By: Katie Sobiech
Scattered across train tracks, deep in the woods of Akron are small, unknown “cities”. These cities are made up of the homeless living in tents.
Dirk, one newly homeless man, was recently found walking the tracks back to his tent home. When he saw the Salvation Army at another tent, he waved them over to come see his.
“That ain’t nothing compared to my tent,” he said.
Dirk was right. He had built a canopy made of sticks, with a plastic sheet over it to cover his tent.
Dirk, the self-proclaimed landlord of this particular city lives with three others.
One man stumbled out of a tent drunk.
“We’re like family, but we’re not,” Dirk said.
“Yeah we are,” Ed Senior, one of the “resident’s”, said, almost offended that Dirk didn’t consider him family.
Then there’s Ed Junior.
“Ed Junior prefers to be out here in the tent city because he wants to be around friends,” Dirk said.
All of the guys met at a local park.
A Day in the Life
Daily life is different for each of the men, but Dirk was extra enthusiastic when explaining how he spends his days.
“I’m homeless,” he said, “so I choose to spend my time more wisely. I’m trying to because I don’t want to be homeless. I want to get back into society. Certain circumstances made me homeless and I’m trying to overcome them. I became an alcoholic after the fact.”
He volunteers his time at several different churches every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday night, spending anywhere from 5-9 hours a day serving. On Friday nights he helps out at Springtime of Hope.
“I pass out food and clothing to the homeless people, and I’m homeless,” he said, “Even if it’s my last meal, I’ll give it to them.”
Denny, a.k.a. Gizmo, even said it’s fun being homeless.
When asked what is so fun about it he replied, “You think of things to do. I get up, go to the park, get cans here and there, get wood.”
Life at a Shelter
Some wonder why these men aren’t staying at local homeless shelters, especially in the freezing weather. They all had strong opinions as to why they choose homelessness.
Talking about one local shelter, Ed Sr. said, “It’s a good place if you go there for the right reasons.”
“I don’t like that place,” Dirk said, “if you like it there then leave the campsite and go there. It’s too much like prison. It’s worse than prison; I’d rather be in prison.”
The number one complaint was that there are too many rules in shelters, including that bedtime is too early as well as wake up time.
“You have no TV; you have no life,” Denny said.
But you won’t find a TV in any of the tent cities either.
It seems some of the homeless have convinced themselves that they are living the good life.
“Sometimes we’ll even let 2-3 guests stay here in our VIP tents,” Dirk said, talking about the tent city as if it were hotel.
Helping Each other
Later on the guys took a journey up a few hills and down the tracks to a path where the Salvation Army Canteen truck was parked. Salvation Army workers welcomed the men into the bus for a bite to eat and to get warm. They offered them sandwiches as well as hygiene items to take back with them.
“We just want to let you know that God loves you,” John Soza, Program Coordinator at the Salvation Army, said, “We’re just an extension of God’s love. Keep calling upon His name and see what He does for you.”
The men, quiet, took the message in with appreciation.
Dirk seemed particularly thankful for the Salvation Army.
“You guys are helping us out, why can’t I help somebody out if they need it? My philosophy is that I don’t care if I like you or not, we’re all homeless together. I’ll bring you out a sandwich; I’ll give you a blanket or shoes. If I have two pair of socks on I’ll give you my socks. I’ll give you the shirt off my back because if you’re cold, you’re cold. If you’re hungry, you’re hungry. I think that’s what everybody should do and you guys are doing the same thing.”