Fire Can Lead to Life on the Streets

by Helena D.

   In this tenuous time of skyrocketing housing costs, any person can be months or even weeks away from becoming homeless. Take for example, Eugene, a fifty-six year old man, single with no dependents, who lost his apartment a year ago in a fire. Most renters do not have fire insurance so with his good fortune in not getting hurt in the fire, he became homeless without really trying.

   Eugene was given a week’s stipend to find housing courtesy of the Red Cross. After that he was literally on his own to fend for himself. He does not fit the stereotype of a drug addict, alcoholic, ex-convict or bum. He has skills, but no permanent address (other than the Virgil Brown facility on Payne Ave.) that he can have his mail delivered to.

Eugene still has a positive outlook even after a year on the streets. He has his portable radio with which he listens to the daily news. He spends a lot of time in the library—which is still free and open to the public. Even when voters vote down tax levies, the libraries still appeal to the masses.

   He [Eugene] had a car once, and with the prices of cars going up, people will soon be having to make a choice between living in a house and walking or taking the bus or driving. It’s a sad commentary when a car payment exceeds some apartment rents. Before his car was junked, he enjoyed driving out to Edgewater State Park in the warm weather, but then on slow days the police might hassle you.

While we’re sitting talking to Eugene, someone has donated some delicious white bread with nothing else. I notice that unlike Hollywood’s version of starvation, I don’t see anyone leaping out of their seats to grab their share. Many of the homeless can be grossly obese through diets heavy in carbohydrates. There is no joking or smiling at this homeless center but a somber attitude.

   Eugene was skilled at welding but would have to go back to school to get certification. It seems that certification is needed for everything nowadays. This is another way for the private for-profit institutions to get government financial aid for tuition. Eugene is told about JTPA and will investigate that avenue of obtaining a career and not just a "job" in something he enjoys and is skilled at.

   The homeless, like Eugene, realize that even though they might have a steady job at minimum wage, you can’t save enough for first and last month’s rent when one night’s stay at the Jay Hotel costs $37.00.

  People who have the hurly burly of a good paying job, who complain they have no time to have fun don’t know how long a day can be when there is no nagging boss or complacent employees to fill up your time.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio