‘Harry’ describes his life without a home

Saturday, November 7, 2020
Shelbyville Community Soup Kitchen volunteers Kay Bartley and Rebecca Baker share a prayer with homeless “Harry,” following a Tuesday night food ministry session.
T-G Photo by Dawn Hankins

Shelbyville Community Soup Kitchen volunteers believe they’re meeting a new generation of “homeless” citizens during their each Tuesday food ministry program.

They say a large majority of the people they’re meeting now are not your stereotypical homeless. There are people here who are making their home in various dark and unoccupied areas within the city limits and within the outskirts of town.

While the “homeless” are living in local “camps” some have public jobs. Theirs is a lifestyle which is unknown to many who sleep in warm beds at night.

Some are living outside due to various financial or legal reasons, while others simply do not have the means for a permanent roof over their heads. Whether they’re to blame for their lifestyle, or not, SCSK volunteers realize these are human beings living without adequate shelter.

When it’s pouring rain, they know that many are surviving under tents and tarps. While meeting folks like “Harry” and “David No. 2,” the SCSK volunteers reveal how their hearts are burdened to help, whether by providing blankets, firewood or card tables.

One volunteer told a young “homeless” man Tuesday night that she’s “ a mama” and just wanting to help him with getting essentials.

SCSK now conducts the ministry at their building on South Cannon Boulevard, due to protocols of social distancing last spring. It was COVID-19’s outbreak which necessitated the non profit temporarily move out of the First United Methodist Church of Shelbyville’s basement, but their prayers include returning there soon.

Call it fate or Divine Intervention, what has since developed is an endearing ministry opportunity each Tuesday from 4 to 5 p.m. at the old Save-A-Lot building, which the group now owns. Some guests welcome volunteer chats, others just get food and move on, trying to pass unnoticed as they walk through the woods.

Through their weekly talks with the “homeless community,” volunteers like Kay Bartley have discovered that many are walking miles each Tuesday to get a meal. Others, with the help of kind people, now have bicycles for transportation, warm clothes and blankets.

Though evening temperatures have dropped and it is dark in the city now around 5 p.m., SCSK volunteers continue to serve drive through meals outside. Bundled up Tuesday in coats and hats, several handed out dinner boxes — the Styrofoam containers filled the parking lot area with a tantalizing aroma of fried chicken and potatoes.

“Here he comes,” said masked and gloved volunteer Kay Bartley as a customer known as “David No. 1,” rides his bike to the drive-through line. After receiving his meal, he explained that he will likely be homeless in a couple of months; he cannot afford his electricity deposit, which is high due to the previous tenants’ highest bill.

There are some things which get old fast, he says upon leaving for his current “cabin” a few miles away. One of those is having to ride his bicycle 40 miles to a destination, but, he said he’s lost weight in the process.

Dressed in clean clothes and fairly well-shaven, “David No. 1” asks SCSK volunteers for a grocery bag for his food; he ties it to his bike. Before cycling into the sunset, he shares a tongue-in-cheek story of how his picture was on the front of a previous issue of the Times-Gazette for “art” and on the opposite page, within the same issue, for a DUI (driving under the influence) offense charge.

There’s something about “Harry”

Another regular, “Harry” stops by for a food box on Tuesdays after work; he said he’s just recently become homeless. When talking with the Times-Gazette Tuesday night, he requested anonymity, mainly out of fear of losing his new job.

“People can be judgmental,” he said.

“Harry” said he’s been “homeless” since COVID-19 hit in March. He is dreading the cold, winter months ahead, but said he’s pretty set up at his camp — one he said he occupies with permission by the property owner.

He isn’t afraid to sleep under the stars. What this homeless man fears the most is losing that new job, one, he said, which provides him enough of a weekly paycheck to get by.

“It’s been since March this year, when I lost my job in Lewisburg. Then, this pandemic hit. I spent almost a month at Henry Horton [State Park] campgrounds. When they shut down . . . thought well there goes my chance at employment for the time being.”

He found production work in Shelbyville.

“Harry” knows he doesn’t live in an ideal situation. He of course would like a small home to call his own.

“I would like to have a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, pet friendly place. I would like a fenced in backyard. I could afford about $500 to $600 a month rent.”

If there are legal or financial reasons as to why “Harry” does not have a home, he did not comment on that part of his life. Able to afford a cell phone, he said he’s been looking on Facebook marketplace for rentals.

“The ones I found so far were almost $900 a month. On a regular 40 hours, I bring about $470 or $475 a week. If I pick up overtime, over $500 a week.”

For now, he and his campmate, “David No. 2” will continue to stop by the soup kitchen each Tuesday. They’ll light a fire on the cold nights and sleep well, no matter despite inclement weather.

Volunteers like Rebecca Baker encourage them and offer blankets and coats, but “Harry” notes he’s pretty set with outer wear. He said split firewood or propane would be nice.

As for family, “Harry” said that’s never been a good situation. “I was born in Illinois, raised in Florida, moved to Michigan and ended up moving here 2 1/2 years ago.”

He quipped how he spent most of his childhood in foster care; his parents divorced. He stated that it was suspected that he and his two young siblings were being abused, so they were put into state custody.

That was years ago; he said he’s now 38, pushing 40. “Harry’s” tried to forget his past but family does survive, as a reminder.

It was getting close to 5 p.m. when Harry said he will have to head home soon. As cars continue drive by the food pick up station, he talks a bit more about his family.

“I talk to my biological mom on occasion. I refuse to speak to my biological father; he wants nothing to do with me.”

As he talks on, the warm sun suddenly vanishes.

“Harry” vaguely described the camping spot he and “David No. 2” occupy inside the city limits. “We have tarp canopy that we can sit under . . . to get out of the rain. We have campfires at night.”

Yes, he said it’s been cold lately, but he said this is nothing compared to Michigan weather. He really isn’t afraid to be outside and vulnerable to society.

“I got my dog, Midnight; she’s well taken care of. I just bought her a whole bunch more dog food . . . treats. She has her own food bowls.”

“Harry” said unlike some campers, he’s not a local trouble-maker. “Our area is probably one of the cleanest campsites. Some of the other campsites . . . beer cans, groceries bags, empty food packaging all scattered all over. We’re not the rowdy loud mouths, like the younger homeless people tend to be.”

As he chatted about how he has previously been involved with such nonprofits, Pastor Paul Mullikin of First United Methodist Church-Shelbyville introduced himself to the man. SCSK workers continued to hand out the last of meals to cars.

Work traffic buzzed by on South Cannon Boulevard as the “homeless” man-in what most people would consider the prime of his life-discussed Shelbyville’s homeless situation.

“I would say there’s at least 5 to 8 people in this vicinity. They may not all be right through here . . . one person stays under the bridge.”

Under these circumstances, he said right now it’s best he remain a single man.

He’s proud, despite his circumstances. “Harry” said he refuses to walk around town with ragged clothes.

“I wash my clothes at the laundry mat each week.” There is an undisclosed place where the men bathe.

“Harry” vows he does not have a drug and alcohol problem. He is, however, addicted to cigarettes. “I just can’t kick it,” he said with a laugh.

As long as “Harry” and “David No. 2” obey their current property owner’s rules, they will likely have a place to live this winter. Many of the homeless transient out for various reasons. But “Harry” kind of likes living in Shelbyville. “I plan to stay in the Shelbyville area, due to employment.”

Donations can be made to SCSK online at their website Shelbyvillesoupkitchen.org or by stopping by the food ministry on Tuesday afternoons and talking with volunteers.