Local 898-- serving the Ford Rawsonville Plant

The Face of Homelessness

The Face of Homelessness

 

By John Blair, UAW 898 Retiree

 

The almost completed house sat boarded up and deserted. One day it would be a beautiful home setting on an acre of green, landscaped lawn, but in the early spring of 1965 it was an empty shell, boarded up, deserted, a silent testament to the dreams of an under financed property owner. The lawn was overgrown with weeds and sprouting underbrush, the driveway blocked by a wavering rank of cinderblocks.

 

It was obvious that no one was supposed to be there, yet a plume of smoke curled upward from a fireplace chimney. I pulled my car up close to the cinderblock barrier and killed the engine. I was as much a trespasser as the people I knew were inside, the people whose story I thought I knew. They were the reason I was there. They had taken out a small loan from a loan company that they were unable to repay. I was “the man,” a twenty two year old vet with a family and a head full of dreams but little in the way of career possibilities.

 

I had no idea how the company had found an address, and I certainly had no idea that they were squatters. I followed a path of trampled down weeds through a tangled mass of devil’s pitchfork and cockleburs. In the back I found a sliding door. The board blocking the entrance had been torn off and the lock forced to gain entry. Approaching the door, I called out, “Hello, the house.” I stepped to the door, opened it just a crack and called out again, no response. I stepped into the darkened kitchen and called out once again. I did not expect violence, but there was always the possibility that someone inside might take serious exception to my presence.

 

Following a flickering yellow light, I crossed the empty kitchen and around a corner into the living room. There, three figures huddled for warmth around a large stone fireplace. It was warmer there, but the air smelled of wood smoke, mildew and dust. One shadowy figure, a boy of perhaps five stood and gazed at me, his face gaunt and dominated by eyes that seemed far too large. A blanket shrouded his shoulders, accentuating his twig like arms and distended belly. Oversized knots on his scrawny bowed legs masqueraded as knees. During the hour or so I talked to his parents (?) he never spoke or took his eyes off of me.

 

That was my first face to face encounter with homelessness. I was not some bright eyed child. I had seen places where beggars crowded the streets and chamber pots were dumped from windows onto cobbled or dirt streets. I had seen it but never looked at it face to face. This was not “there” it was here, within a stone’s throw of the place I spent my teenage years.

 

I wish I could say I did something for them, but that would be a lie. I drove by the following morning, hoping to do something I think, but they were gone. I knew the man had lost his job. That much was in their folder. Were they drunks or thieves or helpless victims of mental illness? Did that malnourished little boy ever get a place to live or the opportunity to go to school? Did he live to achieve maturity? I’ll never know. All I do know is that his sad face at times still haunts my dreams.

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