A spiral into homelessness, chapter two

When Steve walked out of my office on July 8, I sensed that he was optimistic. To say he'd been down on his luck would not fully describe the difficulties he had faced. Until that moment, he had been a few days from being truly homeless after medical and financial bombshells exploded the basically normal family life he'd been living.


But several people had read and been moved by the column he wrote and we printed on the Appeal's Opinion page on July 6. In it, he did not ask for help. His purpose, he said, was to show others how quickly and unexpectedly it can happen.


Here's how he ended that essay:


"Both my wife and I are unemployed professionals and we continue to wonder if our prayers are being heard. Our 30-day eviction notice came to pass 11 days ago. We left behind a 60-day delinquent utility bill, our rent 60 days delinquent and zero financial resources to move anywhere. We were even lacking the financial resources to place into storage what little we had left and thus sold virtually every bit of personal property during our final move-out day at a panic garage sale.

We are now separated, my wife and children living in a vacant-empty low-rent one bedroom apartment while I sleep on the floor in but another sleazy roadside motel. Our only transportation sits quietly in the motel parking lot empty of gas, registration now past due by 2 days and insurance non-existent. Somehow the term "being grounded" now takes on a new meaning.

Who were we you might ask? We were quite possibly your next door neighbor."


No, he didn't ask for help. But help came. A man came to the Appeal the next morning and placed five $100 bills in my hand. They were for Steve, he said, insisting he remain anonymous.


It was that money that Steve left my office with on July 8. He was overwhelmed, he said. He was on his way to pay the rent on his wife's apartment ... she was close to being evicted. I told him to stay in touch with me ... others had e-mailed and wanted to know more about him as they might have leads on places he could stay.


But he didn't stay in touch. I heard nothing from him or about him until an e-mail Thursday morning:


"I am Steve's wife and I know you had contact with him regarding his (essay).

Have you heard from him?

I have a missing persons report out on him and am trying to make contact with any/all persons he has been corresponding with."


I had not, I wrote back, but asked her to call me.


She did, that afternoon, with news. She told me she had filed a police report because she was worried about him " that maybe he'd lost all hope and would try to kill himself. But deputies had located him in Carson City, about the same time as she was sending me the e-mail, and she had rushed to see him.


At that time, he'd been homeless " no longer even able to afford a cheap motel room " for several days and had apparently been sleeping in his truck, one of his few remaining possessions. He was dirty and had lost weight.


But he had not lost his pride. He was not happy that she'd filed the missing persons report.


"I'm homeless ... it's not a crime," he said as officers talked to him. He said he did not want any help.


But she wondered if beneath that weary face he was relieved, and what she heard him say to a deputy seemed to confirm the suspicion: "I'd rather put a bullet in my head than live another day like this."


As his wife and I talked, we tried to piece together what had happened to him after he left my office. He gave $300 of that money to her, so she could buy food and pay rent (she had viewed it as a godsend). The other $200 he apparently used to stay in the motel a little longer, to buy food, to live. There was $4 in his pocket on Thursday.


Steve is in civil protective custody now, and they're evaluating his mental status. There's really no reason to believe he won't check out fine and, if so, 72 hours after he was picked up, those questions will strike him across the face again: Where will he stay? How will he make a living? How will he find food?


I think back to the message he tried to send with the essay he wrote: His story is not so special. Many people are one diagnosis, one bad decision, one unlucky or unvigilant moment away from a similar fate. And many don't even know it.


Steve has what many homeless people do not have " someone who cares for him, even though that in itself is not a solution. "I just adore him beyond adore him," said his wife, and I could see a tear form in her eye.


They are separated, and she is living in a tiny apartment with her two children and neither views reconciliation as an option at this time.


That is where this chapter ends ... the unanswered questions. I am certain that Steve is wrestling with them now, trying to find options, trying to figure out how to suspend his pride. Trying to figure out if he wants to.


I wonder if the optimism I sensed on July 8 was real after all. Maybe it was just a glimmer of happiness that he could help his wife financially.


She hopes in these hours off the streets that he is able to rebuild his faith, to remember again something they had become fond of saying during their hard times together: "You don't have to know how, you just have to believe."


Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at bginter@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1221.

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