James’s Story. He is 56 years old.
I been living outside for awhile now, but that’s gonna change soon. I got some things in the works. You know what I mean? But, it’s not easy.
Here, we don’t have safe houses. In other states, like Michigan, when winters are harsh, there are places where you can go to try to keep warm. They’re only open from around November or December to, say, February or March. Still, you got twelve hours to escape the cold, and maybe somebody going through that can use that to get a job. In Fort Wayne, there’s the Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army. There are halfway houses, but you gotta have money for that.
What people gotta understand is, this is “situation living.” It can happen to anyone. It’s easy to get separated from your money. That guy in the Bible, he’s a good example. You know that guy they call Job? Satan took everything he had, so he would turn on God. He refused to do that, and he went bankrupt. That can happen to anybody. How you look at it depends on how stubborn you’re gonna be about it. You could have a big house, maid service, and you get complacent about material things. And, you can end up sleeping outside. But, then, I had a friend who was homeless for four years and moved into an apartment. His situation changed because of the people he met out here.
In college, they teach you about situation living. But, they teach you that you’ll become a success. Anybody can figure out how situation living works, but there are “educated fools.” If you don’t catch on, you in trouble. But, once you catch on, a third grader could understand that once it gets cold you gotta get warm. If you get hungry, you find food. A lot of people take to going to jail once it gets cold. You find ways. Me? I like to read. The library’s full of books.
When my situation changed, I wasn’t trying to fight to stay inside. That word, “homeless,” I can’t relate to that because I made my home with God a long time ago. My home is wherever we lay it down together. A homeless person is someone who doesn’t have a house and hasn’t found a home with God. I have a home. I just live outside.
And, every night of the week except Saturday we got a different group that shows up. That tells me there’s some good people in this world. About a year ago, this guy started showing up asking if people needed assistance. I think what he does, it’s a good thing. And, I wouldn’t have met him if he hadn’t been here with a cheeseburger in his hand, asking if I needed a blanket. If I was raising money to support a thing, his group? I’d support it.
But it can be tricky. Some of these people you meet out here you get a good feeling about. But, sometimes they bring other people you aren’t so sure of—other people who might have other intentions. It’s interruptions. Just like TV. I can be sitting here, reading my National Geographic and be interrupted.
And, maybe I don’t want to talk to them. Maybe I just want to sit here, eat my cheeseburger, and read.
This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in Fort Wayne, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Lutheran Social Services and the Office of the Mayor in Fort Wayne, Indiana.