Hanging with Tim: unemployment rates improve but homelessness does not

Homelessness is not biased and the media keeps telling us that unemployment rates are on the way down. According to a bizjournals.com article published just a week ago, of the nation’s 372 metropolitan areas, 238 have recorded improvements in their jobless rates. One would think that a decrease in unemployment rate would mean a decline in homeless rates. Well, tell that to “Tim”.

On my way home, while stopped at a red light, I see an older white man leaning against a pole, shivering, and holding a sign that read “I’m a veteran and hungry. Please help.” You could barely see the man’s face because, in an attempt to stay as warm as possible, he stuffed his face inside of his thin jacket. The thermometer in my car read an outdoor temperature of 2 degrees.

After parking my car, I walked up to the man, introduced myself and asked if he would like to eat a warm meal in a warm setting. “That sounds great,” I remember him saying. We drove to a nearby McDonald’s where we sat down, ate breakfast and talked for about 45 minutes.

 Even with an offer of food, “Tim” said that he’d only answer my questions if I promised not to use his real name. In reality, he was pretty reserved about the information he gave me and he generally only answered the questions with obvious answers. Frankly, I don’t blame him for being reserved. In “Tim’s” opinion, Americans have let him down.

According to “Tim,” he enlisted in the army in 1969, as soon as he turned 18. He never met his father and his mother had passed away when he was 12. He had been raised by his grandmother who, from what I gathered, was uncaring for “Tim’s” well-being. He joined the army knowing the likelihood of him being sent to Vietnam, hoping that he would be able to better his life.

“When I came back home in ‘74 I had an awful addiction to heroin and alcohol. I cleaned myself up and got a job” he tells me.

When he returned to the U.S. he landed a job in the auto industry. Eventually he found his way to Ohio where he worked for Ford for 13 years manufacturing auto parts. However, with soaring fuel prices, the auto industry took a hit and began laying people off – “Tim” was laid off in 2005.

I asked “Tim” how the economic downturn had affected his homelessness. Jokingly he responds, “Boy, my economy has been downturned since 2005.” With people being more frugal, asking for change has become harder than ever, he says. “I never know when my next meal is coming.”

With the layoff came a reintroduction to drugs and alcohol. “I was so depressed,” said “Tim” who has no education beyond the 10th grade. He made his way from Ohio to Massachusetts to live with friends from the army to see if he could turn his life around, but things have only gotten worst. His friends abandoned him.

“Tim” has a pessimistic view of his future and doesn’t see a life outside of homelessness as possible. “I’m almost 60 years old, who’s gonna give me a job at this age,” he asks as he takes the final bite of his meal.

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