On the street
Former homeless man helps the homeless
Saturday, January 12, 2013
On paper, at least, homeless numbers are down
WENATCHEE — The number of homeless people recorded in the Wenatchee area dropped about 25 percent between January of 2011 and January of 2012.
This doesn’t mean that the actual numbers of homeless people are lower, says an official with the city of Wenatchee.
“Our sense is that homelessness is not down,” said planning manager Monica Libbey. “Just talking with the service agencies that help the homeless, they’re not seeing any slowing in demand for services. That’s what we go on; they’re on the front lines.”
Libbey does not know why the count of 664, taken last January, was down from the count taken in January of 2011 of 879. The count was 778 in 2010 and 748 in 2009.
For 2012, the homeless count of 664 breaks down as 241 people who are living in shelters but are homeless, 40 people who are unsheltered, and 383 people living with family or friends.
State homeless numbers were 20,336 in 2012, and 20,290 in 2011.
The count of homeless people is taken on a specific day every January, with data included in a national Point In Time survey. Figures for this year are expected in April, Libbey said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that communities receiving federal funds from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program conduct a point-in-time count at least every other year.
In the Wenatchee area, the count is conducted annually.
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— Dee Riggs, World staff
Homeless fair set for Jan. 24
Homeless people are invited to be counted and to receive free clothing and food on Jan. 24 at the Wenatchee Community Center, 504 S. Chelan Ave.
The event, scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m., is the annual National Point-In-Time Homeless Count and Community Resource Fair. The event aims to help homeless people in Chelan and Douglas counties and is sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center of North Central Washington.
People who attend will be asked to take a survey.
They can receive clothes, food and hygiene items. Other organizations that help the homeless will be on hand to explain their services.
Officials with agencies wanting to participate should contact Tanya Bradford, volunteer and special programs coordinator for the Women’s Resource Center, at 662-0121, Ext. 11, by Jan. 23.
— Dee Riggs, World staff
WENATCHEE — At a glance, from yards away, Lance Lowman can spot a rubber portable.
“The first sign, is somebody sitting in the car, and lots of steam in the windows,” he says. “Then, you can see a lot of stuff in the back seat and stuff on the dashboard.”
Every Wednesday morning, Lowman heads out onto the streets of Wenatchee, looking for rubber portables, so called because they’re passenger vehicles that people live in.
Lowman is the homeless liaison for the Women’s Resource Center in Wenatchee. Part of his job is to deliver information about local services to homeless people.
Not everyone is eager to talk, but Lowman has a carrot: a sack lunch.
On a recent winter Wednesday, with temperatures hovering in the mid-20s, Lowman parks his car in one of the lots at Riverfront Park and heads over to an old Ford Ranger with a canopy. It’s occupied by a 60-some-year-old man named Bob. He’s bundled up with three sleeping bags and hanging out in the cab with his whitish dog, Looney.
Warm air shimmers out from inside the vehicle as Bob rolls down his window. He is eager for the sack lunch that Lowman holds in his hand, but it only comes his way after Lowman chats him up.
“How’s it going today?” Lowman asks.
“Stayin’ warm,” says Bob.
Bob is one of Lowman’s regulars. He’s almost always parked at the Riverfront Park lot, engine running and a book in his hand or a movie showing on a portable DVD player.
Many Wednesdays ago, Bob got Lowman’s spiel about local services, but he’s not interested. He says he chooses to live in his truck and doesn’t want to move indoors.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says. “I feel bad for people who pay rent; they’re throwing away $600 a month.”
Like many of Wenatchee’s homeless who have vehicles, Bob parks in a public parking lot at a local park during the day. He spends his nights at a secluded spot he’s found up by Rocky Reach Dam. Many other homeless people, Lowman says, spend nights at the Walmart parking lot, where nobody hassles them to leave.
Bob says he tries to walk with Looney about an hour a day on the local trails, and, when he gets bored, he heads to McDonald’s for a cup of coffee, to the Lighthouse Christian Ministries for a warm meal, or he drives up to Chelan to go fishing with a buddy. He also works, doing yard maintenance, when the weather is warm.
Lowman hands Bob his sack lunch and looks for other people to help in parking lots that he is all-too familiar with. In 2007, Lowman spent nine months there, living in a van with his wife.
“I know what it’s like to live on the street and not have a whole lot,” says the 51-year-old Lowman. “We saw compassion come from different people. There was one lady from a church who saw my wife trying to repair our exhaust system and she paid for us to get it fixed. It makes you cry when somebody is so nice.”
The former salesman says his downward slide began about six years ago. The catalyst was methamphetamine. His sales route took in eight counties and, he says, he was looking for a way to stay awake while driving.
“I started by putting a little bit in my coffee, to perk me up and make me feel euphoric,” he says. “Then I found out that you can smoke this stuff and it gets you even higher. From the first time I smoked methamphetamine, I was hooked.”
About 10 months later, he says, he realized meth was “leading me down a path that was not going to be very good” and he asked for a leave from his job to get treatment. Instead, he was fired.
To make money, he started selling meth. That lasted for about 18 months until he got busted for possession and spent 60 days in jail.
“My wife — we’ve been married 30 years — and she said, flat out, if you touch methamphetamine again, we’re done.”
In 2008, the homeless couple moved into the Bruce Transitional Living facility in Wenatchee, which is operated by the Women’s Resource Center. Lowman says he was determined “to work the program.” That meant staying off drugs and alcohol, and trying to put his life back together.
Elsewhere at the park
Lowman heads over to an older model blue sedan occupied by another Bob. A heart condition and hospital stay ate up this Bob’s money and he spends nights in a small trailer with some friends. He dozes in the park during the day, then heads to a job at a local home improvement store in the evening.
“I’m saving a little money to get my own place,” he says.
Lowman hands Bob a lunch and heads over to a red van, occupied by, yet another Bob. Like the other two Bobs, he’s heard Lowman’s information on services and is just eager for the sack lunch.
He is a terse talker and says he’s homeless by choice. ‘I don’t get along with people,” he says.
Lowman drives to another lot along the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail and spies a small pickup that he hasn’t seen before. The windows are steamed up and there’s a man sleeping inside.
Lowman raps softly on the window. The occupant, startled, sits bolt upright, then opens the door and trips on a sleeping bag as he exits out the passenger side of the truck. Lowman introduces himself and asks if the man needs any help.
“I just came up from Texas — for some chick,” says the man who appears to be about 30. “Stupid idea.”
The man, named Guy, says he “just got kicked out of where I was staying” and adds that he’d like to find short-term work, enough to get him back to Texas where it’s warm. Lowman tells him about some local job-assistance offices and hands him a lunch, a bag of toiletries and a pair of wool socks.
Help at the Bruce
During the year that he and his wife lived at the Bruce, Lowman says he found the program to be just what he needed to get turned around. Officials there helped him find medical help for bipolar disorder, which, he says, he’s sure he’s had since a teenager but it was never diagnosed. He also got into an outpatient drug treatment program in Wenatchee. He says he’s been sober since June 18, 2008.
Lowman, who calls himself a people person, also joined the resident council at the Bruce and eventually caught the eye of Phoebe Nelson, director of the Women’s Resource Center. About three years ago, she offered him a position as outreach program liaison.
“People lose their lives on the street, so having somebody looking out for people who are not sheltered, and going to where they are, is saving lives,” Nelson says.
Lowman works 10 hours a week. In addition to his drive-arounds, Lowman leads two support groups at the Bruce. One is a men’s group, and the other is a daily goals and preparation group.
“I wish I had known an outreach worker when I was down and out,” Lowman says. “I didn’t know what services were available to me.”
In his street work, Lowman shares how people can get services, such as food, shelter, medical help and clothing. Sometimes, he goes beyond talking. He says he’s driven people to state and federal offices several times.
“I have people who do not know how to read or write so they don’t go into DSHS for benefits,” he said.
Lowman said he shares his personal story “over time” and it helps homeless people know that “I never stand in judgment of them.”
‘You can’t beat the view’
At the park parking lot near the foot of Orondo, Lowman hands out lunches to Jerry and Jose. Jerry says he likes the park because “It’s nice and quiet and you can’t beat the view.” At night, he stays with friends in East Wenatchee. Jose spends his nights at Hospitality House.
They don’t offer explanations about why they’re homeless. Lowman speculates that they’ve become demoralized by their situations and don’t have the emotional energy left to hunt for a job.
Lowman heads off to check out other park parking lots, continuing to pass out the 15 to 20 lunches he hands out every Wednesday.
Lowman says the Bruce is not the answer for several on his route. Al is one of them. The 59-year-old often stands near the intersection of Maiden Lane and North Wenatchee Avenue and begs for money. When traffic is slow, or at night, he huddles inside three sleeping bags under a big pine tree below the Walmart parking lot. He doesn’t have a car.
After getting a sack lunch from Lowman, Al says he used to be a master plumber and made good money, but then, he says, he got divorced and things went bad from there. For details, he shrugs his shoulders.
Lowman, as he has for weeks with Al, suggests the Bruce.
“No shelters,” Al says emphatically, and he holds up a 16-ounce can of beer. He knows, from Lowman, that the Bruce requires no drinking.
Al says he’s raised $81 by panhandling and needs $86 more for a bus ticket to Michigan, where he’s got family. It can’t happen too soon, he says, because a manager at Walmart told him that he couldn’t keep sleeping below the store.
“But that was two days ago,” he says, looking around, “and he hasn’t been back.”
Lowman tells Al, ‘You’re a good man; best of luck to you,” and heads up from the pine tree toward the parking lot.
He’s done for the day, and it’s well after noon on a dreary, gray day. He shakes his head slowly, glancing in Al’s direction.
“Having been in sales, you learn to take no as an answer, and I deal with the same thing on the street,” he says. “Nine out of 10 people on the street say ‘no’ to housing because they don’t want to live a clean and sober life.”
He tries not to let the “no’s” get him down, and says he lives for the times that he can get someone help, even if it’s just a sack lunch.
“It makes you feel that you’re making a difference,” he says. “That one little thing you do to help somebody may change one little thing that makes them change themselves.
“I’m taking it one person at a time.”
Dee Riggs: 664-7147
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