Homeless In Austin, TX- An Insider’s View Part 3

Posted on 10/15/2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The Homeless Shuffle

Voices call out:
Hey, you got a smoke
Some weed
A dollar
A blanket

The crowd shuffles as lines form for
Food, beds, blankets, showers, toilets
Feet stomping, shuffling, slipping and sliding
While more lines form and hoops appear to jump through

Voices call out:
Food Truck coming
There’s the law
Someone died last night
Who lost their bunk

New lines form
Same old faces
Strange ones mixed in
As the Homeless Shuffle continues
Find a bed
A job
A fix

Voices call out:

F YOU!!!
Baby, you okay
Get Lost!!!
You can do it

The crowd shuffles
As some escape
Some Out
Some Down
Some just gone
Replaced by new faces & New Stories
As the Homeless Shuffle moves on

by S. Whichard

crossposted at Texas KaosTexas Kaos and Booman TrinbueBooman Trinbue

This is my story of being homeless in Austin, TX. It is not an easy story to share but I am hoping that by doing so I can express and share some of the reality of my situation and help others understand what is going on in the world today. Each story is different and there are a million stories to tell. TYhe first two installments can be read here.

This past week has been a busy week for me. Being homeless and trying to get off the streets is more than a full time job. There are many appointments, interviews, classes and different departments you have to speak to or see. This past Friday I was at a Health and Human Services office by 7:15am to wait to see if I could get a stand-by appointment to get a MAP card. When I arrived, 6 people were already in line ahead of me and some had been there since 5 am. Luckily for me, some of those ahead of me grew frustrated and left. I was called back into an office at 11:35 and left shortly afterwards with my MAP card. MAP is a health insurance card for low income or homeless people so they can receive treatment for illness and emergencies. I used my card on Monday morning at the Emergency room and was diagnosed with Acute Bronchitis. I am now on antibiotics and have codeine cough syrup so I can sleep at night. Of course, anyone knows that with bronchitis you are also supposed to get plenty of rest. This has not been an option for me. I still had appointments and classes I needed to attend to guarantee I qualified for programs I need and to keep my bed at Sally(Salvation Army). Monday I went to the emergency room at 8am and was finally back at Sally by 2:30pm after seeing a doctor, getting x-rays, and going to a pharmacy to get my medications filled. I ate dinner at 5:30 and finally checked in upstairs and went to be at 6:30.

Tuesday applied for jobs on line and set an appointment with MHMR for an intake interview so I can get treatment and meds for depression. I also went to the library to check emails and apply for jobs. Wednesday I had 3 appointments to attend. One with a case manager at Sally, another with a case manager at ARCH(Austin Resource Center for the Homeless), and one with a case manager at Caritas. I dressed warm, drank my fluids, and kept every appointment. Thursday I attended 3 different classes at ARCH as well as taking time to talk with different staff members at Sally and ARCH to ask questions about things I still need to get done. Today I will see my doctor for a follow up appointment about the bronchitis and try and get a referral for an eye exam. Not an incredibly busy day or week except being sick and still showing up for everything when all I wanted to do was find a soft bed and sleep. I am feeling much better and still taking care of myself but have to realize that rest is from after supper till the early am.

People asked what the diet consisted of for the homeless. For those who are in programs, there is a decent diet available if not a tasty one. LOL Breakfast usually consist of a cup of oatmeal, grits or cream of wheat, an orange, grapefruit, or banana, a biscuit, bagel, or toast, coffee, powdered milk and doughnuts. On Tuesdays and Thursday, most of the Austin homeless go to the United Methodist at 13th and Lavaca and have a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy and pastries and fruit. They serve coffee, orange juice and real milk. You can get refills on the coffee, orange juice and milk which is a real treat.

Lunch can be obtained in a couple of different locations. Caritas and Angel House serve lunch everyday. Lunch is soup, a sandwich or hotdog, a dessert and some fruit. Nothing exciting except once in awhile a deli or bakery will donate different items that spice it up a little. Don’t get me wrong. The soup is homemade and taste great but when you eat soup 7 days a week for lunch it gets old after awhile no matter how good it is. Once in awhile I use my food stamps card to buy juice and a sandwich at HEB just to change things up a little.

Dinner is always a mystery until you get there and sometimes one even after you are there. At Sally, the men’s and women’s dorms eat at 5pm. They serve this god awful premixed green tea that has 20 pounds of fake sweetener in it. I have started drinking only water at dinner. Dinner consists of whatever they can find to serve us. It can be chicken, fish, brisket, mystery meat casserole or any combination of the above, beans, a really nasty goulash dish-I refuse to eat, some type of bread and a dessert. Some nights dinner is great and sometimes only so-so. It is hot and filling and free so you make do. Many of the folks drown their dinner in Louisiana Hot Sauce to kill the flavor. I have not gotten to that point yet. LOL You can always supplement the daily routine with food from the food trucks that stop by. They always have sandwiches, chips, cookies and that type of thing but as I am trying to eat healthy I avoid these. Many of these food trucks also show up with things for people such as shoes, socks, gloves, knit hats, and many other items. These help but only go so far as there are way more people in need than there are items being handed out.

Anyone who wants to help the homeless in their area can contact the Salvation Army and other homeless shelters and ask what items are needed. I know in Austin the ARCH, Salvation Army are still looking for donations of winter clothing for men especially but also for women and children, blankets, sleeping bags, wash cloths, toiletries, as well as food and that type of thing. No gift is too large or too small. If anyone knows a plumber or plumbing business in Austin that would like to some to the Salvation Army and repair the many broken toilets and urinals, I am sure Sally and the residents would appreciate it.

Living in a shelter or on the streets is not an easy thing for anyone. There are programs to help but a person has to be willing to do the work needed to help themselves to get anywhere. The case managers are there to point you in a direction and to guide you but cannot do the work for you. It is all about finding your own way with help to the goals that you have set for yourself. I am busy setting limited goals that will eventually get me to my ultimate goal of being back on my feet, in my own home, having the Diva Dogs back with me and being in a position to help others again. Right now I have to concentrate on helping myself and doing what needs to be done to achieve my goals.

Part of the test for me as well as anyone else in this situation is learning to live in the homeless environment. There are so many people who are homeless and all the stories are different. They could be from an abusive home, just out of jail or prison, strung out on dope or alcohol, or any of a million reasons I haven’t heard yet. Mine is depression and not doing what I needed to do and there are many others who are also there because of mental illness. You learn very quickly that there are some you can trust and some you cannot trust. There is always some kind of scam running in the streets. People are selling drugs, booze, clothes, phones, radios, or anything else you can imagine- including their own bodies for a drink, a drug or whatever. I have seen people so desperate for attention that they will start screaming or fighting even though they know it will get them arrested or thrown out. I keep my ears and eyes open and avoid all the DRAMA on the sidewalk and alley by Sally and the ARCH. I have even learned to keep my big mouth shut and ignore the opportunity to tell it like it is. LOL Sometimes I am scared, sometimes I am lonely but mainly I am being wise. I have enough Drama in life that is my own creation that I am dealing with as I rebuild my world. I cannot afford to be swept into the alley or sidewalk mentality and be drug down further by others. It does not mean I have lost compassion or caring. I am learning that there is a time and a place for everything. Only moments ago someone asked for a smoke and I said 25 cents. I have learned not to give out cigarettes as I would have none left in 10 minutes. As they guy is reading me the riot act about being selfish, he is pulling out a pack of cigarettes from his own pocket and lighting up. I calmly called him a hypocritical asshole and walked off. You never know what type of person is behind you in line. I have felt people reach for my wallet or my netroots bag I carry. I always have my bag zipped up and either my shirttail or coat covering my back pocket so it would be more difficult to rob me. The early check in at Sally makes things easier as far as not being out late when the real crimes starts on the streets. The criminals are usually not the ones at the shelters but the ones who are on the streets due to drugs or alcohol. They need that next fix and some will do anything to get it.

I have met many great people in the shelter as well. People who are fighting to get their lives back on an even keel. They are the ones willing to share information and help someone out who seems lost or off track. I even find myself giving pointers to people who are truly trying to work on getting off the streets. I am learning lessons about myself and the world I never thought I would. It is not easy but once I am done, I will be a much stronger person. The strength and determination I am have to find in myself will be something no one can ever take from me. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and by god I will be stronger.

As per the other diaries in this series, I will not be able to respond much but will when I can. I am not asking for donations. I am just sharing what is happening. Many thanks to everyone for their warm wishes and good thoughts as I find my way.


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