Rickey has a secret—one that he keeps from his closest friends and family.
He’s careful to make sure that no one can tell his secret by looking at him. “I never hold a sign, never beg for change. I never carry a suitcase or backpack in my hand. Keep myself up clean.” For Rickey, these are points of pride. Still, the fact remains. At 58 years old, Rickey is homeless.
Describing himself as having been “on his own” since high school graduation, Rickey has worked his entire life, first in a steel mill in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. Then, when the steel mill shut down, he moved to Minnesota and started working overnight custodial jobs. “I ain’t scared of work. I like a paycheck. I didn’t even know what ‘homeless’ means. You hear about it on TV, but I never thought it’d happen to me.”
“I like a paycheck. I didn’t even know what ‘homeless’ means. You hear about it on TV, but I never thought it’d happen to me.”
Then, Rickey got injured. Three years ago, he fell. His head hit concrete and bounced. He was rushed into an eight-hour surgery that resulted in a ten-day hospital stay and six permanent pins in his neck. His doctor told him he was an inch away from being paralyzed. Today, Rickey still experiences numbness in his hands and feet and is told he’ll never get the feeling back. It took a long time to just re-learn how to button his shirt. He still can’t tie his shoes. All of this means that Rickey’s working days are done. When he was injured, he was only six years away from retirement.
Without an income, Rickey lost his apartment. When he ran out of couches to hop, he struggled with going to a shelter. He hated the idea of taking charity. Then he started thinking, “I paid taxes. I worked all my life. I paid money to feed people. Now I need help.” He arrived at Our Saviour’s shelter last spring.
Although Rickey now has a hot dinner and safe place to sleep at night, his days are still difficult and tiring. He leaves the shelter early each morning with nowhere to go. He says, “You ride the bus, think about what you’re gonna do, what your plan is. Then when you get tired of riding the bus, you jump on the train and think more.”
Rickey also admits to drinking more because he’s homeless, explaining, “I just think I can drink and get away and feel better, but I wake up tomorrow, and I’m still homeless…still homeless.” In the winter months, drinking has served as a means of survival. He would drink enough to be admitted at detox, just to have a warm place to be. “A lot of guys did that…it’s cold out there! Can’t sleep outside. They keep you for two days…get out in the morning and be back by night.”
Now, Rickey is searching for an apartment. He can access housing funds through a public assistance program but can’t find a landlord to take his money. Because Rickey has a criminal background—one mistake he made twenty-one years ago—he can’t find housing today. Rickey reflects, “I’m a completely different person now. I got probation for my case. Haven’t been in trouble since. They seem like they want you to be homeless instead of giving you a chance again.” That’s why Rickey currently volunteers with an organization that helps people coming out of prison to get on their feet, providing clothes, furniture, and other necessities.
“I’m a completely different person now. I got probation for my case. Haven’t been in trouble since. They seem like they want you to be homeless instead of giving you a chance again.”
Our Saviour’s Housing is a place of second chances and will continue to support Rickey through his housing search and as he works to get his social security disability benefits approved. Rickey appreciates the way Our Saviour’s works with him, compared to the lack of dignity he’s experienced at other places. He concludes, “[They] don’t treat us like they’re better than us. It’s nice you can keep stuff at the shelter during the day. It’s cleaner. They’ve got a lot of respect for people. They help you get a place. The food’s good too!”