No proper documentation to acquire stable employment, a multitude of health ailments, and even a traumatic head injury... These are some of the hardships local people have faced that ultimately left them homeless.
As part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, The Examiner interviewed three area homeless people at the Community Services League of Independence to help get word out that homelessness is a still a prevalent issue in our community. According to figures provided by the Independence Hungry and Homeless Coalition, there are an estimated 7,000 school-aged children attending area school districts who are homeless, and the Independence Police Department reports that 200 homeless people wander the streets daily looking for shelter and warm food.
Seeking work, every day
John Doe walks into the interview with wounds on his face. “I was cutting off a branch and it hit me,” he said. “I was helping out a friend with a tree.”
The man who wished to remain anonymous “so employers won’t find out that I’m homeless” has just one desire: to find a job in order to get back on his feet again. “Every day I am the first one up there knocking on their door and last one out at the library searching the Internet for jobs,” he states. “I don’t receive any responses back.”
As recently as 10 months ago, he was a cook in the Power & Light District in Kansas City. But a car accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury has left him unemployed. “Sometimes I forget what I just did.”
John Doe says the online application process to apply for any kind of job is long and tedious. “They want to know every single thing about you and make you take a personality test. Sometimes after all that time filling those things out, I lose Internet connection and or the window closes and I have to do it all over again. I just want to work.” John Doe said on average he fills out about 60 or more applications a week. “I put down my friend’s phone number and email address so they can contact me back, too.”
Asked if he tried to apply for a job in-person, he said “they just make you fill out one either on paper or the computer.”
When the library or CSL closes for the night, he is left to sleep on the streets. “Shelters don’t take single people,” he says. “Families have the priority and get EBT cards. If you have bad weather, you might be lucky. But you have to go to the police department beforehand and they have to do a background check on you.”
He recalls the past winter when a storm dumped several inches of snow. “Snow can collapse your tent and you have to crawl out like you’re getting out of a foxhole.”
Things weren’t always this dire. “I used to have a photo shop in Warrensburg believe it or not,” he said. “I had this idea about relocating to Colorado since it is more of a tourist destination and opened the shop there.”
The man said he had a fiancee and his daughter was living with him at the time. Eventually his daughter decided to leave and live back with her mother back East and the fiancee was not mentioned again during the interview. He reluctantly admitted the bottle subsequently got the best of him.
Asked whether he has attempted to reach out and reunite with his daughter, he replied, “She probably thinks I’m dead.”
After that, every other phrase he uttered had the word “work.”
“I can work. I shave and clean up good. I haven’t touched a drink in years.”
He’s still typing away at any public computer station he can visit in hopes of landing a job.
“I cook quite well. Do you know any where I can work or get hired?”
Life under a bridge
“They just don’t care,” said Ela Manuela about people who passed her by as she sat under a bridge. For six years she called a bridge in northeast Independence her home. “Sometimes people would come by and slit my tent with a knife, too.”
Ela – who says she is 54 – assures that she just doesn’t lay under a bridge all day and night and instead keeps busy by working as a housekeeper.
“Work, work, work. You bet. I say I work full-time.”
Ela says she makes $3 per room that she cleans at a local hotel. She says not having a birth certificate or other proper documentation prevents her from seeking stable employment and earning higher wages. “I was born in Germany,” she said. “I don’t have a U.S. birth certificate.”
She says she had three children of her own. “I don’t know where they are,” she said. The last time she heard from her kids was when they were with her own parents, who have been deceased for awhile.
“I have no idea where they could be,” she says of her children.
Ela says last winter – which all of the homeless referred to when asked about what it’s like living on the streets – had been brutal. She had to rely on the food provided by Lunch Partners, a free service in Independence that feeds and clothes the needy, and blankets donated by a local church. “You don’t know cold until you live in it.”
Fortunately, things took a turn for the better.
One recent night, CSL’s Bruce Bailey drove past Ela’s location outside a wooded area. “He helped me out a lot,” says Ela. She said Bailey helped out by placing her and her disabled fiance, Harold, in an apartment, and they are set up to receive nourishment from Meals on Wheels, a program that provides meals to people in need.
Bailey says they are trying to obtain a consulate birth certificate for Ela. They discovered her father was a former serviceman who was stationed in Germany, and she was born outside the military base.
Meanwhile Ela is still pursuing a better job since her fiance is unable to work. “I can clean real well. I wash dishes, too.”
A broken heart
“Ironically I used to volunteer at a homeless shelter,” says Patricia Creed. “I never thought I would end up homeless.”
Patricia has suffered from a number of ailments that include hypertension, diabetes, an aneurysm and heart mumurs that resulted from an enlarged heart. “Most arterial walls looks like this,” she said as she demonstrated the size with her hand. “But mine expanded several centimers bigger,” while her hand in reference grew larger. “I had seven stints placed.”
Patricia, a mother and wife, is originally from Arizona. She discovered while living there the specific surgery required to survive was “elective.” Burdened by medication costs and her husband’s inability to work due to medical conditions of his own, the family was forced out of their home and eventually relocated to St. Joseph, Mo., to live with her brother.
“Luckily I found a hospital and doctor that would perform the surgery,” she said. A hospital in St. Joseph repaired Patricia’s heart that would ultimately save her. But the medical bills were exorbitant – more than $300,000 – and her brother is no longer providing her family a place to stay, so they soon found themselves homeless.
“For 28 days we were at a homeless shelter,” said Patricia. “And those 28 days were the longest days of my life.”
The Creeds ended up in Independence.
Feeling hopeless, life had surprisingly turned things around for Patricia and her family when they met Bailey at the beginning of this year. “Without CSL, we wouldn’t be here,” she says while trying to maintain her composure.
CSL assisted her family by providing a variety of necessities: supportive housing, food, clothes and even a vehicle. “I even try to give back by paying $29 a month on that truck,” she said.
Patricia says that she has a newly found appreciation for most things people take for granted. “I never felt so happy by scrubbing my green toilet,” Patricia laughs. “Even the sight of Mop and Glow. You appreciate the little things.”
The Creeds say CSL has been a savior.
“To go from the bottom of the barrel to this kind of transition, it’s just amazing. We never felt degraded. They (CSL) give you dignity here.”
Patricia had some advice for people in unfortunate circumstances, “Help is out there. Just follow the guidelines. There are agencies and CSL is step one.”
Cindy Friend from the Independence Hungry and Homeless Coalition says there are many resources and organzations in the community one can donate to or help out. Contact the Independence Hungry and Homeless Coalition to find out what charity or service you can help by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Facebook by typing the organization’s name. The Community Services League of Independence is always accepting donations as well. You can reach them at 816-254-4100.