“I don’t lie, I don’t cheat, I don’t steal. If there is anybody who needs help, I’ll help them, even if I have to give the last possession I have, I will, if it helps someone else in greater need than myself. That’s the way I am.”
As I drove home from dropping my daughter to her drama class, I spied a worn motor home centered in an open Big Lots parking area. A light pole illuminated sighting that had caught my eye with an unshakable question: Whom did it belong to?
I had to investigate.
A few course adjustments, a couple minutes of backtracking, and instantly I made contact with one of its residents: Teresa.
Without hesitation, she told me a tale of twelve years on the street and of meeting her fiancé, Rex (soon to be introduced), some twenty-one months earlier. Little did I know that I was at the beginning of a course of conversation that would enlighten me to the trials of many a homeless, a message brought to me alá Rex.
With Rex not yet in the scene, Teresa prompted a prologue, “He is the man you want to speak with, he has a lot to say.”
So we waited, and as we did I found out a little about Teresa. As per most new conversations, we started out with a quite normal set of general questions. You know, getting to know each other stuff. But then it shifted to the supernatural as Teresa moved to her dealings with the spirit world. Stories of visitations and encounters with entities. Events like being thrown by the unseen while taking a shower. As creepy as it was, my curiosity was perked by the soberness of her explanation. Not to be the judge in assessing fiction or not, I empathized. Shared with her a bizarre experience or two that I had. Nothing like being thrown in a shower, but non-the-less, strange and unexplainable they were. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not into the pursuit of evil beings or proclaiming to be a ghost chaser. And by the way, things looked, perhaps medication was the cause of Teresa’s sightings, but it was not my place to draw conclusions as to her sanity or not. That was not my job or responsibility. My task was to write it as I saw it.
We were starting to run out of steam when, with a distinct limp, up walked Rex. In complete disclosure, he confirmed he had been homeless for the majority of his life. To further break the ice, I told him why I was interviewing strangers, and how, for some unknown reason, I was drawn to his mobile residence. He was very articulate as he chimed right in. Teresa smiled at me, “I told you he would be into it!” And boy was he!
Over the next three hours, I got a Ph.D. crash course that reflected the many real challenges of living on the streets. Not so much the why we are here stuff, but the how we survive and what we do to support each other realities. To note, many may discard or choose to look away from the plight of the homeless, and at times, I’m sure that may be appropriate, but Rex sparked my activism and understanding as to whom I needed to direct my attention.
He began by exposing his history, seven brothers and sisters, all of whom had chosen to no longer associate with him. Even though he, as the oldest, and having lost their father, spent his early years helping his mother raise them, they still turned their backs. I had no idea why they decided to do so, and surely there was more to the story than met my eye, but still?
“My youngest brother is very wealthy and will not speak with me and I have lost contact with the rest of my family.” Even Rex’s two children were estranged; both lived in Florida. My gut told me he was truthful and that was good enough for me. I did not press him any further for details.
A little more about his past, “Many years ago I refed youth basketball and football and worked as a team portrait photographer.” I bought it, as he spoke well enough of camera technique to gain my faith in his claim.
There was one topic, however, that dominated our conversation: His passion to educate the public as to how law enforcement treated the homeless.
Many times I myself had witnessed officers interacting with the homeless in a pretty fair way. And balancing that, I also understood neighborhood concern for keeping the streets safe. So at the beginning of his dialogue, I was compassionate but did sit a bit on the fence. To up it another level, I had a little exposure per homelessness, and first impression, from several past interviews. Incidents like: the looks I witnessed Victor (Music is Your Friend) receiving as he entered Applebee’s, and the earful The Colonel (You’ve Got To Have Respect For Other People) gave me at the Laundromat. But Rex shared a more personal and darker side of the topic.
Rex was very sober. He was not a simple man or someone who had given up on the system. My take. He was where he was through one simple fact. He was just one of the people whom life has dealt a series of hard blows. All of which he bore as part of the reason for his existence. Rex was a survivor, not a martyr or a victim. Just a man doing what he could to make the world a better place.
At seventy-two years of age, he was quite an educated man. Both in formal terms (seven credits away from a bachelor’s degree in legal studies), and regarding the world of street smarts, he had a formidable pedigree from the school of hard knocks. Rex was not a freeloader, did not look for handouts, and sincerely cared for others. An attitude I witnessed while standing with him at a local Kinko’s. A destination I followed him in assisting him to make signs for his non-profit project (I’ll get to that in a second). Coherent he was as he consistently expressed kind gestures to all those around him, even the customers who were obviously wary of his appearance. Rex was a man of humility and forgiveness.
So why was he still on the streets? “I have a reason for being here, I’m doing something about the injustice we receive.” He carried on to tell me a bit more of his character, “I don’t lie, I don’t cheat, I don’t steal. If there is anybody who needs help, I’ll help them, even if I have to give the last possession I have, I will if it helps someone else in greater need than myself. That’s the way I am.”
So what was Rex’s cause? “I’ve been beaten too many times to count by our local police, and I’m not scared to talk about it. They use us as test dummies for training.” He was very passionate about this point. “Many are too intimidated or crazy to speak up, but I am not. People need to know how we are treated. Many of us do not choose to be out here. Some are here by choice, but many more are here because of illness or bad fortune. It’s that simple. It’s terrible how we are singled out and brutalized in the name of the law.”
So what was Rex doing about it? For two years he had been putting any cent he could into legally pursuing his cause. “Yesterday I received my letter of incorporation.” Seemed he had set up a non-profit with a mission, To educate the public and support the homeless. Perhaps the reason I was drawn to approach him and Teresa.
“The Coalition of Disabled and Homeless, Inc.” Rex titled it. Spelled out to me with the intelligence of a seasoned business mind, his plan was to set up its board of directors from people on the street. I searched to find to website. Sadly it did not exist, but I found this, in it an obvious confirmation to the claims he made. Click here to check it out.
What did Rex mean by, “They use us as test dummies for training.” Simply, “We are beaten in the name of training the law. They tell rookies: It’s breaking the cherry.” I did not know the facts, and I know I was just reporting one side of the coin. But again, my job is to share the words of those I meet, and per Rex, I was honoring his right to be heard.
Rex told me of many personal experiences, but one was very intriguing and fairly open-minded toward the police force. First, I asked him, “Are all officers bad?” He said, “No,” as he expanded on a few positive experiences of fair and respectful treatment. “But that does not cure the overall problem” he lobbied. Recalling a story of one particular test dummy situation. “Here I am, at gunpoint of an obvious rookie in training. I look at his senior and ask, ‘Tell this guy to put the gun down, he is going to hurt someone.” The senior officer complied. The offense? Being visible in the right place at the right time for a hassling. I’m telling you, Rex was lucid, or I was very gullible (now dismissed by the link to the case above).
There were many other stories of life on the streets Rex imparted to me that evening. To write them all would be a run-on, and I’m sure that is not the message Rex, and I, want to publish. His request was minimal. “Tell my story of fairness,” for that was all he campaigned for, just fairness. Not handout, not turn the other cheek, not even poor homeless, only fairness.
What about Teresa you might be asking? In Rex’s words, “I’ve got to marry her soon!”