by Jim Patton
My name is Jim. After more than 17 years of family abuse and neglect and a nervous breakdown I became homeless. I stayed homeless because I had no marketable job skills. Here is one story of my odyssey. It was March of 1985, I was in Savannah Georgia. After staying my first 2 nights in a winter emergency shelter, the winter emergency shelter closed because it was the first day of spring and technically winter was over even though it was still cold enough to see your breath. There were no Catholic shelters in the city at that time. The emergency shelter was well heated, newly renovated, but there was petty thievery and to solve that problem more supervision would be needed. The thievery was done by members of a homeless street gang. While in Savannah a policeman told me that street gangs were becoming a problem and that there were 3 gangs in the city. No food was ever served in the emergency shelter. As far as missions go it was a good mission. I realized that I needed help for my emotional illness, so I sought help from the local government. I was told by an intake worker that after a week I could be in an apartment. I found out that there was another mission in the city. It seemed that after more than two and a half years of homelessness I would get off the streets into permanent housing.
But it was not to be. The rescue mission had a policy of waking up the clients 4 times during the night for one half hour of prayer. Bedtime was at eight-thirty. The staff then woke up the transients up at nine, twelve midnight, three a.m., and six. At seven a.m. the staff woke up the homeless clients to vacate the mission. There were no beds in the mission. The homeless slept on wooden church pews. There were no cushions or pillows, nor were there any blankets. The staff, who were not homeless had coffee and doughnuts for breakfast. The homeless ate no breakfast. The homeless also ate no dinner. There was a lunch at a local soup kitchen. The food was not hot. There were no seconds. After my second night in the religious rescue mission I suffered so badly from sleep deprivation that I did not know what day it was, and I did not know the day of the month. I remember saying to myself that I had to take what was left of my mind and get out of here. The local government employees tried their best to get me off the streets and get me help for my emotional illness. I saw a psychiatrist, courtesy of the local government of Savannah. I, like so many others, did not get out of the homeless trap because I was afraid I would be put in a psychiatric hospital. I was also in a great deal of denial. I finally got help in another city.
Copyright the Homeless Grapevine published Spring 1996 – Issue 15