Tonight in the United States over 55,000 people will go to sleep homeless. I interviewed two of the many homeless people in the city of Elgin. In my interviews with them, I talked about what life is like being homeless, as well as how they came to be in this position.
When I first began writing this article my goal was to interact with the homeless so that I could understand and help others better understand the real issue of homelessness. The first person I interviewed was a man named Robert. When I first met him, he was in the Elgin Police station sheltering himself from the cold. He had a cast and a dirty sock on his right foot, and smelled strongly of alcohol and cigarettes. I asked the community service officer if I could interview Robert and the officer gave Robert a cup of coffee as we sat him down for an interview.
Robert is 47 years old and is originally from St. Charles. He sleeps outside most nights, if he can he find somewhere warm but most nights he sleeps on a park bench. He spends most of his days inside the police station. When asked on how he came to be homeless he replied simply, “ I used to have it all, a girlfriend… Well, I still have a girlfriend. It sucks. We’re both on the street. But she sits by me no matter what. I used to have it all, now I got nothin’.” I asked Robert if he used to work, he replied, “ Hell yeah, I used to rent a room from my mom, own my own construction company, but I don’t even want to think about that anymore.”
Robert says says he has been dating his current girlfriend, who he met on a park bench, for eight years and has been homeless for five of those. Robert then became paranoid and was worried I was gathering information to send him to prison. I explained that I am a student journalist just trying to help. He told me that he would love some help but he knows I cannot give it to him. He says the only thing he wants is money to buy more alcohol. This made me sad because despite me attempting to build a relationship with him and help him, he only wanted alcohol.
The next man I met, also at the police station, was named Doug. He was in bright spirits and was eager to do the interview. Doug is 49 years old and has had a rollercoaster of a life. I asked him to explain how he got to the point of being homeless and he said it all started his sophomore year of high school. His sophomore year at Dundee-Crown High School he got his future wife pregnant with twins. His parents did not want to help raise the children so he dropped out of highschool to become a carpenter. He became a skilled carpenter and moved his family to a small town in Arkansas, where he and two friends started a siding company. Doug says the company soon went out of business because, “I was doing 85 percent of the work with no help.” Working long hours trying to keep the business afloat was difficult, and eventually his wife left him and took the children with her.
With no place to go, he came back to Elgin and lived with his sister. He worked for a mechanic, however the mechanic’s business went bankrupt and Doug was never paid for his work. To make matters worse, soon after returning home, he and his sister had a falling out and he was kicked out of the house. He found a job at a hotel in Elgin to be a janitor. Doug was given a room and $1,500 a month for his paycheck. He loved this job, but he says he did not see eye to eye with the co-janitor. One day, they got into a fight in the maintenance room, after the other janitor threw a hammer and charged at Doug. Doug fought back and ended up slamming the janitor’s head into the wall outside of the maintenance room.This was caught on camera and Doug was immediately fired. With no job, no money, and no place to stay Doug became homeless. He said that he was determined not to become another bum on the streets begging for money. His key was, “I got with the right people, started going to church, and I stayed the hell away from tent city.”
Tent city is an area in Elgin where many homeless people camp. He said that the problem with tent city is that everyone there is addicted to some drug or alcohol. He warned, “Once you go there, you can never leave.” Luckily for Doug he chose the right path and built a relationship with God. He said, “ I have been homeless for almost a year now. Most of that time spent living in a tent behind the mental hospital. But thanks to the glory of God, I found help and I am almost back on my feet.” Through his church he met a man named Ryan who agreed to let Doug live in the basement of his house, if he uses his carpentry skills to remodel the basement. Doug says, “I am paid $20 an hour and I have a roof over my head, what more could I ask for as a man who lost everything.” Thanks to Ryan, Doug has been able to help his homeless friends and be generous. He says that he wants to help the people in tent city but the thing they need most is rehabilitation to show them that there are better ways to live. He also added, “The sad thing is, 90 percent of the homeless people in Elgin are homeless by choice. There is no incentive for them to stop panhandling and abusing their bodies.”
Homelessness can fall upon anyone. Robert and Doug both at one point in their lives were happy and living healthy lifestyles. I ask that you pray for all the homeless around the world and take a second to appreciate everything that you are blessed with.