Homelessness on the Road

Editor’s Note: When we last heard from former grapevine writer Pete Domanovic, he was relating his experience in post- Katrina New Orleans (see “Six Months Later, Katrina’s wounds Unhealed” in issue 75). In this installment, Pete tells of his experiences travelling across the country, before and after his experiences in New Orleans. In Issue 81, we will print more Pete’s dispatches from Columbus, OH, where he is currently staying.

Commentary by Pete Domanovic

Well, I had a very good year when I was working at Pres-rite in Cleveland. I knew it would only last one year because it was one of those welfare-to-work deals where the company get half your wages back because they hired someone who was on food stamps. I really thought that job would last for me, but they changed owners. Even though I started at one of the lowest wages, and never got a raise, I was actually one of the highest paid when I left there. I decided to make one last trip around the country before I got too old to do anything else. Except this time I wanted to go to places I had avoided because they were too small and didn’t offer the day labor I was used to.

The first place I went to from Fremont, Neb. That’s about thirty miles north of Omaha. They had a nice little shelter there made from old motel. The most popular place there to get a job was at a telemarketing place. They even donate clothes to the shelter to meet the dress code requirements, and are major contributors to the shelter. After three months there, I got a job cleaning floors at a large grocery store and two days at a Menards hardware store. The jobs were really good jobs and I enjoyed working at those places. But they just kept adding on more and more work and no extra pay.

I had myself a nice little apartment in Fremont. The rent was high for the place $400 a month for an unfurnished studio slum. It wasn’t all that bad, but my job had already went from a 7 hour day to a 9 hour day mostly because other people weren’t doing their jobs. They made $50.00 a day more than me for doing less work, but they were relatives. I could have gone back to the shelter. The shelter there was extremely helpful in whatever you needed. The woman who ran the place bent over backwards to help were she could.

From Fremont I went to Columbus, Neb., and then to Norfolk. There were two rescue missions that were owned by the same outfit and they were starting a third somewhere.it only takes a couple of days to figure out what really is going on. This was one of those places that realized the joy of accepting gifts in the name of the poor.

Though they had room for 16 men, there were never more than five people staying there at any time. The pastors there were men who were hired on the spot to oversee the place. They were far from any type of religious people, they just to collect their minimum wage and only put the least amount of effort they had to.

I went north to Yankton, S.D. While hitchhiking there, a man in a pickup with a trailer picked me up and offered to let me help him for a day. He stopped for me so I could go to the county building and sign up for the shelter. By 9:30 that morning we were off to Vermilion, S.D. to pick up a Bobcat. He rebuilt old bobcats and sold them. He bought me something to eat three times, bought me a $30.00 phone card for my prepaid phone, and gave me $75.00 cash.

The shelter in Yankton was a house with three beds on the third floor. Now this is a shelter you would never want to leave. Within three days I had two part time jobs and was in my own apartment in one week. Anything I needed to get started was offered by the shelter director. I got a third part job working for the mayor of Mission Hill, S.D. this was the place I wanted to stay. I just didn’t realize that these were seasonal jobs, and there was nowhere to work during the winter months. I had much love for everyone I met in this part of the country, but when winter came, it was all over.

There were a lot of things I tried to get done when I was in Yankton. I even tried to straighten out my driver’s license. Of course when I tried to call Cleveland to try to pay my traffic fines, I was told I couldn’t just pay the fines. I’d have to come into the Clerk’s office and pay them $49.00 to set a new court date. My guess is Cleveland does this just to keep their tourist industry alive. If I could just straighten out my driver’s license, thing would be very different for me.

The person who gave me my first ride before I crossed the Missouri River, was the one who talked me into going to New Orleans. He was a really nice and sincere man who offered me a job driving a truck for him when I got my license straightened out. I believe he was ready to offer to help with my license, until I told him about having to come to Cleveland. It doesn’t even sound rational, and he probably thought it was a hustle. But, he bought my bus ticket and gave me $150.00 to make the trip to New Orleans. There are some really beautiful people in that part of the country.

After my time in New Orleans I went to Huntsville, Ala. They have what they call a working mission there. They give you room and board, and pay you $4.40 an hour. They charge the customer between $9.50 and $10.00 per hour for your service. It is actually a really good setup for homeless people. It was just the wrong time of year to be there. I was only averaging about 10 hours per week because of the weather.   

To Tallahassee, Florida: Now this is a city that no matter how many people come there, there is enough work to go around. But, then again, you can’t save any money there. The mission there charge you $50.00 a week. For my $50, I had to sleep on a church pew, and couldn’t take off my shoes until 9:00 p.m. I couldn’t take a shower because I didn’t have a bed in the building and still had a two- week wait to get in there. The other shelter was free but you had to sleep on the floor shoulder- to- shoulder. I went south from there trying to find a place I could work and save money at the same time.

Florida just does not work that way. You have to spend money. All the shelters charge money, which I actually believe is a good thing. The only problem is they are sold out before you get back. Orlando, Bradenton, Sarasota, are all the same.

Springfield, Illinois: a nice old little city with a very good shelter system. There wasn’t any real work going on there, but everyone seemed really content there. The state of Illinois mandates that everyone who is destitute gets at least $212.00 per month, plus food stamps. For lack of work, I left there and went to Bloomington, Illinois. I was told there was work there, but there really wasn’t. Coming back towards Ohio, I stopped in Champagne, Illinois. Another good shelter system. I took advantage of the $212.00 township check and found myself a telemarketing job. That was another place I really liked. But, by the time my shelter time was up, I still hadn’t managed to get a security deposit and 1st month’s rent together. I learned a lot about myself, going through all these places I used to avoid because the lack of day labor. I know how to relax now and wait for a pay day, and not deal with the hurry, hurry of day labor.

I took the money I had saved there and caught a Greyhound straight to hell.