When the routines on the street drag you downby Sanden Totten, Minnesota Public Radio
For a lot people, being homeless is a bad stretch in their lives. It's a challenge to overcome on the way back to a more stable existence. But for others, being homeless becomes a way of life. It has its own comforts, community and routines. But those routines can become a trap that keep a person homeless longer than they expected.
St. Paul, Minn. — Dee Dee's been homeless for over a year, and she knows the drill: breakfast and lunch at Dorothy Day. Then she walks two blocks down the street to the Listening House, a drop-in center for the homeless. She hangs there chatting with friends until dinner is served at Dorothy Day. Then it's back to the Listening House in the evening, sleep at Dorothy Day, then wake up and repeat.
"There's nothing else to do," Dee Dee explains. "Just back and forth all day long. But I love it. I love the people."
Dee Dee knows how being homeless works. She knows the ins and outs of getting food, clothing and finding company. In fact, when she's walking around everyone seems to know her.
Dee Dee moved to Minnesota to take care of her sick mother. When her mom passed away she was left with serious debt and no job. She says at first, being homeless was scary. But eventually she got her bearings, made friends and built a new life on the streets. She found out that being homeless isn't as frightening as she thought. In fact, it can be addictive.
"Some people have been here for 15 years, 10 years! Why? Because they've lost all their spunk because everything is given to them," she says. "If they didn't get things they would have to get up off their butts and get a job."
Dee Dee says panhandling works the same way.
"Don't give nobody no money," she insists. "If you start you will never hear the end of it."
She says she knows the lines panhandlers give about needing bus fare, wanting some food or needing cash for a place to stay. She's used them herself. But she says that's not what the money would be spent on.
"I'm gonna tell you what it's going to be spent on: alcohol or crack. I'm just being honest because I spend it myself. Instead of putting money in their hands, take it to the Dorothy Day Center or go to the store or buy them some underwear. But don't hand them money cause that'll only go to the liquor store or the crack house," says Dee Dee.
She knows that for some of the homeless, drugs are very much part of life on the streets. In fact, almost a third of all homeless people in Minnesota have a diagnosed drug or alcohol problem. Dee Dee says it's most obvious at the beginning of the month. That's when people at the shelter get their general assistance check from the government.
"When they get that money they go straight to the drug house," she explains. "Two days later they are right back here, eating and sleeping. It's a routine."
A routine that keeps a lot of people homeless.
In fact, 41 percent of the homeless population has said that drinking or drugs have kept them from getting a job.
Dee Dee says life can be tough on the streets.
"Yeah, drugs and alcohol is our only escape, the only way we can deal with being homeless. We are good people though. Some of us do want to get out of this hopeless situation. Like tomorrow, the Mall of America is hiring and I will be there."
Dee Dee knows that a good job could be her ticket out of the cycle. But many of the jobs offered to the homeless are underpaid and unstable. Last week she and others signed up to work for a traveling carnival for the summer. They were let go without warning when the heavy work was done and she hasn't been paid yet. She's hoping the job at the Mall of America will be different.
Dee Dee signs up for the clothing list at the Listening House. She's looking for a new outfit to wear at the job interview tomorrow. In an hour, she'll get a chance to pick out a clean shirt and maybe some lipstick. For now, she waits outside. She says her dream is to save up enough money to get her own place.
"Just having a key to an apartment," Dee Dee imagines. "Being able to open the door and go in and not having to smell nobody's feet. Not having to hear nobody's snoring. Not having to get up at five in the morning and go outside and there's no where to go."
But while she's waiting for her turn on the clothing list, something comes up. A man shows up and she decides to go off with him. She doesn't say where they are headed.
The next day, she explains that she didn't go to the job interview. She missed her turn on the clothing list and didn't have anything nice to wear. She says she'll have to wait for another opportunity to come along, but it could be a while. Until then, it's the same old routine, day in and day out.