LIFE BEFORE HOMELESSNESS-DESCRIBED SELF AS WELL OFF/HAPPY
Date: Summer, 2000
Site: Public library
Demographics: African American/m/35-40
I had a job. It was okay. I worked for ________ Corp. and also did some running pizzas on weekends. My money was enough to pay my rent and my car and groceries. No, I got some food stamps for my groceries. I started to hang out with these guys in the hood. They basically drank all day. There were on SSI or some army pension (I forget) and didn’t have to work. But they were fun guys to hang with. I started waking up all hung over and laid off of work. I got a warning. My work went to hell. Then I gave up the pizza job to spend more time with the guys. Pretty soon my boss fired me [ASSUME AT THE FULL TIME JOB].
I moved in with one of the guys, but then we stopped getting along. I didn’t have any cash for beer like they did, so they cut me out. I went to a shelter, then to the lake in summer. I got a little money running drugs for one guy who was in the shelter. I think by then I was addicted to the alcohol. I don’t know when that happened. But all the homeless guys I hung with were into drinking and drugs—mostly crack and weed.
At the Mission I got hooked up in a program for AODA. These were a bunch of guys like those I hung with in the hood. I think I identified with them a little bit. I’ve been okay since. [HOW LONG AGO WAS THIS?] I got my six-month’s certificate a couple of weeks ago. [WERE YOU IN RECOVERY THE WHOLE TIME?] Yes. I never went back. I think I caught it pretty early. I’m still homeless. I got an eviction on my record so I can’t get into public housing. I’m on a list with a church group to get a place of my own. They think I’m a good risk. I started going to church with this Methodist group. I never really went to church before. Now I basically have two communities—the AA/NA group and the church. I never really had that much support before. I used to be kind of a loner.
LIFE BEFORE HOMELESSNESS-DESCRIBED SELF AS NOT WELL OFF
Date: Summer, 2000
Site: St. Ben’s
Demographics: African American/m/40-50
How was my life like before I became homeless? Well, let me try and remember. It wasn’t much better than it is today. I lived in rooming houses, worked at temp jobs, had a girlfriend now and then, never had much. I didn’t have any good training to get a good job. Mostly I did janitorial work or delivered handbills at people’s doors. It would pay my room rent. Couldn’t get no steady woman with no steady job. Did some drinking just to have something to look forward to. Sometimes then I’d buy my beer instead of paying the room rent. Then I started becoming homeless. I was homeless about half a year most years for about 8 or 9 years. Lately I been homeless nearly all the time. [HOW LONG HAS THAT BEEN—SINCE YOU’VE BEEN HOMELESS ALL THE TIME?] I never had a year when I was homeless all the year, but most of the year. [HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN MOST OF THE YEAR?] Most of the year. [NO—HOW MANY YEARS HAVE YOU BEEN HOMELESS MOST OF THE YEAR?] Maybe five years, maybe six. You stop counting.
I don’t go to no shelters anymore. They lecture you about how you got no motivation. And I don’t got no motivation. Maybe it will come one day. So I live in this secret place by the River and go to the Breach in the day and go to the meal sites for food. If I get some money from panhandling, then I buy some beer. Mostly I been sick of panhandling lately—all the BS you gotta say about needing a meal, when most of these folks on the streets know about the meal sites anyway—and then you gotta hear them say, “hey, I know where you can go for a free meal.” Then you come back with something like, “Aw, but it’s so dangerous there. I seen people getting into fights. I want to go to a McDonald’s.” Most of the time they don’t believe you, but they just want to stop the conversation, so they give you a quarter. But I don’t have money for beer or for drugs, and I guess that’s okay. So I do the circuit. Get up, go to St. James. Go to the library. Go to the Breach. Go to St. Ben’s. Go back to my place to sleep. I am healthy. No money for cigarettes or drugs or drink, lots of walking. Healthy as an old board. Still standing and strong.
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