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Homeless have few resources

by F.T. Norton
ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com
Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealKevin Meadows talks about being homeless on Wednesday at the Carson City Library.
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While Carson City has a homeless shelter for women and families, and homeless alcoholics and drug addicts can find shelter in a number of rehabs in the area, the sober single men – their lives interrupted by a downturn in the economy – struggle to survive in freezing night temperatures.

A fire in April knocked out the city’s only men’s shelter. It has yet to reopen.

“I stayed invisible for a year,” said Kevin Meadows, 53, who lost his job painting a year ago and has been living on the streets of Carson City ever since. “Part of this is becoming visible and saying to people, ‘It’s happening.'”

Meadows is clean cut, well spoken and kind. He doesn’t use harsh tones or exaggerations when he talks of his daily plight. He notes that he doesn’t drink or smoke, and has never had an addiction problem.

He just found himself homeless with nowhere to turn.

“It was all a shock to me in the beginning,” said Meadows. “I knew nothing about being homeless. I had no clue where to turn.”

Meadows found, however, a community online that helps him to emotionally survive one of the toughest challenges of his life. Using the Carson City Library’s Internet access, he posts his day’s activities to Twitter under the name Rocketman7777.

“Will paint houses for a place to live thru this winter,” he wrote on Nov. 29.

“I have never been like this ever and I’m not happy sleeping outside (especially) when it’s cold,” a posting Nov. 27 reads.

Meadows found the Internet and has taken to Twitter thanks to another homeless friend who introduced him. Through the website http://www.wearevisible.com, Meadows can access resources as well as learn the ins and outs of Internet surfing.

At first, said Meadows, he thought Twitter was just chatter, but now he’s learned his posts reach people. A woman from Chicago recently wrote a letter to the editor asking what Carson City can do to help its homeless. She spoke through Twitter with Meadows.

That online support means a lot to him, he said.

“I don’t feel all alone this way,” he said.

But Meadows isn’t alone. In 2009, Friends in Service Helping, which ran the 16-bed Carson City men’s shelter that closed eight months ago, helped 18,000 people, said Director Jim Peckham. According to Carson City Health and Human Services, there are an estimated 500 homeless people in the capital city.

Peckham said the struggle to reopen the shelter on the Stewart Reservation in South Carson City has been hindered by codes.

“It’s on state property and we are trying to accommodate all the needs to upgrade the facility. We’ve involved the state and the city, and the city has been very responsive, and the state is increasingly involved. I’m hopeful that in the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to get where we need to be,” Peckham said.

“The state has asked us to put in fire sprinklers which have been installed, the city helped with a new water line,” said Peckham. “We’re just continuing to make changes so that we can meet the guidelines that the state puts into place.”

James Foote, 41, said he hopes something happens in Carson City soon.

Foote said he arrived in Carson City from “zooreno” three weeks ago. He’s been sleeping wherever he can find a spot to lay his head. While Reno has shelters, the “debauchery” he sees in the biggest little city was enough to send him looking for safer pastures.

“On every corner you’ll find your animal of the week. There’s homeless people stealing from homeless people. It’s an infestation of immorality there,” he said.

Foote has been homeless since losing his tile job a year ago. He admits being once addicted to crack cocaine, but after going to rehab, said he’s cleaned himself up from that vice.

Now, he’s hoping to find someplace that will give him a job so he can get back onto his feet.

On most days, Foote “flies a sign” on Winnie Lane. One side reads, “Hungry,” the other “Need work. Willing to travel. Anything helps.”

“What gets me is when I’m flying a sign, people look at me like I’m crazy,” he said. “Don’t people understand the times we’re in? It just hurts.”

He talked of how earlier this week sleeping outside was nearly impossible. The temperatures reached 9 degrees.

“I started covering my feet with everything I owned,” he said. “My feet were so cold and I couldn’t do anything to warm them up.”

Rocky Wilson, 54, has been homeless for four years. He has lived in Carson City for 30. He talked of once owning four trucks and running his own concrete business. But when construction dried up his income went away.

“I went from rich to poor. There was no work,” said Wilson. “One truck went away. Then two trucks. Three trucks. I sold all my tools. It was like overnight.”

Meadows points to those around him to prove his point.

“We’re people. People from all walks of life. Something needs to be done for the good of many,” he said. “Families are helped. Men with women are helped. But single men are looked upon as drunks.”