LIFE WHILE HOMELESS—EMPHASIZED HARDSHIPS
Date: Spring, 2000
Site: St. Ben’s meal site
I can honestly say that before I was homeless I had everything. I had friends and a girlfriend. I went to church. I was very respected. It was like I got hit by lightning when I got homeless. Things just fell apart. [HOW DID THEY FALL APART?] It started out when I started getting homeless. I was in a gang and a rival gang murdered my mother and my little sister, and me and my dad went on a revenge type thing. And now my dad’s in prison and he’s not supposed to get out. He might stay there for life. Now I got no one. I am alone. It’s all about lack of controlling emotions and about gangs.
Some people might think it’s easy to be homeless. But it’s not like just shooting the breeze and drinking a beer, getting high and all. You have to deal with yourself all the time. You can’t take a shower every day. You have to look at yourself, look at somebody else. I’m only 18 and I’ve been homeless going on years now. I’m like in puberty now and I see attractive women and I like them. I can’t even bring myself to talk to them. I can’t bring myself to ask anybody for a job. My pride is still there. It’s hard because of what you think about yourself. I’m still homeless and I don’t know when I’ll get my act together. I just hope people realize that homelessness is not very easy.
It’s hard living with yourself. I’ve slept in abandoned buildings with old clothes I can’t change every day. I’m the kind of person who likes to be clean and look good. It seems like when I was in a gang I had everything. Once I labeled myself in a gang, no one wanted to help me out. The family I looked up to said “it’s your fault that your mom died and it’s your fault that your dad’s in jail.” There’s nothing I can do about that now, know what I’m saying? My mother protected me, so I’ve got to do what I can to at least survive. Once again, life when you’re homeless is hard. You don’t know where you’re going to eat or sleep. It’s too hard.
LIFE WHILE HOMELESS—EMPHASIZED BENEFITS (TRANSFORMATION)
Date: Spring, 2000
Site: St. Ben’s meal site
Demographics: African American/m/30-40/
I had a wife and kids and couldn’t keep up with the bills, before I was homeless. My wife had a part time job but our church didn’t want her to work. For a while I tried working two jobs just to try and pay the bills. We didn’t have insurance when my last boy was born and the hospital and the doctor were asking us to pay hundreds of dollars a month. It seemed like it just couldn’t end. I felt so much stress and then my wife and me started fighting. She wanted to go out all the time to get away from the stress. And I didn’t want to go nowhere ‘cause I was too tired. But I didn’t want to babysit neither because I was too tired. So she said she was gonna move in with this woman down the street. And this woman, I mean she was wild. She took the three kids and left. She said she would come back in a month.
I had kind of a nervous breakdown. I just couldn’t get up. All I wanted to do was sleep. I took a leave of absence from my job [WHAT WAS THAT?]. I worked as an auto mechanic. Then I couldn’t pay the rent, and one day I just got up, took some clothes, and left [HOW LONG WAS THAT AFTER YOUR WIFE LEFT?] That was a real long time after. I think maybe three months. She never came back. She said I was layin’ off work and there was no point in coming back, when I didn’t pay the rent and everything.
I just moved out. I went to the Mission, then to the Guest House, and then to an abandoned house (that was summer). I started doing the circuit—St. James, library, walking, St. Ben’s, to sleep. Sometimes I’d go to the Breach. I think I went to the Breach for a couple of months, but it was nicer in the library. All I did was read what was in the paper. And then I felt this kind of peace. I was happy. I did a little weed, drank sometimes. I panhandled when I had to. It was like some sort of a vacation from all the stress.
I was like this for three, nearly four years. Some caseworker came once to one of the centers and talked to me. He said I needed to get motivated. And I said, for what? I got nothin’. I got no family, no friends, no job. He said I had auto skills and could get a job and I shouldn’t expect the system to pick up the bill for me. Everyone’s got to contribute. So I said, okay, I will contribute. Then I got a temp job with that one service [name]. I worked for a couple of months about one day a week and went back to the library and read the paper some more. I got to know everything there was to know about Milwaukee. Then little by little I went back to work. I always worked hard when I worked. Then this company took me on full time. I started there about 8 months ago. So now I got me a nice place and the kids come over to visit, and I pay some support. My wife got a divorce and got herself a new church man. And my life is okay now. I come here to eat with people I knew and to help out a little with the expenses. I still go to the library. I get a good feeling about that.
I don’t mean to say that people should be homeless just to get out of working. But for me I just couldn’t handle the stress anymore.
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