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Matt Wallace

Street-views

February 1, 2009 | By | No Comments

Here are a few questions and responses from several of my friends who are currently or have recently been houseless.

This interview was included in our Winter ’09 paper newsletter. Please sign up for future newsletters HERE.

DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY….
Plague: I’d be in the mountains on a sunny day with no people and no problems. Or I’d be on a boat in the middle of the ocean.

Robyn: No police contact and good panhandling.

Crystal: Carton of cigs, 12 pack of Corona, watching Wrestle-Mania.

Mystika: Wake up in the morning – I’d be married, have kids, cook breakfast (blueberry pancakes and bacon). Pack kid’s lunches and send them to school and work. Cook treats all day. Work in my backyard garden that I designed myself. Take pictures of my kids when they come home. Have family time. Do homework together. Just a bunch of stuff a family does. Put them to sleep. Read them a book. Watch them sleep.

Nacho: Waking up, going to work, having cigs, and having no debt. Relaxing at the end of the evening and then going to bed.

Keri: Spending time with kids; paradise; no war; no poverty; no starvation; no death.

Richie: Waking up next to a beautiful woman. Being at the right place at the right time. Working and then enjoying an evening after work with friends and family.

Roberta: Getting up, making breakfast for the kids, sending them to school, going to work, coming home, cooking dinner, family time, putting kids to bed.
DESCRIBE WINTER ON THE STREETS IN A COUPLE OF WORDS…
Plague: Not copasetic.

Robyn: Loneliness, harsh, unforgiving.

Zillionaire: Drink as much water as you can to stay alive, wear as many layers as you have or else you’ll freeze, and they get dirty.

Tino: Cold and uncaring.

Crystal: Very, very cold and no sleep – hard to sleep when you are that cold.

Nacho: Long, cold, lonely.

Keri: Hell, straight up hell. Cold, lonely, harassed, “Move you’re a**!”, “Get away from that heater!”

Mystika: Freezing, scared, shelterless, always on the move, cuddle with people to keep warm.

Richie: Cold, insecure, doubtful, suicidal, alone, wishful, ambivalent, unaccepted.

Roberta: I don’t remember anymore. Ha – I must have been crazy!

WHERE’S THE MOST INTERESTING PLACE YOU’VE EVER SLEPT?
Roberta: In the basement of the old abandoned Silos. Me and John drug a couch down there. Urban Peak heard that we were down there and came to check on us.

LaDawn: (laughs) Outside.

Keri: On the heater grates on Stout Street by the Convention Center.

DO YOU SEE OR EXPERIENCE GOD ON THE STREETS?
Plague: Yeah, everyday

Robyn: All the feedings and help for the homeless is sponsored by churches/people who help. I’m not as violent as I use to be since I’ve become a Christian.

Tino: A smile and an encouraging word.

Crystal: The other night when I got stranded, friends helped me out and I got to stay at a church.

Nacho: Every day, whenever I see people getting along. I experience God whenever I go somewhere and I get this feeling that I shouldn’t go and then I find out something bad happened where I almost went. I experience God when I see people getting along.

Keri: I asked God, “Where are you?” and He was there for me. He directed me where to go. He sent me to the police department.

Mystika: I’ve noticed that in my bad times, I have more strength than before I knew God. When I’m down I ask His guidance, and I feel myself getting stronger, and I feel warmth within my body.

Richie: I think that God is looking after me because after everything I’ve been through, He hasn’t necessarily provided me with a security blanket, but he’s provided me with the resources I need to survive.

Roberta: I met this guy downtown once. When he found out we were sleeping in the Silos, he took us to Biggs and bought us sleeping bags, lights, food, and warm cloths. He even gave me a job. I worked for him for months.

LaDawn: When I attempted suicide, He brought me out, and now I appreciate life more. I was 17.

WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOU OPEN TO TALK ABOUT GOD TO SOME PEOPLE, BUT NOT OTHERS?
Robyn: It takes a personal relationship.

Zillionaire: Anyone that’s intelligent and not condemning.

Tino: Dry Bones or Scum of the Earth Church because they have taken the time, energy, and effort to build a relationship with me and not just condemn, criticize, and judge me.

Crystal: If it’s a conversation where I don’t feel targeted.

Nacho: People who actually want to talk about God and don’t want just to argue their point. Someone who’s open to God, not just their concept of God. I don’t want to argue about your concept of God! I want to talk about how God loves us.

Keri: Body language. I won’t talk to people who resent us the whole time they are trying to help us.

Mystika: The approach that they take, like with Dry Bones, they let you know God in your own way, at your own pace. You give us time to find God. Other people just throw Him at you. You are always there to answer questions and help us to know more about God.

Richie: I’m open to talk about God with people, but I have a problem with people who try to argue a point of view and are ignorant and aren’t open-minded.

WHAT DOES THE WORD “CHRISTIAN” MEAN TO YOU?
Roberta: I don’t know exactly. The word “Christian” used to scare me. You guys really opened my eyes to a new way of looking at Christians. Now it’s what I strive to be.

Keri: Christ-like; a loving lifestyle.

THIS IS GOING OUT TO PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT DRY BONES AND WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHAT GOES ON HERE IN DENVER. DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY TO THE PEOPLE READING THIS INTERVIEW?
Robyn: The immenseness of their love is amazing. Keep up the good work.

Plague: Thanks for all your help!

Tino: Thank you so much for supporting an amazing ministry.

Crystal: This is a great place to hang out and if you ever need help, you guys are the ones to go to.

Nacho: Dry Bones does a lot of good for a lot of people. Dry Bones is a good place to start to get help. People shouldn’t take advantage of these guys.

Keri: Thank you! You are REAL Christians. You are not Rice-Christians. You guys really care about us. You are like family to us! [Rice-Christians, according to Keri, are, “…those who just serve you a bowl rice and say, ‘God bless.’ They aren’t willing to be your friend on a deeper level.”]

Mystika: In the beginning, when I first came to Dry Bones, I was a wreck. I was depressed, alone, angry, enraged, withdrawn, and addicted. After coming around the people of Dry Bones, I started little by little to love myself. By loving myself, I was able to open myself up to trust people and let myself be helped. I was able to come back to God after I had doubted Him for so long. Without you guys, I wouldn’t have made it this far…I really mean that.”

You guys are loving and caring. You are God’s angels to bring His lost ones home.

Interview with JC and Carol

April 2, 2008 | By | No Comments

Nikki: Carol, tell me your story:
Carol: I have an older brother, then we were adopted out. We were adopted out by a couple from Texas that adopted both me and my brother. My brother messed up and went to prison. I got married and had two kids. My husband was very abusive. I left him, came here. So that’s my life.

Nikki: Why did you come to Denver?
Carol: I fled. My husband beat me up really bad, and I left at two o’clock in the morning with my kids. I came to Denver because that is where my adoptive parents were. We still talk every now and then.

Nikki: What about you J.C.? What is your story?
J.C.: I’ve lived in Denver my whole life. I went through the 11 ½ grade. If I had busted my butt for the last four months, I would have graduated.
I have a brother and two kids and my parents live here. My kids live with my parents, so I see my kids.

I want to see my kids when they are 21; I want to see their kids. I don’t want to give up. Life’s too short to just give up and roll over.

So we’re trying. Both of us want our kids back eventually, but they are in a better place than I can give them right now.

Nikki: Do you have a good relationship with your parents?
J.C.: Kind of. I guess. …They would rather me do better than what I’ve accomplished in life.

Nikki: Where did your story lead you to being homeless?
J.C.: I was told to get a job or get out when I was 18. So I traveled a lot, decided to come back home, met Carol.

I traveled to Georgia, all up the South, pretty much anywhere warm. If it was cold, I wasn’t going. So – like Georgia, Florida, Louisiana.

Nikki: Were you homeless there?
J.C.: Yes, but that was not a good time in my life. I made a lot of mistakes. But when you’re young you make mistakes. If I had listened to my parents and never went to Georgia, I would have been safer staying here. I came back here with a felony and was homeless. I lost everything in Georgia. I picked up a record there.

Nikki: How does a felony affect your life?
J.C.: It’s hard. Like a lot of businesses do background checks, and when it pops up they start looking at you different – like, “Why didn’t you tell us? Because I don’t tell anyone!” It’s nobody’s business. I like companies who don’t ask and I don’t tell.

Nikki: How about you, Carol – how did your story lead to homelessness?
Carol: I came to Denver and saw a lot of street kids on the streets and I took them back to my place and started housing them. The street kids that were staying at my place stole over $2,000 from me. That is what I was going to use to pay my rent. My next-door neighbor called the cops and the cops were being really rude and said, “Do you have a permit for running a shelter?” And I said, “I’m not running a shelter, you know, they are just staying with me for a couple of days. They are trying to get back on their feet.” And they saw my kids, and social services were called, and they said that my kids were not in a safe place because I had all of these street kids with me and they didn’t know if they were mass murderers or something.

I became homeless after they took my kids. They kicked me out of my apartment. I lost my kids. I lost everything. So I just gave up for a little bit.

Nikki: What is it like to be homeless? Describe the street life.
J.C.: Cold. The police mess with you.

Carol: You don’t sleep.

J.C.: You really don’t get much sleep.

Carol: …I’m worried about who’s going to take my shoes; who’s going to take my stuff? Am I going to wake up to the cops holding their guns out at me? So you really don’t sleep.

J.C.: It’s scary. It’s dirty.

Carol: It’s hard; it’s rough. You have to worry about the cops messing with you during the day.

J.C.: …Messing with you at night. You have to worry about the cops pretty much all of the time.

Carol: There’s some good things about it because you know you have your freedom.

J.C.: I can go anywhere every day. I like being free. My soul feels so much better when I’m free. I’m just a free spirit I guess. I’ll go anywhere in a second. They call that bi-polar though. Seriously though, I’ve been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder for that very reason. Because my mom couldn’t figure out why I could be distracted so easily.

Nikki: What are you looking for when you are looking for a place to sleep?
J.C.: Anything that blocks wind, the weather, the elements, the cops.

We used to squat down on Broadway so we got to know the cops really good. They were good – district four has some good policeman. District six, I understand why they aren’t so nice, but district four, they were good about letting us sleep where we had to sleep. They didn’t mess with us unless you were like starting stuff with people.

Carol: They used to let us sleep on the grates outside of the city courthouse because of the heat that came up from the grates. You would stay warm. If it snowed you wouldn’t be able to feel the snow because of the heat rising up from your sleeping bag or your tent. Him and I had a tent that we put up on the grates in the snow. They are uncomfortable because they were metal, but you could put cardboard over them.

J.C.: That was one place you could sleep and not get messed with because they had an all night security guard that would walk around the building. The city would let us sleep there, but there got to be a lot of homeless sleeping there. A lot. So they had to kick us off. I think that is why they don’t like the homeless here. Some of the homeless are kind of rude; they don’t care about nobody.

Carol: But we used to wake up to a really rude security guard. Every morning he would kick us to wake us up. Literally kick us. He would yell, “Get up! Time to get up!” He didn’t have to kick us. He could have just told us nicely to get up, but…

Nikki: What are people’s reactions that you’ve seen towards the homeless?
Carol: There are always the people that will lend a helping hand. Then you have the people who will tell you to get a job or to “F-off” and they are just rude.

J.C.: They don’t even give you the time of day. They act like they don’t hear you.

Carol: They just look at you like you are a piece of trash – like they are better than us.

Nikki: How does that make you feel?
Carol: I don’t care what they think. The way I see it is that if you help out somebody, it will come back to you ten fold. It’s like last night, this lady came up to me. She had a black eye and a busted lip. Her husband had just beat her. She asked me if I had any change. I gave her all the money I had. I said, “This is all the money I have. Good luck. I hope you get to where you are going.”

I just don’t see why people have got to look down on us. Sometimes I see where they are coming from. “Get a job,” but it’s kind of hard when you have felonies to get a job.

J.C.: And when you sleep outside, that’s another thing that makes it hard to get a job. They think it’s so easy to get off of the streets, but all the shelters…you’re too scared to go to because people rob you there. I would rather take my chances outside.

Nikki: What do you see for your future?
J.C.: Hopefully off of the streets, hopefully have my kids back. Hopefully with Carol as long as she stays with me. …She’s doing more than I’m doing.

Nikki: What kind of role has church played in your life in the past?
Carol: I was raised in church because my dad was the minister at the local Church of Christ. So, we were forced to go to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. When I got married I fled away from church, but I have come back since then. My dad was just really really rough on me, you know, “Go upstairs and read your Bible and get ready for church.” He wouldn’t let me go out with my friends because I needed to be reading my Bible. He was just really hard and I was really rebellious.

Nikki: How did the church respond to your divorce?
Carol: Well, they kind of looked down on me because I was divorced and a single mother. They looked down on me and were talking about me behind my back, so my dad resigned and went to Oklahoma. That’s one of the reasons why I fled because they were judging me and I was like, “Who are you to judge, when you are preaching about don’t judge? Let God judge.” So I think that is why I left church for a little bit.

Nikki: What do relationships mean to you?
Carol: It depends on the person. Like with me, I’m a people person. I love to help out people and talk to people. A friendship relationship is cool. But the relationship that J.C. and I have, I’m just happy in it no matter what. So, relationships mean a lot to me because I didn’t get that when I was little. Relationships help me cope.

J.C.: I would be lost without them. Some of these people I’ve known for 10 years. They are good people. Carol’s been with me for a minute. I don’t know what I would do without her. I would just get frustrated.

Nikki: Is it hard to develop trust in people?
Carol: Yeah, it is!

Nikki: Do you remember the first time you met Dry Bones?
Carol: About two years ago. My friend had told me, “Look, there’s this church group that feeds you and does fun stuff on Thursday nights. This is when y’all were feeding down by the Platte River. I just saw a lot of people that were willing to help. And I saw street kids that were actually happy. That’s the first time I met Dry Bones. I just started coming around more and more and more after that.

J.C.: I started coming to play pool. That’s where I first met you guys.

Nikki: What does having a relationship with an organization like Dry Bones mean to you?
J.C.: You guys brought me back to my belief.

Carol: It shows that somebody’s actually out there that cares and that wants to help and not just mess with our heads. Some people say, “Oh yeah, we can help you,” and then help us for a little bit, and then whenever we turn a certain age, they give up on us.

Nikki: What are your views on God and your relationship with Him? How have you seen Him work in your life?
Carol: I just think He’s awesome!

J.C.: He’ll burn you if you do dirty, I’ll tell you that!

Carol: I’ve seen him work through my three-year-old son. He was supposed to be dead, but now he’s off of his feeding tubes and he’s walking. He was never supposed to walk or feed himself. He was suppose to be fed by tubes and go to the bathroom with tubes and be a paraplegic for the rest of his life. My family and I were just praying. Then about a month ago, my son’s caseworker called me and said that my son was off of the tubes. He’s walking and talking and very healthy. So, that’s how I’ve seen God work.

J.C.: God helped me get clean. Cause that was not easy!

Carol: Getting clean. Praying to God almost every night and going to church.

J.C.: I’ve seen Him a lot. The more I go to church, the better my life is getting. But once I do mess up, it comes back to bite me.

Carol: We have a choice to listen to what God wants or to shrug and flick Him off our shoulder. I see that He’s a caring Father and that He wants us to do right. I mean, if we pray for something, He might not give it to us right away. He might give it to us in little portions. When He sees that we are doing something right, I think that He is just going to explode and give it to you right there.

Nikki: How have you seen God work on the streets?
Carol: Down by the Platte River with my street brother and J.C. My street brother had swallowed a very hot crack pipe. It almost killed him. Now all he talks about is God, because he says that God saved his life.

J.C.: God saved his life, seriously.

Carol: It went scalding straight down his throat. Made his throat swell up. They had to put him on a breathing tube. He says that God was showing him that this is not the life I want for you. And now, he just walks around and talks to people about God. God works wonders through people.

Nikki: Is there anything that you would want the people to hear?
J.C.: We’re not different.

Carol: Yeah, we’re not different and don’t look down on us. We’re trying, it just takes us a little bit longer and it’s harder.

J.C. I know that I’ve done things to myself to get me into this situation.

Carol: We’ve made mistakes and served our time and now we are just trying to make a life. When people look down on us, it just makes us want to give up sometimes.

Nikki: Anything else you want to say?
J.C.: Go Dry Bones! You guys rock. It’s good to know I actually got some people who care. Not all of these organizations care. So it’s good to know that you are there. I want to tell everyone out there, that Dry Bones is really good folks. I’ve good friends here.

I found out how much you cared for me just the other day when Robbie came to check on me. He came just to see me and talk to me for a little bit. It was just awesome. I deeply appreciate that you guys truly care. Y’all sincerely care. Y’all are good people.

View a 2010 interview with JC (Nick) and Carol HERE.