The Greensboro Voice serves as a vehicle for elevating voices and public discussion on issues not frequently covered in mainstream media. These issues include homelessness, facing potential homelessness and the resources available to help those in need.
by Rege Gilmore
I awake each day same time, same place, same conditions as though I live in a capsule of Deja vu. I try so very hard not to look at my situation as failure yet more as a moment of clarity. Trying to fit all of what others need me to do into a time block of time running out. I pray, I hope, and I struggle to maintain faith, but the conditions I clearly see have taken a position of residency in my less than productive life…so it seems! Don’t mistake what I am saying as if I’m complaining, I’m clearly chiseling broken pieces of painful residue invading my space. Suicidal thoughts lie in the crevices of my mind, yet afraid to tell anyone because then I would be subject to undergo mental evaluation. I’m not suicidal but I will admit countless thoughts have passed me and some have either walked beside me and or have stood still while at the crossroad. Habitually homeless, spirit dead in a maze of constant tears silently streaming down my face when no one was watching. Wanting to pick up a crack stem and blast away all memory of anything that caused instability. When time stands still I begin to feel alone and excluded from all good. I attended NA meetings that only remind me that when I leave to make sure I stop at the store for choy, stem, and lighter. Oh, and don’t forget the crack! Everybody has a solution but not one wants to really listen to my pain that yells louder than the words. Does anyone care or is it just another payday for the educated? More meds for that out of body experience that leads to more depression after they’ve done their part for a brief moment only to addict them to another substance called excuses. We sit behind the back of computers as they look at the screen typing anything that comes to mind, and then tell you to sign what they’ve interpreted from what you’ve said. Later to find that you’ve signed your life over to the system that fails you every day. They systematically place you in a nonexistent file of cold cases gone wrong…
I became homeless in December, 2013. I was not able to find housing until October, 2014. I am a heavy guy who has a lot of physical issues that also helped contribute to my disabilities. I suffer from degenerative disk disease which has also caused nerve damage down my legs, especially the left. This results in my falling quite a bit.
As it stands Greensboro Urban Ministries is located near the Interactive Resource Center and in spite its close proximity it would still take me two hours to walk there due to the need to stop and sit so often. I would also be in extreme pain by the time I would get to the IRC and this would only be compounded as I had to make the journey back to the shelter provided by GUM.
If these non-profit services are moved further away then it will be harder for those who have physical limitations needing these services. Really it will make it harder for anyone lacking transportation other than their own two feet.
Downtown Greensboro also offers more services for the homeless and near homeless than just the services that are offered by the IRC. There are also the services offered by places such as legal aid, mental health facilities and the Department of Health and Human Services. Moving the IRC further away would limit the ability for its clients to utilize all of these services that are currently located within close proximity to each other.
I also believe that moving the Interactive Resource Center further away from downtown could easily result in people spending less productive time waiting on computers at the library or sitting at the local McDonald’s killing time instead of spending it benefiting themselves with a GED or some other worthwhile service offered by the IRC. On the rare occasion that the IRC is closed for a holiday, this is usually how those hours were filled since there was no other place for the homeless to go.
Yes, I agree we need more job growth in downtown Greensboro. More jobs would benefit those who are looking for work in order to get off the streets. But we also need a place that is easily accessible to the homeless so that they can do laundry, see nurses, get their mail, and even apply to many of these jobs.
But should we make things more difficult for those who are already going through a difficult situation? If you think moving these services is a simple solution that won’t have deep impacts on the homeless then I can challenge you. Put yourselves in the shoes of the disadvantaged. Leave your money and car keys at home and try being homeless for a few weeks.
I have always truly appreciated everything the volunteers do for the homeless community and it does help make a difference in the lives of those going through these situations. But there is so much more that you have to live through to truly understand homelessness. Trying to explain in words to someone who has never lived the homeless life is difficult. Much the way a soldier can never truly describe war to a civilian if the civilian has never experienced it.
It’s something we take for granted. We get up in the morning and take a shower. If we need to wash our hands we go to the sink. If we want to wash our clothes we put them in the wash. For people living on the street and in tents, getting clean and staying clean is not so easy. Fortunately, in Greensboro, we have the Interactive Resource Center on Washington Street. For people who are homeless, being able to go there and take a shower and wash clothes is a real blessing. Unfortunately, for people who live away from downtown, it can be difficult for them to get to the IRC, especially on a daily basis. In California Doniece Sandoval came up with a solution: She turned retired city buses into mobile shower units.
Jim Rettig passed away last week. He leaves behind two sons and a sister. Jim was originally from Michigan. He came to Greensboro looking for a job after the recession put him out of a work. When I first met Jim at the Interactive Resource Center in 2015, he was homeless, jobless and broke. He also had no driver’s license which put him at a serious disadvantage. At that time, Jim was living at the Weaver House, a temporary homeless shelter operated by Greensboro Urban Ministry.
Jim had a couple of skills which he hoped would put him back into gainful employment. He was an artist and web designer. Unfortunately, neither field was hiring in Greensboro during or even after the economic recovery.
Jim joined the staff of the Greensboro Voice in 2015. He was very involved with all discussions, attended every staff meeting , wrote several articles, and would frequently cause laughter with his dry humor. Jim created and submitted several items of whimsical art for the Greensboro Voice which reflected that humor. A couple of years ago Jim also designed the honor card for the IRC’s year end fundraising program which was a sketch he did of the Greensboro Bus Depot.
In early 2016, Jim was approved for housing and soon afterwards he secured a part time job with UNCG helping people connect with medical benefits. Things were looking up for Jim but in 2016 he suffered a stroke. After making so much progress in his life, Jim wasn’t going to let it get him down and before long he’d bounced back and was his old self again.
Jim was always grateful, even for the smallest kindness shown to him by others. He was especially grateful for finding and joining a new church where he met and made many new friends. And he always seemed to find humor and hope even when he was struggling to find work and living in homelessness. I will miss Jim, and most of all I will miss his ability to find humor in even the most dire moments of life.
(The Interactive Resource Center or IRC is a day center for people experiencing homelessness or near homelessness.)
On the first day of work orientation, I befriended Kenneth, a co-worker. Kenneth was always well-dressed, always in a good mood, and hysterically funny. He excelled in all of the training modules, and helped me when I had difficulties with the material. When we had settled into our work, I was able to rely on Kenneth to help me with work-related snags, and on occasion we ate lunch together.
Kenneth had a son who was a College Junior. Kenneth beamed with pride when he talked about him. He often said his son was his best friend.
One week, Kenneth was unable to get his usual ride home. He asked if I would take him. Later that week, after we finished taking care of some of his errands, I asked him if there was anywhere else he needed to go, like the grocery store, or if he would like to get something to eat. He said no and looked at his watch. I took the hint and asked if he would like me to drop him off at the library where I’d picked him up.
“No,” he replied. “You can drop me off at the Salvation Army. I’m homeless.”
I was stunned. Kenneth had been homeless for over 5 years due to a series of unfortunate life events.
In hindsight, I realized why Kenneth was more excited about the new job than the rest of us. For him the job meant change and stability. He hoped one day to get a place of his own.
Kenneth gave me the opportunity to change my perspective of homeless individuals. Homelessness is not a look, an attitude, behavior or a condition. Homelessness is a life situation that for a multitude of reasons can befall any of us, at any time.