STRATEGIES DESCRIBED TO GET OFF THE STREETS—PERSONAL STRUGGLE
Date: Summer, 2000
Site: St. Ben's
Demographics: African American/m/age 50
Before I was homeless I had my own apartment and I was doing alright, but I was smoking cocaine, and I was homeless 4 times in last 5 years, 2 or 3 times it was drug-related with too much traffic. So I got evicted a couple of times. The last time I just left myself because I wanted to stop hanging around with cocaine smokers, so I made myself homeless.
When I was homeless, like I said, 4 times in 4 or 5 years—once or twice in the winter. I couldn’t deal with the Rescue Mission, so I would hang out in a vacant van. I would sit up there in the wintertime. I couldn’t deal with the Mission. I would sit there or go to girls’ houses, but I had to supply them with crack cocaine and I was trying to get away from that. But sometimes it was too cold to be out there in that van. I supplied them with crack cocaine I could stay with them. But when I didn’t have the crack cocaine they would act funny and tell me I had to leave. Sometimes I stayed at the mission. I did odd jobs for drug money like doing this for the U-Haul. They didn’t know I was on cocaine. I knew them for 10 years and would do odd jobs for them. I paid $10 to $30 for cocaine. I used to smoke it morning, noon and night and had about 8 people selling it out of my apartment because it was always available. I got it from drug dealers. They look like normal people. Most didn’t smoke cocaine, but sell it. Customers I had were white. In 5 years time I accumulated 50 white guys, 6 white girls and about 30 black guys. I always got evicted. I was never arrested.
It took various times to get off the streets. Sometimes I’d be homeless for a couple of nights, sometimes for a couple of months, sometimes for a couple of days. The last time I was homeless—last time was Sept. of 1998. I ended up in the mental health complex. I was diagnosed with psychotic episodes years ago—manic depressive 21 years ago, hear voices, multiple personalities, 21 years ago. In 1998, Sept. 15 I was off the streets. I stay on 25th and Kilbourn. I’m 50. I get SSI. It’s hard to live on it but I do the best I can. Mostly now I listen to music. I sometimes ride the buses from one end of the town to the other. I go to MacDonald’s sometimes for coffee—25th and Wisconsin.
It’s been a long time since I worked—like 20-some years since I had a job. I was a salad preparation man, a deep fry cook for a couple of years in Madison. I was born in Little Rock AK and grew up in Chicago and Milwaukee. I started using Marijuana when I was 8 and snorting cocaine when I was 15. I wasn’t homeless back then. I lived with my grandmother whose dead. I had a 35 year history of drugs and alcohol. I haven’t drank in 11 years. All the money I wasted I can’t get that back.
STRATEGIES DESCRIBED TO GET OFF THE STREETS—
SOCIAL/COMMUNITY PROGRAMS AND GROUPS
Date: Fall, 2000
Site: Homeward Bound (Racine)
Demographics: African American/f/30
I’m a recovering addict and an alcoholic. My story is just
living a rough life. A lot of self-pity, a lot of feeling worthless,
feeling useless and I turned to the streets. I did this for a
long period of time. My parents were enablers; they took care
of me whenever I did wrong. Whenever I did wrong they fixed everything.
Actually, I never thought I would be homeless, because of my parents.
I was raised in a good home. My father had a good job, my mother
had a good job. She was a nurse, my dad worked for [______]. We
always had the best of everything, but I was just one of those
rebellious stubborn kids and they were just my enablers. Whenever
I got into trouble they fixed everything. The last time in my
addiction, when I knew I was ready and didn’t want to live
that way anymore. I called my mom and told her I was coming home.
I have three kids and she was like, “No, I’ll take
the kids, but you need to get your life together.” And it
was about a week, I stayed with some friends and she had my kids.
I didn’t want to live that way no more, but I didn’t
know what to do. I had been in treatment before and I had relapsed
and I didn’t want to go in treatment. I knew what I needed
to do. I knew I had the tools I just wasn’t using them.
So I decided to get into the shelter and get back on track. So
that’s how I became homeless—just going from house
to house. It got tiresome. . .
It’s only been six months [since she’s clean and
sober]. My kids still have their guard up. I feel they think,
“Who knows when she is going to go back.” I put them
through this. My oldes is 13, she’s been through my whole
addition. My son is 11, he’s been through my whole addiction.
My youngest is 9, I don’t think she really understands.
So they know all about my addiction. They know how I used to leave
them at home, when I came in the shelter. They know all about
it. They refused to come to the shelter with me when I came. I
didn’t blame them. It wasn’t their fault we didn’t
have a roof over our heads. My ma kept them while I did my three
months here and when I got the Transitional Housing Program the
came back to live with me. So then I just do it one day at a time.
I hang around positive people. I hang around the shelter a lot.
It’s a safe haven. I still have mandatory meetings here.
So this is my hang out, if I’m not at home and not at work.
By the grace of God I got hired by the state. I got a state job.
Date: Winter, 2002
Site: Public Housing Facility for people living
Demographics: African American/m/25-35
I was born in Chicago, uh, I had a pretty average life, I went
to a public school, uh, a big school. My father had a pretty good
job, I was raised in a brick house on the seventh sun. Uh, actually
I had a pretty good life as a young man, I was a service member;
it was after I got out of the service that things got bad for
me. My homelessness is a direct result of drug addiction. Uh,
I spent eight months living on the street in the state of Washington,
out west, okay? Um, I had been homeless a couple other times before
that in Chicago, as well. I’d been in a lot of shelters,
things like that. But my life before I was homeless was actually
a good--it was a normal middle class life. Okay, I had, like I
said, six brothers, who are all very successful now, but I’m
the black sheep of my family. I always felt like I was, uh, trying
to live up and following their coat tails, you know what I mean?
And that, I guess, made me want to be way different, so I went
into, I got into drugs and all that when I was in high school
and all through the service I did that.
Uh, afterwards I just kept doing that, and that eventually made
me homeless. So I guess that accounts then for the second question
‘how did you happen to become homeless?’ It was drug
use. Drug use is what made me homeless.
While I was homeless, my whole goal while I was homeless was
to buy heroin and cocaine, uh, I didn’t care about eating,
I didn’t care where I slept, uh, I really didn’t care
about anything except to do what I needed to do to stay high.
Uh, what I did do, I wasn’t like a panhandler or something
like that, I would go around when I, after I would wake up in
the morning, and I would go from business to business, little
ma and pa type shops, and I would ask them if they had odd jobs
that I could do, I would tell I was homeless, and I would ask
them if they had odd jobs that I could do, for cash. You know
what I mean? I was willing to work, but the only reason I was
willing to work was because I needed the money for dope. Okay?
A lot of places would give me a meal, you know, and a lot of places
would give me jobs. And there was other places that called the
police on me, you know? I have had people answer me with, uh,
‘get a job, you bum’ and my standard reply was ‘give
me one’. You know? One thing that I happen to know about
being homeless is once a person gets into that predicament, and
they don’t have the availability to clean themselves up,
and where clean…they’ll pretty generally stay in that
predicament. It’s very, very hard to get out of, because
people wanna say they’re willing to help you, but they’re
not really willing to do anything besides say they are willing
to help you. And uh, words are useless to a homeless person. You
know what I mean? Unless, unless there’s some actual help
happening or some actual opportunity happening, nothing’s
I myself [eventually] went to a drug program. (INTERRUPTION) Go.
Go. I myself went to a drug program. I realized that it was the
drugs that were keeping me homeless, okay. And uh, I also knew
deep inside myself that I had way more to offer, and that I wanted
to offer, and do more, for myself. I never got to a point where
I absolutely didn’t care about myself. Uh, I, I did get
a point where the drugs meant more than anything else, but I never
reached a point where I just didn’t care about myself. I
was never suicidal or anything like that. I always knew that if
I was to focus my energy in a different place I would do better.
But I also knew that if I was on the street that wasn’t
going to happen, so I needed to get to a safe place to get clean.
And that was by going to a drug program. Actually, the only way
that even happened for me was that I’m a veteran, like I
said before, so I had the availability of the VA. A lot of people
out there don’t have that, so they’re gonna be stuck
worse than I was.
. . . I know that one thing that a homeless person needs all
the time is at least a place to be clean, to get cleaned up, you
know? And I think that if they had a place to store some of there
things at, you know? Homeless people get, believe it or not, homeless
people are robbed probably more than people that have any money
on the street. And they are robbed by other homeless people. The
crime its…(KNOCK AT DOOR) excuse me? Yeah, okay. Uh, its
a absolutely ridiculous thing, you know what I mean? And its probably
just because of depression and just desperation; I really don’t
know, I don’t know all the answers, all I know is what it
was like for me.
STRATEGIES DESCRIBED TO GET OFF THE STREETS—EMPLOYMENT
Date: Summer, 2000
Site: St. Ben’s
Demographics: African American/m/between 30 and 40
My life has been, before I became homeless, I always
had me a good job. I always had a job somewhere. I had my own
paint service and my own income coming in every week. I worked
for factories and all different sorts of jobs. I always kept me
How I became homeless was I broke my leg and was unable to work.
I couldn’t get anyone to help me, so I ended up living in
vacant buildings, vacant houses, and I had a sleeping bag wrapped
up in a car. I learned to eat out of dumpsters of restaurants
just after they closed.
I realized you just had to accept responsibility for your own
self and I got my act together and that’s what pulled me
up from being homeless. Now I work here at St. Ben’s for
about 8 years. I save a little. My refrigerator is full. Except
that Jesus is in my life, which was something I didn’t have
before. That’s very important.
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