4/17/2008

The Homeless

Some people have phobias, such as fear of flying, fear of water, fear of enclosed places and so forth. I’ve got enough phobias to fill up a medium size library. The one that has always been at the back of my mind is fear of being homeless. There is no rational reason why I should ever feel this way. I don’t even know of anyone in my family or any friends I’ve ever had that said they had a family member who was homeless (come to think of it, they probably wouldn’t talk about that if they did). It was a fear that traumatized me when I was divorced. I was basically homeless. But, I did have a truck I could sleep in when I felt I was too much of a burden on family. They were appalled when I told them I had lived in my truck for two days. That’s as close to homelessness I ever want to get.

I have great empathy for the homeless. Sure, some are homeless because they want to be. Others have reasons ranging from being drug users, alcoholics, no money, no marketable skills or possibly mental illness. But, there are those who are in that position by no fault of their own.

When I first moved back to Mobile, I noticed a man who would carry a bag of what appeared to be his belongings into the woods about two miles from my home. The first time I saw him, I thought nothing of it. But, I continued to see him leaving and entering this wooded area for months. For all I knew, he had a home back there. There is a Shell gas station just around the corner from where this man made his entrance into the woods. While going in to buy a soft drink, I asked the cashier if she ever saw this man that apparently lived in the woods not far from this Shell gas station. She appeared to be saddened when I asked her about him. She said his name is Jake, he is originally from Scottsdale, AZ and moved out to the gulf coast area for work. Jake supposedly was a co-owner of a small construction company in Scottsdale until his partner skipped town with the entire company bank account. Jake declared bankruptcy and he and his family lived in a used mobile home park just outside the Scottsdale area.

Jake apparently took to drinking heavily and his wife took the kids and left him. So, Jake wandered east by hitchhiking, railroad cars, etc. He would take an odd job here and there to make money enough to eat. He had been living in this area for about a year, she said. This cashier said that she would let him take all the water on the outside faucet he needed and would give him a few sandwiches and candy that she paid for out of her own money. He was a very sad fellow.

A week before Christmas in 2006, I saw Jake sitting on the sidewalk of this Shell gas station. I really wasn’t sure if I should intrude on him since he appeared really despondent. But, I decided to ask him if he was alright. He told me that with Christmas just around the corner, he missed his kids more this time of year than any other. They would not accept any phone calls from him. I honestly didn’t know what to say. So, and I couldn’t believe I did this, I gave Jake $20.00. He said he appreciated it, but he couldn’t take charity. I told him to consider it a Christmas gift. He hung his head so that I couldn’t see him crying. I told him Merry Christmas and left.

By the middle of January 2007, I had not seen Jake since that week before Christmas. I ordinarily saw him at least once a week. I decided to ask the cashier at the Shell station if she had seen Jake lately. She told me that Jake had come in shortly after New Year’s Day to buy a sandwich and left without saying a word to her. She said that was very unusual for him.

The cashier and I never saw Jake again. I hope he is ok wherever he might be. I hope he’s eating well and is finding work. Most of all, I hope his kids gave him another chance.

2 comments:

Dave,
(Sorry for this long story, but I felt you would appreciate it.)

This is a touching story. I have a brother who had been homeless for years. About 6 I think. He is the last person you could ever have imagined this would happen to. He was an extremely frugal and diligent person.

After the untimely death of my oldest brother he began to drink. It was only beer for years. We all nagged at him to stop drinking so much. His response was “it is only beer”. I had to make several trips to places he would be so drunk he couldn’t walk to take him home. By this time he had already bought a modest 1930’s home.

He put $2,000 in an IRA religiously every year. He worked as a mechanic and didn’t make a lot of money by any scale. Yet he always managed to save and would lend money to any friend in need. He never spoiled himself with new cars or nice things.

After years of abusing alcohol he began a rapid self destructive downward spiral. By the grace of God he never had a DWI or accident injuring anybody. When he finally hit what most would consider rock bottom (selling his house and giving away every item he owned) he joined the army in his mid thirties (I believe).

We felt certain with his alcoholism he would fail boot camp. Shockingly he made it through. He has more drive and determination when he wants to accomplish something than any other human being I know.

He was deployed to Germany. After 6 mos. there he had a meltdown. He had been taking a drug to help one stop drinking and doing fine (as far as we know). He went in for dental work and when put under the anesthesia he went berserk. Ran from the base thinking the army implanted a radio device in his arm.

He sliced his forearm open trying to dig out the radio. My sister lived in Germany at the time and he contacted her. This was the first we learned of his mental illness. She picked him up and tried to talk to him but he was too far gone mentally.

She contacted the army and had him picked up. He was shipped to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. My husband and I visited him there. His doctors told me he was schizophrenic. They said we should have seen signs of this at a much earlier age. We didn’t. He was the picture of hard work and responsibility until his mid to late 20’s.

After 6 mos at Walter Reed they released him. They tried to give him a medical release where he would have had access to medical help and some benefits. He refused. He thought this was charity and did not accept it.

Five mos after coming home he tried to commit suicide. He cut both wrists (one so badly they didn’t think they could save his hand). He stabbed himself 3 times in the midsection. He was care flight to a trauma hospital and the nurse to my other brother and me that we had better say our goodbyes right then.

He made it through the 5+ hours of surgeries. Was committed to a mental hospital whose only responsibility was to stabilize him and release him. My family all offered to let him stay with us. He did a round with each of us but not taking his medication was his doom.
He now heard voices and was extremely paranoid.

He moved out to live under a bridge. That is where he remained for over 5 years. He would come to stay with various family members for very short periods.

I contacted the military and tried to overturn the decision to let him decided he didn’t want the medical discharge. They said if I could get him to appear in court they would hear our case. Well, he would have none of it. He to this day refuses to get on SSI because “he won’t take charity and doesn’t need it”.

He eats from dumpsters. Will still help any living soul who needs a helping hand and will not accept a penny. Recently he was committed yet again for cutting off his right thumb.
“God told him to do it to prove his love”. This go round he got put on many antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants. He is doing exceptionally well. Living at one of my brothers office (that is a small house).

He is taking his meds for now. When he stops, he will go back to the bridge. It is a heart wrenching cycle. No easy answer. I wish we knew what happened to cause this. You will never ever meet a more compassionate person as he. Unfortunately no compassion for himself.

jewels, that is a very sad story. My heartfelt sympathy to you on your brother. As I will post tomorrow, everyone has a story to share to the world. You just shared one, one filled with pain and moments of happiness. But, that is life in a nushell, isn't it? Thanks for your comment and please continue to come back.

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