The homeless, even in Washtenaw County, face great challenges against the wind
Editor’s note: Washtenaw Voice staffer Chuck Denton, no stranger to hardship and homelessness in his life, spent a long autumn day in Ann Arbor seeking shelter ahead of another harsh Michigan winter. What he found should leave everyone chilled.
Turn your card around, so I can see it,” said the bus driver on the No. 5 route working the Packard route to Ann Arbor. That’s how my day began on Friday, Oct. 14, at 8:30 a.m.
Sorry, I didn’t realize my card flipped. It was hanging from my neck and the expiration date on my AATA Fair-Deal discount pass was blocked from view. It allows tokens and 50 cents off a $1.25 fare. Some drivers seem to have attitudes about the discount card, thinking it’s a card for bums.
Do you accept Detroit bus tokens? I asked while showing him that they look similar.
“No!” he screamed. And I pulled out the change in my pocket and found an AATA bus token that covers the remaining 75 cents and dropped it into the coin box. I grabbed my gray Nike backpack and moved to the rear of the bus.
Worried about my housing, I decided to check with the Center to find out about getting shelter for the winter. I am glad to be on the bus, it was cold and windy.
Once seated, I pulled two books from my Nike backpack. I couldn’t decide which one to check out first. “Submersion Journalism” from Harpers, or a much smaller book, “John Dewey: The Reconstruction of the Democratic Life,” by Jerome Nathanson. I picked Dewey because it appeared to be a quick read, and my trip to downtown Ann Arbor was going to take about 45 minutes from Ypsilanti.
And so I read and learn that, according to Dewey, people were misled and Darwin himself knew better, too. For the real impact of the evolution theory, the impact of incalculable influence was to be not on theology but on science and philosophy. Dewey’s intellectual labors for a half-century have been concentrated on this question to such an extent that his growth development and education philosophy can be understood only in the light of it.
We arrived at the Blake Transit Center, and I got off the bus and started walking to St. Andrews Church on Catherine, near Kerry Town. I was hoping I might get lucky, and catch a free breakfast – if I walked fast enough.
I see Raymond waiting to get on the bus. He is waiting for the bus driver to lower the handicap ramp. In downtown Ann Arbor, everyone loves Raymond. He is one of the special ones. Despite his condition, he seems to be the happiest, most well-adjusted person around. What is special is talking to Raymond because he has a gift of making just about anyone smile.
He looks up at me gives me a big smile and turns to the bus driver and says, “Please wait, I need to talk to my friend.”
“Raymond, what time does Delonis serve dinner?” I asked.
“Five on week days and 3 on the weekends,” he said. “Can you meet me at Starbucks at noon? I will have more time to talk then.”
“Sure, I will be there.”
Raymond got on the bus and I walked as quickly as I could to get to St. Andrews. I had always wondered what happened to Raymond, but I never asked. He’s a large, 73-year-old black man, but when he talks he makes you feel like he is still a little boy and everything is a wonderful surprise – like it’s always someone’s birthday.
St. Andrew’s is a 15-20 minute walk from the Blake Transit Center. Once I got there, I was reminded breakfast is served from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. I missed it, no breakfast! I went to Delonis to check on the process of getting shelter. I had heard there were new rules in place, and I wanted to make sure I got the latest information.
I walked in and asked the receptionist for information on getting shelter.
“Before you can come here, you must go to SOS on River St. in Ypsilanti. After SOS screens you, then they might give you a referral to come here to the Delonis Center. You can also call them and ask for a referral over the phone,” said the receptionist.
SOS is the now the new central entry point to get homeless services in Washtenaw County.
She handed me a one-page list of services at the Delonis Center, saying, “you don’t need SOS to have dinner here.” She also gave me the SOS phone number. I walked out the door headed to Ypsilanti. I could wait for the bus, but I would rather walk the four or five blocks back to the transit center than stand around waiting for the No. 9, inbound Jackson-Dexter route to the transit center.
Now it is cold, windy and raining and I wished I was on the bus.
I got on the No. 4B headed to SOS, and just as I approached the first stop, I realized I would never get back in time to meet Raymond at noon. I remembered I promised, so I jumped off the bus before it left Ann Arbor. SOS can wait. I headed to Starbucks on Main Street.
I got a tea and found a nice chair in the corner. There is always a steady flow of customers, and there are times when you can’t find a seat. I pulled out Dewey from my backpack and wondered why this book draws me. To most people it would be boring, but to me real life is far from boring and Dewey seemed to have a hand in making our modern world.
Raymond. He says he has a PhD in physiology and speaks five languages, that he was educated in Quebec, Canada. He says he is French-Candian-African. He also has set on the board of directors for the homeless programs in Ann Arbor.
As we talked, it seemed many would stop and greet Raymond with a big smile, including the local letter carrier.
We had a wonderful talk, and it made my day – whether or not I find a roof over my head.
I said my goodbyes to Raymond and walked to the Blake Transit Center, about four blocks away. I had about a 15-minute wait before the No. 6 showed up. We all boarded and headed to Ypsilanti.
I tried to call SOS from the bus, but once again I got the machine. I thought it would be best to go into the office to get a face-to-face and see what they have posted on their walls that might be of help. After I hung up the phone, a black man, James, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I see you need shelter for the winter.”
Yes, I am worried about what’s going on in Washington. It seems every other week they keep threatening to close the government and terminate the value of the dollar. So I thought I would find out about shelter options.
“You need to get over to JPORT on fourth. They helped me. You can get mental services, odd jobs like emptying the trash at the court building,” James said. “There is also state money available if you qualify. They will also help you deal with Social Security, too. Make sure you ask for Dr. Nedikinpink, he can help,” James said.
James is a 63-year-old man who just lost his girlfriend, 45, to substance abuse.
“She was a retired hooker and had a million dollars in the bank, and if she liked you she would help anyone. But she had a problem with drugs.”
The bus stopped and James pointed at the apartment complex and said, “I am in apartment 31!”
“Thanks for all the information, it was really helpful,” I told him. “Take care.”
“Don’t stay out in the cold,” he said, and he got off the bus.
I caught the No. 11 bus to River Street at the Ypsilanti Transit Center. I walked down River Street to find SOS, located in an old Ypsilanti home that was turned into an office in the historic district of Ypsilanti. I get to the door and find a notice posted: “SOS no longer offers walk-in services for housing emergencies. To receive assistance with your housing, call 961-1999 for assistance. I called and left voice mail Friday at 3:15 p.m., and got a call back on Monday at 1 p.m. (The voice-mail message also noted to call 211 in case of emergency.)
Rather than wait for the No. 11 bus, I walked back to the Ypsilanti Transit Center to catch the next bus back to Ann Arbor. While waiting for the bus, I overheard two guys talking about the 30-day Gopass. “A Gopass is golden. Once I traded four Vicodin for a Gopass, and I could ride anywhere. Boy that was sweet!”
The No. 3 was the first bus in that was headed back to Ann Arbor, it follows the Huron River and makes stops at the Veterans Administration Hospital and Washtenaw Community College. I pulled Dewey out again to keep occupied for another 45 minutes.
Dewey makes an appeal to our ongoing experience – When he asks what makes us what we are, he finds the answer in the organization of society, in the culture to which we belong. Human nature is not merely the adaptation of a biological organism to the environment in which it finds itself. One of its distinguishing characteristics, on the contrary, is that it can adapt the environment in which it finds itself. In a measure, it creates its environment, and in doing so, it creates itself. Interesting.
The No. 3 rolls into the Blake Transit center and I catch the No. 9, which will drop me off in front of the Delonis Center. I go back to the receptionist and let them know SOS no longer accepts walk-in’s, so don’t send people over there.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that,” said the receptionist.
When will the Warming Center be open?
“Around mid-November,” she said. “The Warming Center and rotation does not need SOS approvals. Right now, you need to wait outside until the Community Kitchen opens at 5.”
I went across the street to get away from the crowd forming in front of the building.
When the kitchen opens, everyone fills in. I pick table three and sat down. I notice there is a guy sitting across from me. He is missing his right eye and part of his head. If you don’t mind me asking, what happen to your right eye?
“I tried to kill myself,” said Jay, formerly from Toledo.
Do you remember anything, like what was going on in your mind?
“Yes, I had back surgery trying to get rid of the pain and the doctors put me on pain killers. The next thing I know, I am up to 30 pills a day and I need more just to maintain. I had three doctors writing scripts. I felt trapped and wanted out. One day, I decided to end it, and after I had two cigarettes, I pulled the trigger.”
“How do you deal with the pain now?”
“I walk 6-10 miles every day, and I feel good.”
“You better get some shoes; it’s getting cold.” He was wearying sandles, and his feet were black.
“I have shoes, but I love my sandles.”
“Does the walking help the mental side?”
“Yes, plus I meditate with a group and we visualize the earth and it really helps me relax. Hey, if you want to get your food early, they will be calling clean-up volunteers and if you volunteer you get to go first.”
They called for volunteers and I walked up and got a green ticket and got into the food line. They served pork chops, yams, squash, carrots, salad, and corn bread. There were many choices for dessert. I picked carrot cake. Back at the table, I gave Jay my pork chop – no meat for me. The lady one seat away hears me talk about the Springwells area of Detroit and cuts in.
“That is where I am from,” she said. “I was trapped on crack, and couldn’t get out of there until my son came and moved me. Now my kidneys are almost gone because of the crack, but I am happy to be out of there.”
“Well I am glad you got someone to help you,” I said.
I finished and took my tray to the dirty dishes windows. I was first to get up, I wanted to open my seat so someone else could set down. I went past the glass divider to wait for clean up.
“Hey you standing there with the wash rag, come over here. See the wall? Please wipe it down,” said a supervisor in the kitchen.
I finished the wall and the clean-up was done. The tables and chairs were wiped down and the chairs were placed on the tables. I headed for the 7 p.m. “Pizza in the Park” on Friday at Liberty Plaza, a block down from Federal building.
There was the usual large turnout of the givers, along with 50 or so receivers. There are about 10 tables of free stuff, mostly from the local churches. I got two hot pieces of pizza and went over to two young people holding a sign: Occupy Ann Arbor.
“So, what’s the deal,” I asked. “Why are you occupying Ann Arbor?”
“We just got back from New York,” said Eric,19, a former Central Michigan University student planning on enrolling in WCC. “I’m going to Lansing and Detroit next.”
“Listen, I think it is great that you feel you need to make a statement, just be safe,” I said. “And respect authority. They (police) are paid to do a job. There will be some who will be troublemakers.”
“Yes, I know we had to lock arms in New York to block the troublemakers,” Eric said. “They tried to make us look bad in front of the cameras.”
I said good-bye, and I headed toward State Street.
I see a panhandler in front of the former Borders store.
“Hey, where’s Richard? “ I ask, inquiring about another panhandler who likes to camp out in front of Borders.
“I don’t know where Richard is. I’m Daniel. Do you have a dollar?”
Sure, I have a dollar. Would it be OK if I sit with you? Any money I get I will give to you.
“Sure, you can sit with me.”
We talked and Daniel said he was 55. He has been on medication for schizophrenia since 1980.
“They keep changing the medication. Last year, I gained 80 pounds, then they switched the meds and I lost 80 pounds. If I don’t go for my treatment, they come and get me, and sometime I shake real bad after treatment.”
“I don’t think the doctors have figured out how to fix schizophrenia,” I said, “and I bet you just do whatever they tell you.”
“I have to,” he said.
“Well if you can manage it, start walking. Try to walk none stop for one or two hours and try to do it every day. After a couple of weeks, you should start to feel stronger, and if you do, keep walking and before you know it, you can tell the doctor to lower your medication. If you keep it up, you should continue to feel improvement. Walking generates special chemicals in the brain that should help you get better.”
I noticed we were not getting any donations. I laid my hat in front of me and Daniel did the same. Soon we got some donations. I gave the U-M hat and the money to Daniel and told him it was nice talking with him.
“I will try the walking,” he said as we bid our good-byes.
I headed to State Street, and past Doug, another panhandler. I noticed he had collected more money. He was flying all the colors – USA and sports. He figured out how to get noticed.
It was dark. I decided to walk a few miles to Packard, rather than stand waiting for a bus. I got to the Packard bus stop and noticed a young lady. I ask her, “What are you doing out here in the dark. You know we have a bad guy on the loose?”
“Yes, I know that is why I left the law school early.”
The No. 5 bus stops, and it’s my last bus ride for the day. It’s 9:05 p.m. when I arrive “home” to spend a few more hours with Dewey. On Monday, I’ll be back at it, seeking my winter refuge.p