Part I of a series. Read Part II.
Jim is a homeless Vietnam vet who’s trapped in a Catch 22. He gets a pension each month, but due to extreme pain, he self-medicates using heroin, although he clarifies that he’s not strung out. And because he tests positive for illegal drugs, he can’t receive any pain management treatment through his veterans’ benefits. So he self-medicates and the cycle continues.
“They won’t manage my pain because I’m a drug addict,” says Jim (who requested that we not publish his real name due to some of his admitted activities). He gets his check each month, finds a hotel room for a week or two, then runs out of money and returns to the streets. And to places like a local homeless shelter, where we had the opportunity to speak with him and a number of residents.
As we prepare for another winter, the men we spoke with will be among the more than 800 people without a home as the bitter cold months roll in. (Jim is among the more-than-200 chronically homeless veterans in Akron.) Luckily, Akron also has a high concentration of charitable organizations like Haven of Rest Ministries that reach out to basic needs, along with helping these men (and women) find employment and budget their finances.
And their stories reveal men who are vulnerable yet optimistic. Kind-hearted, social. You know, like any one of us. And like Jim, a number of these men are in survival mode, desperate for their next meal, or some kind of break, and many say they aren’t getting the treatment they need, whether it’s for substance abuse, mental health issues or physical disabilities.
Xeng (pronounced Sang), 49, was at the Haven of Rest shelter for almost a month when we spoke with him. A lifelong Akron resident, he likes to play basketball, watch NBA games and hang out with friends. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which makes it difficult for him to maintain steady employment. When asked how he would describe himself, Xeng says, “I’m always happy, I love to help people, to serve others and I like to learn new things, and I like to make new friends.”
One of the reasons he found himself at the shelter was that he lacked a safety net that many have in their time of need, due to problems with his family.
There also are the men here who don’t struggle with substance abuse or mental illness; they’re just down on their luck.
Eric, 46, was at the shelter for the second time in his life when we spoke with him. He got into a bad financial situation and lost his money. He’s looking into disability for what he describes as “passing out spells” when he stands or sits for too long, but until then, he needs food and a place to lay his head at night.
Ever since he participated in the restaurant management program in high school, Eric’s loved to cook. He also likes to travel, go sight-seeing and enjoy the outdoors. Because of his situation, people treat him differently than he’s used to. “People step away from you because they find out you’re homeless and think you’re on drugs and alcohol, which I’ve never done in my life,” he says.
He adds that he’s learned to “go with the flow” and adapt to what life throws his way.
For those interested in helping with local homelessness there are a plethora of nonprofits, churches and outreach in need of donations and volunteers. Read Part II of the series.