Public opinion: Homelessness

What do you think a homeless person’s day consist of?

 

 

Photos by Bria Granville, Western Kentucky University

Interview by Farhin Lilywala, Georgia Perimeter College

Video by Bria Granville, Western Kentucky University and Farhin Lilywala, Georgia Perimeter College

 

 

 

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COSAC at midnight

By Ally Krupinsky, University of South Dakota
I see a dimly lit driveway-turned-shelter hangout. There are two American flags and a string of Christmas lights. There’s an orange razor on the floor. Empty cans of salsa collect cigarette butts. There’s a corner full of wheelchairs and walkers. Miscellaneous recliners line the left side; there are shelves stacked haphazardly with books towards the back. There’s a full trash can below a sign that says ‘Some of my friends are flakes’ with a picture of a snowman.

I see a scattered group of people. Most of them sit in furniture and wheelchairs alongside the fence. Some people slowly wander by. At first, the residents are wary. But once a few of them get talking, they don’t stop.

One woman, Fran, says she feels safe as long as no one comes by with a gun. Eventually she gets out of her wheelchair and talks. There’s another resident, Carlos, who listens with a smile. Some people keep their distance. They seem hostile, or maybe indifferent. One of them, who never shared his name, said the shelter at night was “pretty gay.” Joe, the security guard, sits opposite the residents with a walkie talkie. At first he’s dozing, but his face brightens when someone says hello. He says, “I do like to help people, and this place help me.” He’ll be here all night.

I see a different security guard, Cliff, jogging to the front door. Inside, a man named Mike sits in a chair, complaining of chest pain and breathing difficulty. Staff members take his blood pressure and decide to call an ambulance. Cliff asks him different questions. How’s your vision? Is your chest tight? Mike answers, and his chest jerks as he breathes laboriously. At one point he says, “Enough has happened to me already. I don’t need no more.” Cliff is tense; the desk worker, Mike, is unfazed. Another staffer, Tom, helps when he can. Mike remains wearily coherent until the ambulance comes. He shuffles to the stretcher in slippers.
I see a different resident, Wade, sit and watch Mike’s departure. He’s wearing Adidas slip ons, navy blue pajama pants, a white t-shirt and a frog-covered visor. He almost immediately reveals his calves, which are wrapped in bandages. He says the doctors don’t know what his disease is; they don’t know why he’s lost most of his circulation. He says, “I’ve had a great life. But this hit and I lost it all.” He talks about his past jobs. He says his dad was an alcoholic, which is why he’s never become an addict. He seems genuine and caring. He’s grateful for the shelter and the fact that he can still walk.

A sore subject: Do you have any smokes

By Jordan Gass-Poorè, Texas State University

The pigeons will eat David DeRosa’s dead foot skin and he fears his disease will cripple them. Like him.

DeRosa has peripheral artery disease, a circulatory problem that puts him in a wheelchair. He also has an attitude problem, and he’s not sure which is worse.

His thick and torn toenails, yellow and taloned, lay like a tree’s bark on DeRosa’s toes.

Shreds of dead skin hung from the soles of his purple feet as they hovered inches from the concrete at the homeless shelter.

DeRosa picked at this skin with dirty fingernails and flicked it on the concrete, much to the dismay of the shelter’s founder, Sean Cononie.

A few pigeons cooed softly around DeRosa’s wheelchair, looking for their next meal.

Within a week, DeRosa’s ankles will be even more swollen, Cononie predicted.

The shelter spends about $2,000 a month on bleach pads, equipment and staff to save DeRosa’s lower legs and feet from the chopping block, he said.

If DeRosa had money to pay for health insurance — he’s in the Medicaid program — he would probably be placed in a private healthcare facility because of his mobility issues, Cononie said.

“I like him; everybody in the shelter hates him. The hospitals say that want him out,” he added.

Two male shelter employees hosed DeRose down in an open-spaced lounge area as he sat hunched over in his wheelchair.

He recently returned to the shelter after another brief stint in the hospital because of peripheral artery disease.

A growing number of gawkers gathered around DeRosa, who more closely resembled a wet cat than a man.

Water droplets dripped from his long, stringy salt-and-pepper hair. His pasty back faced the crowd until a shelter employee turned his wheelchair.

It didn’t matter that the crowd could see his penis because his legs and feet attracted more attention.

“Cover up your little peepee,” Cononie said.

The exhibitionist in DeRosa came out when the soiled towel on his lap was stripped away and dumped in a nearby plastic trash can.

He wasn’t ashamed of his penis or his legs and feet, the open sores of which were formerly home to writhing maggots.

DeRosa wanted his lighter.

His soiled clothes were fished out of the trash can and shaken by a shelter employee until a yellow lighter plopped on the concrete floor.

Personal hygiene played second fiddle to DeRosa’s nicotine habit — this is a man who’s known for wiping himself with a rag of feces.

“Do you have any smokes?” he asked Cononie gruffly.

The habit’s been a tough one for DeRosa to kick and is partially the reason why he’s lost feeling in his lower legs and feet.

He’s overweight, has poor circulation and doesn’t try as hard as he should, Cononie said.

It’s a very complex case, he added.

In preparation for a healthcare employee’s visit to wrap his wounds in gauze, DeRosa was helped into a pair of Cononie’s oversized Fruit of the Looms. Cononie joked that his underwear contained the “essence of ball sweat.”

The spandex band in DeRosa’s donated gym shorts sat below his sagging breasts.

Hours passed.

He grinned, happy to be back in the shelter smoking cigarettes.

White gauze circled his lower legs and lime green socks snuggled his war torn feet.

His clean, dry hair contrasted starkly from his appearance before he saw the wound care specialist.

“He’s a miracle worker,” said DeRosa, pointing at Cononie, who sat in a golf cart a few feet away.

 

A Homeless Voice

All the worries and rules

Of this world

I left them way behind

Don’t ask me to go back there

My demons still want me

 

They tell me I am

More than flesh and bones, (and I say no)

But some days I am

Just six feet away

From being just that

 

Shower, I do when I want

Sleep, I can when I want

Eat, yes, I am well fed

Now tell me

Can it get better than that?

 

I smile, I smile a lot

It costs me nothing

Yet, I don’t see you smiling

What happened?

I thought you were rich

 

Less clothes and even less shoes

You know, I got nothing to lose

Enjoy yours while they last,

Because when you throw them away

You know I will!

 

I do look at the calendar

But unlike you,

I have no deadlines to track

Just some memories I pinned

And some promises I never kept

 

I call you my friend

And I call you my brother

I don’t care you look down at me

Because in the end

You know we will be equals

 

If it was the shelter

For being ungrateful

I know you would be filling my spot

The society has left me, not my God

He sees me with same eyes as you

 

I don’t need any ear

To hear me out

But hear the ones around you

I might be, a homeless voice

But, my voice is not homeless

 

Sandeep Varry, Florida International University