out to my family and social networks for shelter, salvation and comfort.
2. What’s the first organization you would turn to?
I’m assuming that I would be able to find temporary shelter, food and clothing through my personal networks. If those basic needs are temporarily being provided, I would shift my focus to generating an income. I would first turn to Workforce Oklahoma to garner assistance to help me create a resume, obtain career coaching and begin my job search.
If, for some reason, I was unable to find shelter, food and clothing through my family or social networks, I would first turn to Tulsa’s Day Center for the Homeless.
3. What would your long-term plan look like?
Given that a significant event occurred to have stripped me of my financial resources and personal possessions, I would initially search for free counseling services, either through the Mental Health Association in Tulsa or my church, to help me address the situation and enable me to move forward with my life in positive and constructive manner.
Once those services were secured, I would begin my long-term plan to reclaim my career, or assess a new opportunity. As I work on that effort, I would seek immediate employment, salary or minimum wage, to assist with paying for my lodging, food and basic needs so that I could re-gain my independence.
I would also strive to make this personal challenge into a learning experience for others.
Chris Amburgy, Senior Vice President of Corporate Banking, Commerce Bank
“I simplified the task immediately by making the assumption that I only need to be concerned with myself, i.e. that my family, friends, etc. are not involved. If I had to do this again with my family in mind, it would be much more difficult since caring and providing for them would create a much more challenging/stressful scenario.
“In the end, I’m not sure my answers are realistic because until a person actually had to face a situation like this, I don’t think they know what they would do. But for the sake of the exercise, here it goes…”
1. What’s the first move you would make?
First, let’s make some assumptions. I’m going to assume that I am living in the streets alone and have lost my entire social network — family, friends, etc. and know of nobody I can reach out to, but that I still have my sanity, a college education and the experience gained from years of hard work.
I suppose with my newfound “freedom” I might be tempted to hitchhike my way to the mountains or wander around “living off the land,” but I wouldn’t last very long doing that. After dismissing that idea, the first thing I would do is attempt to find a local shelter to find food, water and a place to sleep.
I would volunteer to work/help out in any way in order to put myself in a position to have the most basic needs—food, water and a roof over my head. At that point, I think I would have plenty of time on my hands to get over the shock from the change and to start coming up with a plan to get back on my feet.
2. What’s the first organization you would turn to?
Since I still have my sanity and don’t have amnesia, I would recall my experience as an advisory board member for the Salvation Army and immediately head to their emergency shelter. I have seen how the Salvation Army cares for those in need and helps them get back on their feet again. I would also turn to a local church because, even though I would be in the midst of the most difficult time of my life, I would have hope through my Christian faith that, with God, all things are possible.
3. What would your long-term plan look like?
After satisfying the basis needs, I would look for employment of any kind that would help me re-establish a life on my own. Having grown up with a family of modest means, I am fortunate that I know the meaning of hard work and have also had to do many different jobs that aren’t very glamorous — no job would be too menial and no task would be “beneath me”.
I would rely on my faith and hard work to slowly rebuild my life. I would try to recreate a network of friends that were in similar situations so that we could work together to build each other back up. Having someone to talk to would seem pretty important — it would be easy to feel lost and alone in that kind of situation.
From a material standpoint, I think my standards would adjust pretty quickly. I am fortunate to have the means to enjoy many things today that certainly aren’t necessities but also know that all of it could vanish tomorrow.
Marnie Ducato, Vice President of
Communications, Rex Public Relations
1. What’s the first move you would make?
Honestly, I think I would go into panic mode. The first thing I would do is look for Shane (my fianc√?), who is incredibly resourceful and great in a crisis… he would know what to do! However, if he weren’t around, I would seek out others in my situation for consolation and support. I don’t deal with stress well by myself; I need to be surrounded by people, and I would talk to others about how to survive, what I need to do, where to go for meals, etc.
2. What’s the first organization you would turn to?
The first organization I would turn to is my church. I think it would be difficult for me to go to a shelter first thing. I don’t know why, I think I would be in denial for a while. So I would talk to one of my ministers and go from there. I know without a doubt that they would be there for me and would do what they could to help.
3. What would your long-term plan look like?
As far as a long-term plan goes, that is tough to say. I’m kind of a “wing-it” girl. Not good for someone in that situation! I would utilize the resources in Tulsa — there are some very good ones such as the Day Center — to help me put together a plan. I know I would rely heavily on my faith to help get me through this situation. I’m not afraid of hard work, so even if I had to take on odd jobs to earn my keep, I would. I think, for me, it would be just taking things one day at a time to get back on my feet.
Jessica Hargis, Chief Financial Officer,
American Red Cross-Tulsa Area Chapter
1. What is the first move you’d make?
My first move would be to find my cat, Coolidge. It took me nearly 11 years to convince my husband to let me have a pet, so now that I have one, I’d want to make sure he’s safe. Oh, and I’d check on my husband’s welfare, too. He did let me have a cat, after all.
2. What’s the first organization you would turn to?
I’m assuming that my losses would be caused by a disaster. After working for the Red Cross for four years, disasters are always the first “worst case scenario” that comes to mind. It’s hard for it not to, when each year, nearly a thousand local families really do lose all their clothing, food, furniture, and precious family photos due to house fires. Even more lose their belongings because of floods and tornadoes. So I would turn to the organization America knows best — the Red Cross. A volunteer would help me by offering financial assistance so that I could purchase clothing, shoes, a coat, and food. They would also provide a voucher for a hotel stay so that I had safe and warm place to stay that night.
3. What would your long-term plan look like?
With my immediate needs met, I’d use my referrals from the Red Cross to receive help from other community organizations to help address my long-term needs. I think first and foremost, I would need to attend to my mental state. I can only imagine the emotional trauma I would have endured. I would therefore seek mental health services through Family & Children’s Services. Once I was counseled through my traumatic experience, I would contact the Salvation Army to seek assistance with replacing some of my more substantial belongings, such as a bed and other furniture. Finally, I would seek job training from an organization like Goodwill, so that I may get myself out into the working world and back on my feet financially as quickly as possible.
Tulsa is privileged to have so many wonderful non-profit, humanitarian organizations, and I know I am not familiar with them all. In that case, it’s nice to know that an information line like 2-1-1 exists to help point me in the right direction.
Darryl Baskin, President, Baskin Real Estate
“I think about this often. Fact is, it could happen to anybody at any time for many reasons, and most don’t know it.”
1. What is the first move you’d make?
Assuming I had no references, network, relationship with any person, I would find a reliable shelter to stay clean so I could make a decent impression and establish basic stability. John 3:16 would be my first place to stop. Hopefully, I have paid forward enough that someone somewhere would have space for me.
If a shelter were not available, I have even thought so far as to try to get a job at a local fitness center with a free towel service or ask one of my business contacts from step two to buy me a one-month access pass to give me time to prove myself to them. Work out at 6 a.m. every day. This would be a place to take a shower — and even network.
Step one would also include making a list of my basic needs for bartering in step two.
2. What’s the first organization you would turn to?
I would locate at least three businessmen (or women) in various business sectors of value to me and explain I needed their help (i.e. real estate to live on site and property manage, banking to plan ahead for a future relationship and tap into their current network, perhaps a new/used car dealer who would allow auto usage in exchange for services such as detailing, etc.). I would explain to them I would perform any tasks they needed in exchange for transportation, clothing and minor expenses.
3. What would your long-term plan look like?
I would explain to my contacts I needed more than just a job—one where I could work for a meager wage but where I could earn based upon my ability to produce. To demonstrate to them I was not a free-loader or that my plight was due to laziness, I would promise to perform and report daily with what I accomplished for them. I would ask for total control of a project and that they owed me nothing until I showed progress and that I would be paid at those tangible benchmarks.
My long-term plan would be to develop that business. I would want some ownership option or residual benefit if I could get it.
I think people want to help others and will give you a short time frame to prove yourself. Someone can take advantage of that by making sure they ask for help without making the other person feel at risk or threatened.
Give me some tools to work with and feed me. I believe I can make money doing anything. ?

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