The struggle to get off the streetsby Sanden Totten, Minnesota Public Radio
One month ago, Stan wasn't homeless. He didn't worry about simple details like where he'd sleep, what he'd eat or where he could find a bathroom. But then his life hit a rough patch. He lost his job. He lost his driver's license after a drunk driving arrest. And then he lost his apartment. A few weeks shy of his 60th Birthday, Stan wound up on the streets.
St. Paul, Minn. — Stan says, at first it was chaotic.
"Well, the first couple days is scrambling trying to find a place to stay," Stan recalls. He says most of the homeless people he met weren't very helpful.
"Most of this stuff you learn by looking cause people won't tell you nothing out here, especially if you are a stranger," he explains. "You just have to follow the crowd and learn on your own."
It's almost 9:00 a.m. and Stan is huddled with that crowd outside the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul. He's been sleeping at a mission down the street but they closed an hour ago. Now he's stuck waiting for Dorothy Day to open so he can do the one thing he's been thinking about all morning: make a phone call. He's hoping it'll get him a job and get him off the streets.
"I called this guy over at Aerotech," Stan says. "He's called me two or three times so maybe this time he's got some good news for me."
Stan has a one track mind. He's applied for jobs all over the Twin Cities, but he hasn't heard back from most of them. He doesn't have a phone, so he's tethered to places like Dorothy Day when he needs to make calls and check messages. But they're only open at certain times, so Stan spends a lot of time waiting.
"I hear stories about people being here for five, six years. But that's not me," says Stan. "I'll keep pounding the pavement, pounding the pavement until I find me something. Like I said, I'll be 60-years-old next Tuesday, I can't -- nah! If I have to I'll move back in with my family in South Carolina -- but I don't want to. Hell of a way to spend a birthday."
Stan says, with all the waiting it's easy to lose your motivation. There are distractions all around. To stay on task he keeps to himself. He says you could count the number of conversations he has in a week on one hand.
"Yeah, it gets lonely, you know? Hey, this is what I chose to do -- for me to stay focused on what I'm trying to do."
When the doors open at Dorothy Day Center, Stan spills inside with the rest of the crowd. There's already a line for the phone.
"You only got about three minutes on the phone," Stan explains. "I make my call, jot down some info and get to the back of the line and do it again. It's almost like the military -- hurry up and wait."
He had a job offer a few weeks ago, but he had to turn it down. It was out of the city and without a license he couldn't get there. The job he's waiting to hear back about today is on the bus line.
Stan makes his call but he reaches voice mail. He calls back a few more times but there's still no answer.
The crowd at Dorothy Day has settled into their routines of chatting and killing time, but Stan keeps moving.
"I don't like to hang around too much," he says. "I go to the Library, look on the job bank. I pretty much have the jobs memorized by now; I go by there so much. But there's new jobs everyday."
He sits in the park. He strolls through downtown. He ducks into the lobby of a hospital. Stan doesn't stay anywhere very long.
"I'm thinking everybody's looking at me, everybody knows my situation. Everybody knows I'm homeless. I'm just self conscious about that," he says.
When enough time has passed, he heads back to Dorothy Day hoping for an answer from the man at Aerotech. As usual, there's a line for the phone. So he sits in silence, thinking.
"[I] think about jobs,'" he remarks. "Think about the times I had when I wasn't homeless. Think about a lot of things. Think about calling my family and letting them know."
He says his family doesn't know he's been homeless this past month.
"If they did they'd just be worried about me coming home -- which I don't plan on doing right now. [I'll] try to tough this out and make it on my own."
Stan makes his call. He finally gets his answer. "I called and he said he still didn't have anything on the bus line," Stan says. "So it's a no go. Another blank day for the job. It's so easy to give up but I don't want to give up. Not going to give up."
Stan says he'll pick up the job search again tomorrow. He has to. He says he's afraid that if he's homeless much longer he'll lose his motivation, and then might never be able to leave.