Faces of the homeless, previously homeless and those still struggling
by Lisa Kane of Akron Snow Angels
I know I say it about EVERY interview, but I met another amazing person! He had a rough start, a hard childhood: his dad was in prison and his mom told him over and over he was nothing and would never be anything. She told him she never wanted him. Life is hard with supportive parents, but try doing it all on your own.
Yet, this man is so positive. He is so excited and enthusiastic to be helping others. He makes you feel happy when you talk to him. He’s smart and motivated. I’m very lucky that I had the chance to meet him.
Hometown: Alliance, OH
Lisa Kane: What brought you to Akron?
Gary: I was born in Alliance, but spent most of my life in Florida. I came to Akron for a fresh start. I feel like God put me here. December 11, 2011 is my clean date. I used to be hooked on heroin and other narcotics really bad. For about four years in Florida I couldn’t get away from the “old Gary”: the people, places and things. God told me I should move so he could work on me.
Lisa: Occupation/Previous Occupation/Source of income?
Gary: Right now, it’s being a maintenance man at Second Chance Village. I do all kinds of construction work, making sure things are up to code. There is no income here. I get my tent and food while I’m here. Before, I worked for Tahoma Rubber in Barberton. I was diagnosed with a heart condition. I ended up losing my job because of it. Then I ended up losing my place to stay.
Lisa: How long have you been homeless?
Gary: It’s been about four months.
Lisa: What lead you to homelessness?
Gary: Being diagnosed with the heart condition and then losing my job and income. I have to go back to the hospital in a few days and be hooked up to the monitor again.
Lisa: Do you have family?
Gary: I still have some family in Alliance. We aren’t close though. I didn’t have the best family growing up. I really never had a support system. I was always told I’d never be anything. My dad had nothing to do with me my whole life. My mom always told me she didn’t want me and that I was a mistake. I had to take care of myself most of my life. I left home at sixteen.
I have kids and grandkids that I love.
Lisa: How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
Gary: Around six or seven.
Lisa: Do you usually have 3 meals a day?
Gary: YES! Here (Second Chance Village) you get more than three meals a day. You leave weighing more than you did when you got here!
Lisa: Do you feel safe?
Gary: Oh, VERY safe.
Lisa: What is your biggest fear?
Gary: The only fear I have is not making it to heaven. That’s why I’m here doing what I’m doing. God’s working on me.
Lisa: What can people find you doing during the day?
Gary: A lot of different construction work and maintenance at Second Chance.
Lisa: What are some of your daily struggles being homeless?
Gary: Not having something you can call your own. Not having your family around. Keeping warm. That’s not bad anymore. We have heaters in our tents now. Dealing with other homeless people. When you’re having a bad day or just want to have peace and quiet and be alone it’s not like you can just get away and go close your door.
Lisa: What is the hardest thing about being homeless?
Gary: Being away from family.
Lisa: What three words would you use to describe being homeless?
Gary: It’s just a life struggle.
Lisa: What do you think is the leading causes of homelessness?
Gary: Stereotyping! People look at the homeless as being two things: criminals, or drug addicts/alcoholics. That’s what our society is wrong about. We have plenty of people here at Second Chance that don’t fit either of those stereotypes. There are lots of people that are have some kind of disability and their caregivers stole all their money and their disability checks. These people end up homeless. It happens a lot. It wasn’t their fault that someone was robbing them. There are lots of people that are homeless and have never committed a crime or been addicted to drugs. You just have to take the time to hear their stories.
Lisa: Do most people show you kindness or treat you rudely?
Gary: Here in the village: love! It is really, really full of love. When we walk out there on the streets it’s something totally different.
The community is starting to come together. There are a lot of people out there helping. The Middlebury church and some of the other churches around here are partnering up with Second Chance. We started these meetings called “Meet in the Middle”. Our plan is to “relaunch” people. Maybe someone didn’t receive what they needed in their early life. Maybe they didn’t have the support and best childhood. They weren’t able to get the best jobs. We weren’t “launched” to be successful in life. Now, later in life we’re giving them that kick start to “relaunch” themselves.
We’re opening a workshop to teach people how to use woodworking tools. We’re even going to have classes to teach music! It will be a lot of hands on stuff.
Lisa: That sounds awesome!
Gary: Like for myself, my mom told me to leave when I was only 16 years old. I had to take care of myself. I got kicked out of school in the 12th grade. My reading skills aren’t the best. I’ve always been better learning hands on. Me reading a book and then applying what I read isn’t the best way of learning for me. Everyone learns in different ways. You don’t have to learn everything out of a textbook. A lot of very smart people didn’t graduate from school [or] like learning from books, like Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. Society fails in thinking that everything you learn needs to be out of a textbook. Hands on learning is just as important.
Lisa: What does the word “home” mean to you?
Gary: To be comfortable and safe.
Lisa: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
Gary: Finding out that I’m going to be a grandfather again! The sixth time!
Lisa: Is there anything that you really need right now?
Gary: More of God. That’s all I can say right now. He is supplying everything for me. While I’m working here to help others, he’s working on me, to make me a better person.
Lisa: Is there anything else you want people to know about you, or about being homeless?
Gary: When you see that person holding a sign on the corner it doesn’t mean they’re a criminal or a drug addict, or that they are going to walk around the corner and jump in their car. Just remember that!