Not Enough Resources For the Cold and Insecurity
Lee said there haven’t been enough resources to help those without shelter deal with the winter we’ve just gone through. His hands bear the marks of cold nights and mornings.
He says a bad marriage is what derailed his own financial situation. He says he helps his kids, and friends on the streets, and prefers to help others than worry about his own lack of shelter.
More generally, he says all this attention on the new downtown ambassadors is misguided to him.
“There are a couple of them, a few of them that are really good. Some of them try to be my buddy, but it's hard … If I don't like something, I'll say it. I don't give a shit. You know what I'm saying?”
He says those without shelter often have to take security in their own hands. “I've got another buddy, a man, I can't tell you his name, but he was raped out here,” Lee said. “He was held against his will by a couple of other dudes and he was raped. I helped him out by chasing them off with my machete.”
A Tight Community
Lee says he sees himself as a leader protecting those around him without shelter, and that the sense of community is vital to surviving without shelter.
“We all do something to pitch in. Some bring food, some bring blankets, some bring medicine, whether it be a bottle to help keep us all warm at night or a little bit of pot. You know what I'm saying? It's real out here. 90% of the people in this town can't handle it,” he said.
For outsiders, he says a little bit of empathy goes a long way.
“Talk to us like we're human,” he said. “We're just down on our luck. It takes somebody to just step up to the plate. Even if they have nothing to give… Hey, here's a cup of coffee, or hey man, you need a cigarette? Here's a cigarette. You need a dollar to eat something? Great heart and that's all that matters.”
At the city level he’d like to see a drop in center not just an overnight shelter.
“What we really need is a place where we can go, where we can stay and we don't have to be shooed out every 20 minutes,” he said.
More Advice for Others and a Touching Anecdote
Any regrets in his life? “That I didn't make enough money to help more people. I mean, what can I say? I mean, I've fought for my country, I've worked my whole life and well… this is where I am. Why?”
As we concluded the interview, he wanted to emphasize how important it is for those on the streets to have interactions with others. He also wanted to explain how difficult it is for someone without an address, without a phone that works to get employment.
“Just bring food,” he said. “Just bring a smile, bring a hug, let the person know. Hey, it's going to be alright tomorrow. Other than that, I don't know what else to say. It's harder and harder and harder and I am glad when I do see one or two of my friends say, ‘oh, we got into a place’ … But then it’s only for a month and then they're right back out here. What good is that? If you're going to put somebody in a place for a month, why can't it be two months? Why can't you come by yourself and say, ‘Hey, come on, let's go look for a job today’. I mean, this town is supposed to be full of jobs, right? Yeah. I've been putting in 10 applications every week, two years I've gotten one call … Because, I don't have a steady way for them to get a hold of me. I don't have a place of residence. I don't have a phone.”
He also wanted to share an anecdote.
“Last year for Christmas here in this town, which is the only reason why I'm still here, I was down and out and I was over there by SPCA, this little girl…. she couldn't have been more than five years old, walked up to me and handed me a hundred dollar bill, said here, Merry Christmas, and her mom went no, no, no, no, you can't. And she looked at her mom, she said: ‘It's mine. I can do what I want with it.’ And I cried like a little girl. I shit you not. I go, sweetheart I can't take this. She was like please and I go, only if I can buy breakfast. I took her and her mom and her dad. We all went out and had breakfast…. Humanity …. always give your all and no matter what just share it... Humanity. “