Choosing homelessness – for now: Part 2 of 3

Jon Foster's drive to get out and stay out – of jail and homelessness – is slowed down by the realities of trudging through an inefficient system.

Click here if you missed Part 1: Finding himself at the bottom, Jon Foster documents his new start from here in Kalamazoo’s system for the unhoused.

I intended to hit the ground running. I figured that the plan was simple. Job. House. Car. Custody. This was naive. 

Homelessness is like a bad morning fog. I feel like I am wandering through it without a clear sense of where the path is. I have serious doubts that this will be a short-term thing. This is an intimidating prospect when you are living in a giant dormitory with other men who, like myself, have checkered pasts and histories of unlucky circumstances. In most ways, I am just as unsure of where I am headed and where to get help as I was the first day. 

I have a job working at Ministry With Community as a security guard. I love the job but I won’t be getting rich. Will I ever be able to meet the income requirements of an apartment? 

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I am using the available resources that the social work team provides at Ministry. I have contacted Housing Resources Inc. and applied for a housing voucher. I have met people who say they have been waiting for housing for two years. 

For as long as I could, I endured the sounds of terrifying coughing at night that triggers the COVID thoughts in the back of my mind. After a few weeks, a co-worker said I could crash on their floor. This is called “doubling up” in the language of the homelessness system. In 2020, there were nearly 27,000 school children living doubled up in the state of Michigan, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

This can be a burden on the person letting you stay with them as well, so this needed to be temporary. I caught pneumonia and spent a couple nights at the hospital. I have depleted most of the money I have saved to stay at a motel. Not only does it look like I will have to return to the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, the only night shelter in Kalamazoo, but there was a problem with my housing voucher application and so I need to start that process again.

These dynamics, in this type of environment, is especially challenging for someone with a history of substance abuse and mental health struggles. I’m unclear exactly what services are available to support me in making the right choices. Going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings are logistically difficult when balancing public transportation, the needs to work and eat, and a lack of reliable housing options.  

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I am a recovering addict. True to its nature, addiction left my life in shambles. I do not feel confident that I know how to go about achieving my goals. Without an end in sight and with no concept of how long it will take to get any meaningful assistance I feel depressed, downtrodden and scared. I feel embarrassed. I feel like an outcast. It would be easier for me to give up. I could go back to the world where I felt more accepted and wanted. I could sell drugs or sleep at my old using buddy’s place for a few weeks. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that given the difficulty of this situation I have considered it.

My hands have permanently assumed a color I call “wind-burn red.” The stares and nervous glances I get when I walk down the downtown Kalamazoo Mall tell me that I look like a bum and it is hard to not feel unwelcome in nearly every public space. I avoid stores because I feel stupid carrying bags that have to be checked at the service desk to prevent theft.

This is a confusing situation to be in and the amount of misinformation present in the homeless community makes it hard to get a solid idea of how everything works. It is hard to get plugged into the existing services because of the lack of available information. Often I find out about other services through other homeless people rather than from the staff at any given organization.

I am sure that there are things I should be applying for or doing that I am not aware of. I promised myself that if I just “keep doing the next ‘right’ thing” I would get through this. I hope I was right but there have been times over the two months that I’ve thought that might not be true. I think of myself as a person who endures adversity well. Even I am a little discouraged.

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