John has soft
eyes and a smooth voice. He's studying to become a minister, and his mannerisms and presence would put any delegation at ease. John
has been homeless for close to four years, but his faith is steadfast. He wore
faded jeans and a thick flannel shirt.
When we sat
down to talk, he comfortably slumped himself in a chair, crossed one leg over
the other and had no reservations about discussing his life.
NUVO: How long have you been coming to
John: Off and on for about four years.
NUVO: When did you first hear about it?
John: Once I became homeless. I was staying
at the time with a mission on Pennsylvania. They get you up at 5 in the morning
and put you out at 6.
NUVO: Do you still stay there?
John: No, I've got my own little spot.
NUVO: Tell me your story. Why are you
John: Basically I'm grown. I do have family
in town, but I'm grown. I've got to do this on my own. I gave up my house. I
had an apartment for a year and a half. It was through a program called
Partners in Housing, their Shelter Plus Program. I lost that because I
couldn't make a meeting.
NUVO: Because you couldn't make a meeting?
When was that?
John: That was
last year. I went and visited a girl. I lived on the third floor; she lived on
the first floor. Someone told that I went and visited her. Turns out that she
was still getting high and turning tricks. So, they did an intervention on me
and told me I had to do 90 meetings in 90 days. I did that. Then they said I
had to do two meetings a week for 90 days. Then they told me I had to come to a
well-living class. At the time I was working. Paying rent. Rent was caught up.
I was barely staying there. I had a girlfriend who had a doctorate's degree.
Drove a Lexus (laughs). They kind of was like, "Well, why are you still keeping
the apartment if you don't need to be here." Well, she can't stay here and I
can stay at her apartment with no hassles, so we could be together. Then, I
broke up with her and started dating one of the waitresses at work, where I
worked, and she lived in Noblesville. So, I would stay at her house. What we
were using the apartment for was if we had split shifts or worked different
times, we would come back to Indianapolis and we had it OKed with the apartment
manager that she could use my key and come and stay because it didn't make
sense to drop me off at work and come all the way back to Noblesville and in a
couple hours have to drive back to go to work and then I got to go back to
Noblesville and then come back and pick her up (laughs). I mean, we did it for
a while, but we were just wasting too much gas. I asked to move into her
apartment, and she agreed to it 'cause my rent was always paid, my apartment was
always clean, and, as a matter of fact, they used it as one of the model
apartments. If somebody through the program had to see an apartment, they could
take 'em to mine. They pretty much knew I wasn't gonna be there and it was
always gonna be clean. I never left dishes or anything like that.
But, back to
the meeting. The meeting was only held on a Wednesday – from one o'clock
'til two o'clock on a Wednesday. How can you teach me to live well when I got
my apartment clean, I stay clean and, you know, my rent is paid? My rent was
never late. But the meeting was from one until two in the afternoon and that's
the only day they had it, which was a day I was scheduled to work. They'd
already cut my hours at work. I couldn't go to the bosses and say, "Hey, man. I
gotta go to this meeting." But, their attitude was, "We're paying your rent and
even if you're not working, we could pay your full amount on it. So, you need
to go to this meeting." And that's when I got put out.
NUVO: And that's what why you're in the
situation you're in now?
John: Back being homeless again ...
NUVO: How does it feel to be in the situation
John: (long pause) I feel God. I mean, it's
not about being homeless; it's not about being lost and alone. I mean, Jesus
was born in a manger. Jesus never really had a home when he started his
ministering. He lived from place to place. Not saying that I'm Jesus or
anything, but it has prepared me for the role he's placed me in.
I work as a
lay-minister for my church. I'm also the minister of media. I'm working toward
my degree to become ordained as a minister. But, without living the process of what
a homeless person is going through, without being jailed and not knowing what
Marion County jail is, without doing the six-month stint in prison, how would I
know how to minister or help someone unless I've actually walked in their
shoes? I have compassion for them, but I also will not tolerate someone just
being totally lazy on what they're doing. Through the times that I've been in
and out of this situation, because I always find a job. I'm always working. I'm
a superintendent of a construction company right now. But, it's not bringing in
a lot of money. I mean, it keeps me in what I need. It keeps my hygiene. It
keeps, you know, food, when I don't have food stamps. It keeps my storage
compartment paid for every month. I mean, I have to allocate the money. It
keeps me with a home, you know.
NUVO: It's not enough to get your own place
John: No, I mean, times are rough. There. You
take what's rough. Like my mother always says, "If you got a bunch of lemons,
you make lemonade." But, I got enough to make lemonade and even got enough to
put a little sugar in it (laughs). So, it's not always bitter. But, there's
times where you think things are going to happen or a situation might be
different. It prepares me to know how to minister to someone. God never takes
you through something that he can't get you out of. Right now, I have some
other apartments. Just waiting for them to finish building them. Hopefully, I
can move into those by February. I don't know.
NUVO: So, has your faith ever been shaken by
some of the situations you've been in?
John: It's only been strengthened because
without my faith, I would be helpless. Knowing and trusting. Some of the
problems I believe are from when my faith became shaken. "OK, this ain't
happenin', that ain't happenin', where you at, God?" You know? It's like, "OK.
You want to question me as to what I'm doing? Let me show you what you can do."
I mean, like I say, prison was only for six months, but, it taught me a lot in
six months' time. I wasn't in a maximum prison, but I saw some things, like,
that would just trip you out. I like being on the streets. So, yeah that's
NUVO: Do you think enough is being done for
the homeless population in Indianapolis?
John: No, it's not.
NUVO: What else do you think could be done?
John: I mean, there's plenty of empty
buildings around. There's plenty of empty homes around. There's plenty of
abandoned homes around that the city owns that they're ready to tear down that
they don't even take the initiative to tear down. Homeless people, drug addicts
use these buildings to get high, to stay out of the weather, everything else.
Why not start a program - like I said, I'm the superintendent of a construction
company - why not start a program to rehab these houses? Teach the people a
trade. You got a complete house. Let them stay in the house while they're
working on the house. When the house is completed, they gotta move to the next
house. But, like the Bible says, "If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for
life. If you give a man a fish, he can only eat for that day." So, the ones that really want to break this cycle and want to get out, they
will take the training, they will do the work and they will get out. After you
rehab so many houses, maybe one of the houses can become yours or you know,
you have to share with three or
four people. But, it sets a precedence and an attitude of a work ethic. One of
the shelters, Good News Missions, says they charge people with a work ethic. If
you don't have money to stay there, you have to do work for them so you can
stay there and eat. But, they have you doing menial jobs. Cleaning up around
the place. Cleaning up and down the streets of Rural all the way to New York
Street. Pick up all the trash. Clean up around the Pizza Hut and stuff like
that. I mean that's not teaching anybody anything. When we don't have anything
else for you to do, wipe the walls down. One year, I was there and we had wiped
the walls so much that we had to go back and paint the walls because we actually
rubbed some paint off. I mean, wipe the pews down four or five times a day.
They already been wiped once, but they want you to do it again. Just something
to keep you busy and something to keep you doing something. That's not teaching
a man anything.
The city could benefit from the rehab program and that's
actually a program that I'm going to be looking to get off the ground in my
ministry. Where we can go in and get some of these houses that are up for tax
liens and get them donated to the church where we take responsibility for
them. Start a training program where one set of guys learn demolition and
another set of guys electricity or electrical by doing the wiring. Another set
of guys does the drywall and another set of guys do paint. Now, once I get
these crews set, now I'm able to move them on to different houses. While the
electricians are doing this house, the demolition crew is demo-ing another
house. While the drywallers come in and start drywalling, the electricians move
to the next house that's demo-ed. So on and so forth. You steadily keep it
running. I walk some of these streets and you can walk down the streets and
there's eight to ten boarded house in a block.
NUVO: I see
those all the time where I live. There are all sorts of abandoned houses just
sitting there. Nothing's being done.
John: Why doesn't
the city back us and let's get something done. Let's improve the look of our
NUVO: It's a win-win situation for everybody.
NUVO: Did Horizon House help you find the jobs that you've had?
John: That's all on my own. Horizon House, I
mean, I'm not downing them, it's a great place be able to shower. They're
beneficial. For me, it's a place to shower. It's a place to do a little bit of
laundry. My whole goal is, if I'm homeless, I don't want to look like it, act
like it, or smell like it. I mean, you see me sitting here. If you saw me on
the street, you would never believe that I'm homeless. I do have an education
underneath my belt, so I'm not going to talk stupid either. I mean, it's all
what you make it, all of what you want it to be.
NUVO: Besides renovating all these abandoned
houses, what else needs to be done?
John: (Long pause) You need to weed out the
ones that are making a career out of being homeless to the ones that are just
traveling through being homeless. I consider myself a traveler of being through
homeless, or being homeless.
NUVO: Meaning you're making strides toward
ending your homelessness?
John: Yeah. I mean, you have to. I can't see
this in-and-out type of situation.
NUVO: You've been homeless for how long?
John: Right now it's going on about a year. I
think it'll be a year in March. But, like I said, I could go to friends'
houses, but I choose not to.
NUVO: Why don't you choose to?
John: I'm a grown man (laughs). I gotta pull
myself up by my own bootstraps as they say. I cannot get comfortable by staying
with someone else or living off of someone else. I have to strive and live for
myself. First of all, I live for God. By the strength that God gives me, I can
live on my own. I can live basically where I'm staying. I've
been blessed with it. I am paying for it, a little bit of money. And it does
entitle me to... it has a light socket where the light comes on at a certain time
of night. I put a screw-in pull switch on it. I can plug in an electric
blanket. I can recharge my phone there. So, at night I got a thermal sleeping
bag. I have an electric blanket that I can turn on. I have another thermal
sleeping bag, so when it drops to zero I can put that in and turn that on.
Right now, with even the cold weather that we've had right now, I've never
turned it above four.
NUVO: So you stay warm?
John: Oh, it'll make you sweat. I tried it on
a cold night. I had it on nine and I woke up pouring down in sweat and it was
like, "Man!" And I haven't even put the other sleeping bag in there. So, I know
God has blessed me that I'll be able to stay warm throughout, no matter how
cold it gets. Now, getting up in the morning, getting dressed (laughs), it's
gonna be a different story. I mean I've even thought about getting one of the
little under-the-desk heaters and just plug that in just to take the chill out
of the air of the space that I have. But, I'm not trying to run up the electric
bill of the place that I'm at. They know I'm there and they've been through
being homeless before themselves and it's like, "You don't bring no drama to
us, you stay under the radar, we don't have any problem with you staying in
here." So, like I said, I've been blessed at being homeless.
NUVO: What's a day in your life like?
John: A day in my life is, I get up between 6
and 7:30. Go get me a bite to eat. Usually, - I build decks and fences –
we go out and work. We'll work from daylight to dark. Come back, get another
little bite to eat and go lay down for the night. Sometimes, I usually will go
a day or so, no more than two days, without a shower. But, come down here
(Horizon House) first thing in the morning, 7 o'clock. Get me a shower. Take
care of some laundry I need to do. Do a little bit of laundry. Take that back
and go to work.
NUVO: The economy's tanked now and a
lot of money has been cut from places like Horizon House. Have you noticed any
cuts in staff, cuts in hours?
John: I've seen the cuts, but like I said,
I'm not trying to live off of them. The ones that is hurting is the ones trying
to live off of them. If you don't want to be homeless, you don't have to be
homeless. Some people make it a choice to be homeless. They want to go out and
panhandle. I mean, it's just like the guys sitting on the corner for nine, ten
hours holding up a sign, "I'm not gonna lie, it's for beer," or "I'm homeless.
Can you help?" Or you see them standing at the exits of the interstate. I mean,
come on, if you can hold a sign and stand there that long, you can at least go
find a job (laughs). I'd rather work. The Bible says if a man doesn't work, he shouldn't eat. Holding a sign is
not considered working to me. I want to be a productive citizen.