I have an address now and it’s not just a mailing address, it’s an actual place where I live. It’s a place where I’m able to really live and not simply exist.
Yesterday I was given a hand up versus a handout. It had to have been God’s hand and the reason I say this is because of the backstory.
I was on my way to my sleeping spot which was at the bottom of a parking deck stairwell on March 16th. I was about three blocks from my spot, and I stopped at ‘God’s Little Pantry’ which was located in the courtyard of Trinity United Methodist Church. The sign on the pantry reads, “Give what you can and take what you need.” I’d been there before and knew there was a motion detector light in front of the pantry and signs all around saying video cameras monitored 24/7. Knowing those cameras were there just may have saved my life. It wasn’t real late, maybe around 9 PM I was walking up to the glass door of the small wooden pantry and the light clicked on. Through the glass I spotted some cans of Vienna sausages and as I was about to unlatch the door and get one for later, I felt an arm come around my neck and it was instantly choking me. Someone wanted me unconscious. I started struggling and fell face first to the ground with one of my attackers on top of my back. He was trying to tear my backpack from me—my backpack with all my worldly possessions in it. While he was attempting this I felt a sharp pain to my left rib cage. I turned my head to the left only to see heavy black boots striking my ribs over and over.
That’s when I yelled, “I can’t believe you guys are mugging a homeless person in a church courtyard, especially with all these cameras on you.” That’s when they decided it was time to go. They stopped yanking on my backpack. They knew that getting it was useless for two reasons. I wasn’t about to give it up and they had already taken everything from it that was of any value that being my phone and my laptop. They didn’t stop there though. They also managed to take $42 from my wallet that was in my right seat pocket and all my bus passes that were in a notepad in my left seat pocket.
Yes, just knowing those cameras were there and pointing this fact out to my attackers just may have saved my life.
I eventually got to my feet and found someone to call 911. The police and EMS arrived shortly after. I gave my report to the police and showed them where one camera was that was hopefully pointed directly at ‘God’s Little Pantry’ during my attack. Then I was on a stretcher and on my way to the hospital. I got x-rayed and they showed I had four fractured ribs. Besides the broken ribs I had abrasions to my face and head where they had kicked me also. I spent five days in the hospital being treated mainly for pain but also being taught how to use a spirometer. It’s a device that measures how much air you can exhale. It hurts to breathe, especially if you breathe deeply, but if you stop breathing deeply you stand a good chance of contracting pneumonia and possibly dying from it. That’s the reason doctors no longer tape up ribs. They found out that patients were contracting pneumonia because they were unable to breathe deeply and sometimes dying from it.
I had no idea that they had been giving me a strong opioid for the pain until I was reading my discharge papers that included a prescription for Tegretol. I asked what Tegretol was for and they told me it was an opioid ‘taper’ meaning that it was to wean me off all the oxycodone they had been giving me for 5 days. I was in so much pain I felt none of the ‘high’ that a strong opioid would normally produce. I had absolutely no idea that they had been giving me oxycodone for 5 days. I was in that much pain.
So, on the afternoon of the fifth day I was discharged. Discharged to be back on the streets.
I had no choice but to go back to my spot underneath the bottom of the lowest set of steps to sleep, or at least attempt to do so. Even with a few layers of cardboard and two blankets the cold concrete will suck the heat out of a person’s body. So for a few days I kept doing my breathing exercises so I wouldn’t contract pneumonia but I was getting no sleep and the pain was worsening. Now the pain was worse when I would breathe, and my ribs began throbbing with each step I took. My discharge papers said that if the pain became worse that I should return to the hospital. So I did. They asked if I was suicidal and I told them the truth. I told them that the pain was so bad that I hadn’t decided if it was worth enduring it. That got me a bed in behavioral health for a day then a ride to the crisis stabilization unit 2 blocks away. The doctor there through ‘tele-therapy’ asked if I was suicidal and I told her I was not seriously contemplating it and that I needed a few days to get some rest and to heal a little more. We both knew I wasn’t quite in a “crisis” situation, but she empathized with me. I told her I needed to access their resource lists and hopefully find some place I could stay until my ribs healed. She said she’d give me a few days to rest and hopefully find someplace to go. So the first day there they gave me the usual list of 71 resources which came with brief descriptions, conditions > like if they were for women only (half were), and costs. After calling a few of the numbers the counselors had highlighted and finding out that there was a 30 day waiting period for a bed or that I would have to start working a 40 hour week as soon as I arrived, I was just about to give up.
Then, on the second day there I was handed two new sheets of resources. One was for SC Long Term Treatment Programs with none highlighted and a second list titled Transitional Housing with only one place highlighted. None of the places had any description and only two of the ten listed had the city indicated of their location.
The one highlighted was Home of Hope (males) then the phone number. Since I was beginning to feel a bit hopeless, I somewhat felt the title of this program could be a positive omen. I don’t miss often when I get a feeling as strong as the one I had that day. So, I dialed the number.
I’m so thankful I did.
A lady named Belle answered. Right away she sounded like what I call a 3-f person: fair, fun, yet firm. So far that assessment has proven correct. I found out the Home of Hope (HOH) is located in Summerville, SC. I knew it was located not too far from Charleston because I had seen Summerville on Charleston (CARTA) city bus destination headers a few times but that’s all I knew of Summerville.
Soon after our conversation began Ms. Belle, inquired about my ability to work. I explained about my fractured ribs and that they would need some time to heal but I would be willing to do whatever I was able to do until my ribs healed and after that I’d welcome a 40 hour work week. She mentioned the house having bunk beds. I told her if I was assigned a top bunk I’d manage to get in it. She said she’d more than likely have a lower bunk by Monday at 1:30 PM and asked if I could arrive at that time.
Those words caused my eyes to fill with happy tears. Top bunk, lower bunk, couch, broom closet, shed, porch, or dog house—I would have been happy with any of the above.
I was being accepted into life and finally had a place to go.
Today marks one week of me being at Home of Hope. I was assigned a lower bunk in a room with two bunk beds, a full bath, and only one other person sleeping there. It’s relatively calm and quiet here due in part because only 6 out of 16 beds are filled at this time. That could change at the drop of a hat. Quite frankly I’m surprised more beds haven’t been filled during the week I’ve been here, but the weather has been nice and when the weather is nice quite a few homeless people prefer the freedom of the streets. They prefer not to have to answer to anyone or go by anyone else's rules. They like to be held accountable only to themselves and sometimes not even themselves. Sometimes people will enter a program like this only because of cold weather. They would enter a program with no intentions of doing the things necessary to make their lives better, only for the warmth, food, and maybe an occasional shower a shelter/home could provide.
Some people will come for an interview and to check out the shelter or home. When they find out there are rules to follow and chores they must do, they more or less say, “thanks, but no thanks.” It’s just not the kind of environment they’d prefer to be in at this stage of their lives. I know this because I’ve been there myself, several times as a matter of fact.
This time it’s different. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Getting old wasn’t helping matters one bit. Everyday and especially at night when I would lie awake cold, shivering, sometimes wet, most of the time hungry I’d either tell myself, “I can’t do this anymore.” Or “I’m too old for this crap.” Those were the times I would let suicidal ideas enter my head. I would debate with myself if living—scratch that, existing—with all this pain was worth living. It got to the point where I would think, why not commit suicide? Then I would reflect on how many times that I came very (and I mean very) close to death, but I’m still alive. I feel I must be here for a reason. If that reason is because I need to relate my story to others, then so be it. I won’t argue the point. I only know I’ve cheated death on several occasions.
So when I say this time is different, I mean it. So what if there are a few rules to go by? The rules exist for a reason. We have to be in the house by 8 PM, the kitchen is off limits at 9 PM, the TV goes off by 10 PM and we must be out the door by 8 AM to start a fresh new day. Along with those minor time restraints are the usual common-sense rules that are standard with shelter/transitional housing, such as no drinking or drugs, fighting, smoking indoors, disrespecting staff, etc.
Those rules are a very small price to pay. After all, I’m basically investing in myself and the returns will come back tenfold. They started coming back the first day and night I was there.
I had a roof over my head. I had an actual bed, not a couple of layers of cardboard and a couple of blankets that you could see through. I wasn’t shivering all night and I didn’t have to worry about addicts, property managers, or cops rolling up on me during the night and morning.
I had a bathroom and shower within five steps of my bunk. They furnished me with clothes: pants, socks, shirts, underwear, and even flip flops.
There was a cornucopia of food at my fingertips. Multiple refrigerators, freezers, and cupboards overflowing with food. Stove, oven, microwaves, and toaster oven right there plus two coffee makers with ground coffee provided.
As long as I abide by the rules and do some minor chores they are willing to help me help myself. It isn’t a handout, it’s a hand up. Just exactly what I need to gain a rung up on the ladder of life.
Like I said, a small price to pay. An investment opportunity (in myself) that may only occur once in my lifetime.
That’s all for now, surely more to follow.