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January 23, 1998 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1998-01-23

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12 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, January 23, 1998

FRIDAYFOCUS

An Arbor homeless attempDt to
overcome past, rebuild lives
Lorraine sat in front of Good Time Charlie's last week with her 13-year-old boy at her side,
begging students to give money to "a hungry, homeless family."
She received a few slices of pizza and a pocket full of spare change, but the donors were out-
numbered by students who averted their eyes and turned their heads the other way. Lorraine
berated those who did not acknowledge her pleas, but said she is thankful for what she received.
"In Ann Arbor people can afford to be a little more generous. In Ypsilanti, I'd die out here,"
Lorrraine said. And Lorraine is not alone.

here's a man in Ann Arbor with a red-
and-blue striped sweater who doesn't
know what he'll be doing in five min-
utes.
His eyes are glazed over and his semi-bleached
hair is ratted and pulled back behind his ears. All
he can say, again and again, is "There's so much
confusion. There's so much confusion."
Early the next morning, the sweatered man
descends onto the streets, the shelter door slam-
ming shut behind him.
He represents a part of the United States that
most people pretend does not exist. Not all these
people are mentally ill or addicted to drugs and
alcohol. Many are just a step away from main-
stream America - people who, at one time, held
a nine-to-five job, owned a home and supported
a family.
A place to sleep
Jeffrey spends his days in front of East Quad
residence hall, talking to students with a bottle
in-hand. Many of the students know him by
name, give him a hug and even ask him to
smoke a bowl in their rooms.
He has laid roots in Ann Arbor, but he was a
real-life Ken Kesey, traveling the country as a
counterculture figure.
Jeffrey attended four universities, including
Duke and a small community college in the East.
But his transitory nature and the opportunity to
tour with the Grateful Dead lured Jeffrey away
from academia. As he sat on a curb on East
University Avenue, running his fingers through
his knarled white beard, he pondered why Jerry
Garcia deserved a commemorative postage stamp.
"I toured with the Dead and loaded speakers
and shit for them for five years," Jeffrey said.
"What a bunch of bunk - Garcia is getting a
stamp. I smoked with him all the time."
LSA first-year student Eric Bernstein goes out
of his way to help Jeffrey.
Bernstein said he rarely gives money to the
homeless when walking home to East Quad, but
he has developed friendships with Jeffrey and
some men who "basically live in front of Taco
Bell.
"1 usually take extra pieces of fruit to them,"
Bernstein said. "I know these guys like to drink
a lot, so I usually don't give them money."
Bernstein said these men may at times seem
rude, though they are good at heart.
"Every once in a while I'll see them at house
parties. They know a lot of people at this
school," Bernstein said. "Everyone loves to hear
Jeffrey's stories about touring with the Dead.
He's one of the nicest guys around."
On a chilly afternoon, Jeffrey found solace in
the warmth of Taco Bell. He was joined by a
friend who identified himself as "Pork Chop."
Invigorated by the warmth, Jeffrey recalled his
journey from Florida to Ann Arbor.
"I got a job as a line cook in a restaurant in
Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) that was a front for a
Mafia cocaine operation," Jeffrey said. "This
pretty girl came in one day, and it turned out she

was a U of M student on spring break, and we
got to know each other that week.
"Then the restaurant I was working in got
raided by the feds and I decided to move to Ann
Arbor to live with her."
After speaking continuously for more than an
hour, Jeffrey suddenly went silent. He looked
back at Taco Bell's door and stared at an enter-
ing police officer.
A few seconds later, the manager and officer
walked up to the table, told Pork Chop he was
trespassing and gave him five minutes to leave.
Pork Chop had trouble understanding what
was happening, and Jeffrey told his friend to lis-
ten to the police officer's orders.
"Now you see what goes on. This type of
thing happens every day," Jeffrey whispered.
"They usually don't get me because I'm smarter
than most of them are."
The store owners tell a different story. Tony
Shamoun, manager of In and Out Food Store,
said homeless people cause problems on a regu-
lar basis.
"They're not only homeless, they're drunk
half the time. For all the taxes we pay here, the
cops should take them out," Shamoun said.
"With all the tourism Ann Arbor gets to see,
people like that out here is ridiculous."
Shamoun said homeless people ask him for
money 20 or 30 times each day, and he is unable
to prevent them from
loitering in front of his
store.r. You can
"I walk out and tell
them to move and they deal throu
just come back five
minutes later," hulmblefle
Shamoun said. "They
bug the hell out of A
everyone out here. I
wish (the police would)
take them out of here. They shouldn't even be
homeless - they should go and get jobs. They
are as healthy as you or I."
After the officer left the restaurant, Jeffrey
threw anger aside and picked up his story where
he had left off, remembering his first days in
Ann Arbor.
"I married the girl in 1984, got a job doing
groundwater monitoring for an engineering firm
and had a daughter," he said. But after five years
of marriage, he said, "things fell apart."
"I had nothing. I was fucked up on drugs
and was pissed off with the world," Jeffrey
said. "I just blew up and left and I've been
homeless ever since."
James Bryant, manager of Ashley Day
Shelter, said some homeless people don't want
to be helped.
"Some of them think it's a good situation,"
Rich said. "They could work for a few weeks,
and then use the money to get high."
Jeffrey said that while he has lots of good
friends, the streets are mean, and every day is a
struggle for survival.
"It's like war out here," Jeffrey said. "We have

w7ni

to deal with the
crackheads who
want to take you
for every penny. If
they can take you
to a back alley and
slit your throat F
they would.
"I've had three
friends floating in
the river. One of
them was choked to death and another had his
throat slit. I sit around and mind my own business
and that's probably why I'm still alive," he said.
Jeffrey said that tomorrow he will leave his
friendly corner to spend 30 days behind bars.
His crime was committed while trying to find a
warm place to sleep.
"I was arrested at night for trespassing," said
Jeffrey shrugging his shoulders. But he had no
apologies.
"I sleep where I put my head," he said
Where change starts
Chinelo is no bum. A former Kmart merchan-
dise specialist, Chinelo doesn't ask for handouts
or commit petty thievery. He works part-time at
the People's Food Cooperative on Fourth
Avenue.
He is one of the many inhabitants of a shelter
on East Huron Street,
a place with sticky
Darn agreafloors, smelly walls,
ragged couches and
Oh militant vagabonds.
"People have jobs
Sir here," he said. "We
Chinelo. work. We live as nor-
n Arbor homeless man mal human beings.
We still feel we need a
chance." But he is
wary of the terse relationship between the home-
less and the city.
"Ann Arbor doesn't want us here - we know
that," he said. "We know this lot is worth more
as a parking lot than a shelter."
Bryant said many homeless use Ann Arbor as
a base to turn their lives around.
"If I had to be homeless, I'd want to be in Ann
Arbor," he said.
Bryant said Ann Arbor has extensive services
available for individuals who want mental or
substance abuse counseling, or need help find-
ing housing and getting a job.
Chinelo has not given up on life. As he sits on
a ripped couch in the basement of the shelter, he
admits that this is not the best place for him. He
has learned a lot through his experiences, he said.
"I made some bad choices," Chinelo said. "To
me, it's not an embarrassment to be here. You
can learn a great deal through humbleness."
Still, he realizes he is young. In a few weeks he
will be organizing a hip-hop event at the Gypsy
Cafe on Fourth Avenue that will combine music
and poetry to examine the problems of the com-
munity and possibly stir up some emotion in a

town that he dubs "conser-
vative and lifeless."
"If we do something
really great here, Ann
Arbor can be the model for
the rest of the world," he
said. "I expected to go to
the Michigan Union and
find some great things
going on with a lot of stu-
dent activism. I didn't find
it.

Above:
Michael and
Chinelo, two
Ann Arbor
homeless men,
are living in
the Huron
Street Shelter
while they try
to find jobs.
Right:

,

"It's a place for stu- Chinelo, te
dents to eat and get to coffee shop
their ATM," he said. philosopher,
"That isn't a real student Arbor's
union. This town needs activism has
something." withered
He gestured with his away.
large, skinny fingers while
he told of his passion for
activism and learning
about people. He yearns to
study photography at a
community college. He
loves great debates with
people in Borders Books,
and Music, and he visits
the library regularly, often
browsing the Web.
However, this seemingly idealistic enthusi-
asm is coupled with a keen sense of realism,
often shockingly interweaving the two qualities
at any point during conversation.
"America thinks everything is equal. It's not,"
Chinelo said. "I really began to understand how
America works from this point of view. To real-
ly understand people you must first understand
the inequality in this world."
Pointing to the floor of the shelter, he said
"real change starts here, on this level."
A lost Christmas
Joseph never thought he'd be where he is
now. Five years ago, he fell down three stories
of stairs while working as a chemist for Stroh's
Brewing Company.
Now, he sits in the dungy basement of a
homeless shelter, with his mental faculties and
desire to work intact. But with his cyatic nerve
damaged, working is difficult, if not impossible.
"I just got out of the hospital yesterday," he
sighed, pointing to the hospital bracelet loosely
attached to his wrist.
Joseph graduated with a chemistry degree from
Dillard University in New Orleans. He is divorced
and maintains regular contact with his 12-year-
old daughter. He looks down as he explains why
he could not buy her a Christmas gift.
"Two months ago I was robbed. That deprived
my daughter of a Christmas and forced me to stay
in the shelter longer than I would have liked,"
Joseph said. "The shelter itself is not a problem,
but there are other elements who prey on home-
less: loan sharks, gamblers, drug dealers."
George, a fellow shelter resident who was lis-
tening from the back of the shelter where he was
ironing his shirt for work, said the homeless are
rarely perpetrators, but often are victims of
crime.
"Homelessness is a problem swept under the
rug," George said. "The homeless have never
been dangerous. It's common knowledge peo-
ple get their government checks at the beginning

the library every day to teach myself about com-
puters and the Internet."
Despite his disability, his efforts seem to be
working. "I like to say: 'If the mind can con-
ceive, you can achieve.' I have an interview with
an engineering firm on Monday," Joseph said. 4
Packing up, moving on
A week ago, Andrew spent his nights in a shel-
ter in Ann Arbor. This weekend, he walked out
its doors, clutching a cardboard box with the last
of his belongings and headed to a new apartment.
The laborious task of working two jobs, sav-
ing every spare penny and living his days in the
shelter was more than he could take. "I'm just
trying to work," Andrew said. "I just want to
keep saving more money, saving more money.'
Andrew has spent the last few months in one
of Ann Arbor's shelters after trying to stay as
far away as possible. "At the shelter, I tried to
stay very arms-length," he said. "You become
friends with people, but nothing more than sim-
ple chit chat. I tried to stay away."
George said he thinks many homeless people
take the shelter and other services for granted.
"I've been pleased with how people treat the
homeless here," George said. "The homeless
in Ann Arbor are spoiled and need a good kick
in the butt. Like with welfare, people somel
times find a comfort zone and it becomes a
cycle."
Andrew never let himself fall into this trap.
His deep-set eyes and long, dark hair chronicle
the life of a man who smiles with a gentle strain.
Not lacking drive, but rather seeking an even-
tual goal, Andrew was unsure of his life's end
and aspirations. "I'm just trying to save money,"
he repeated while drawing circles with his shoe
on the rubber step. "I haven't really though
about what I want to do."
The obsession with leaving the shelter con-
sumes conversation. Whatever Andrew speaks
of ultimately turns to his plans to work and save
money. "In Ann Arbor you need two jobs," he
said. "This place is very expensive."

I1 :t. .~

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