Faces of the homeless, previously homeless and those still struggling
by Lisa Kane of Akron Snow Angels
Interview time, and like always, I’m moved to tears by the story. I feel so lucky to be able to meet all these people and listen to their stories. Meet David.
Age: 44 years old
Hometown: Liberty, TX
Lisa: What brought you to Akron?
David: I was born here, but then moved to Texas. I lived there until I was 12 years old. I didn’t have an easy childhood. I had a pretty nasty father. He liked to beat on my mom and us kids. At that time in Texas, where I lived, they acted like we were [my dad’s] property, that he could do what he pleased with [us]. The sheriff would show up at our house when it got too loud. Instead of stopping my dad from beating us, he would say, “Now Rusty, you need to do that a little quieter.” Meanwhile my mother or one of us boys would be sitting there with blood all over our faces. It was an escape like situation. We had to get away from my dad. My mom brought us up to Akron. The laws were different here, and she had some family here.
L: Occupation/Previous Occupation/Source of income?
D: I’ve worked since I was 12 years old. As an adult, I did heavy construction. I built buildings. I fell 35 feet onto concrete. I have enough steel and titanium in me that I set off metal detectors. I pretty much broke the entire right side of my body. I had a broken shoulder, a broken hip, a fractured knee and a traumatic brain injury. I was a mess.
L: Why don’t you have “a job?”
D: Several reasons. One is my physical condition. It’s just hard to do manual labor after all my injuries. I try to work. I get jobs and after a few weeks I’m broken down. I still try to get up, to keep doing the work. All I’ve ever done is physical labor. I don’t know computers and stuff. I’m almost 45 years old. It’s like they say I guess. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m eligible for disability, but I never use it. I feel bad. I just think, ‘Man, there must be SOMETHING I can do.’
L: How long have you been homeless?
D: It will be four years in March.
L: What lead you to homelessness?
D: After I was injured they prescribed me Percocet. I ended up getting addicted to it. I started having to go buy it from people. Someone who [called themselves] a friend introduced me to heroin. [They] even showed me how to shoot it up. That’s no friend! It didn’t only make the physical pain go away, but [also] made me forget all the emotional pain for a while too. The crazy thing is I didn’t become homeless until I was clean. I knew I had to stop [and I] wanted to stop. My lady at the time used too. She wasn’t ready to stop. I was clean for a few weeks when she stole my car and sold it to get high. I freaked out. I grabbed a bag, threw some clothes in and walked out. I literally walked out and walked into the woods. I’m not gonna lie, I planned on walking into those woods and dying. I had a mental breakdown. I just stayed out there for a month and a half. I just wanted to be isolated from everyone. I slept with just a blanket and a tarp wrapped around me. I was sneaking up and eating out of dumpsters. I ended up finding this place in Ravenna called Center of Hope. I actually started to get a little hope. There were these nice ladies there that would tell me, “Now David, we want to see you here again tomorrow.” I started to feel better. It all changed when I ran into my ex. She said all these horrible things to me. I was already in a bad place, so I kept thinking about it and thinking maybe she was right.
L: Do you have family?
D: I have two brothers. After the encounter with my ex, it got bad again. I called my brother while standing on the side of this bridge. I told him that I wanted him to know that I love him. That I’m sorry. That I didn’t want to let him down, but I just can’t do this anymore. He was slick. He kept talking to me while he had his wife call the police. They found me from the GPS on my cell phone. All of a sudden, all these police pull up to me. They told me that my brother really wanted me to go with them. I went.
L: Where did you sleep last night?
D: My tent at the Second Chance Village.
L: How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
D: About two or three. I have night terrors. I was diagnosed with PTSD from all the things that happened to me as a kid. I didn’t have an easy life. I knew all about drugs and alcohol a long time ago. We were dirt poor. Even when we moved here things never got easier. My mom got really sick. They were making decisions on where me and my brother would go. She ended up being diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome. It’s an immune disorder. She was sick all the time. She tried to go get jobs and stuff. I was out getting odd jobs at twelve to help. Birthday money and things like that went to pay for the lights to stay on. Christmas was like, “do you want presents or heat to sleep in a warm house.” We grew up knowing the real world, the hard one. I was never mad about it though. I knew my mom tried.
L: Do you usually have 3 meals a day?
D: I eat every day now.
L: Do you feel safe?
L: What is your biggest fear?
D: I’ve been on the streets so long now my biggest fear is getting back into society and then messing it all up and ending up right back where I started at step one.
L: What can people find you doing during the day?
D: I work security here (Second Chance Village). I watch the yard, make sure everything is going okay.
L: What are some of your daily struggles being homeless?
D: Right now it’s following through with what I need to do to get back on my feet. To stay focused on that.
L: What is the hardest thing about being homeless?
D: Out on the street it was definitely getting a meal.
L: What three words would you use to describe being homeless?
D: Hopeless. Survival — just trying to survive day to day. Hiding — trying to not be seen. The worst thing that could happen is when someone sees “your spot.” They destroy it, or steal your things, or the police make you move and you have to try to find somewhere else to go.
L: What do you think is the leading causes of homelessness?
D: Honestly, I truly think it’s just living paycheck to paycheck. So many people are one paycheck away from being on the street. You don’t have to have a drug problem. You don’t have to have a mental illness. That’s not the case a lot of times. Like I said, I didn’t become homeless until after I got off drugs.
L: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the homeless?
D: That every person is a drug addict, crazy and/or lazy.
L: Do most people show you kindness or treat you rudely?
D: It depends. Most people who have money wouldn’t give a dime, but people with nothing will dig in their pocket to give you some of their change. There are a lot of rude people. I had someone throw half eaten Ho-Ho’s at me once. I just picked it up and said, “Thanks! I love Ho-Hos.”
L: What does the word “home” mean to you?
D: Security, safety.
L: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
D: I adopted a rescue dog. She was used as a bait dog. She’s so sweet. She’s starting to come out of her shell.
L: Is there anything that you really need right now?
D: I need to focus more on doing stuff for me. I get so caught up in everything here (Second Chance), in helping everyone that I sometimes forget that I need to help me. I forget for a second why I’m here. I don’t even need money. I need hope. I need to feel that someone cares.
L: Is there anything else you want people to know about you, or about being homeless?
D: Believe it or not, homeless people are not lazy! They are people who have lost hope. If others would show them a little kindness and not make them feel like they don’t matter it would build their hope back up. That’s the hardest thing, losing your hope. Then you just lose everything.