Out of the Depths..
Reed was homeless for six years beginning in 2012. When I first met him at an IHELP gathering in 2014, he was in his second year of six years of homelessness. Today, he has a business and lives with three roommates in Carmel. So, it’s a story with a happy ending… and, a story that probably answers a lot of questions about how people become homeless and how hard it is to recover. Each situation is different. Homelessness is not always alcohol, drugs, or mental illness as the stereotype dictates.
I photograph a lot of homeless people who have none of those problems. They simply dropped out of a modest life, through one or two events or misjudgements, and into a place that’s hard to recover from. A liveable wage in Monterey County is at least twice the minimum wage. If you can’t make at least $20-$30 per hour full time with benefits, you are likely to become homeless.
A new report from Prosperity Now found that 40% of American households are “liquid asset poor,” meaning that they don’t have enough money put away to make ends meet at the poverty level should their income be suddenly interrupted. That figure jumps to 57% for households of color.
Reed was born and grew up on the Monterey Peninsula in a middle class family. He wasn’t ambitious, but he did alright in high school and spent a few years in college. His dilemma as he grew up was that he was secretly struggling with homosexuality at a time when there was little tolerance or support. He thinks that may have affected his confidence.
He worked as the courtesy driver at a large auto dealer. In 2011, he took a vacation with his partner. While driving through Wyoming, his partner had a terrible accident and was killed. Reed survived the accident but was unconscious for days and in hospitals and rehab facilities for months.
When he arrived back in Seaside, he had lost his job. The recession was in full force. He couldn’t find work. With no money, he lost his insurance and his apartment. He was in severe depression from the loss of his boyfriend and his penniless condition. He was three years from qualifying for social security and five years from qualifying for Medicare.
Fortunately, he and his family had been members of St Mary’s Episcopal Church which is very active in supporting IHELP and a fund for homeless women. The church referred him to IHELP. He was able to get a hot meal and a safe place to sleep on the floor every night. Gradually, his grieving subsided and he began to look for work. There was nothing. He was a professional driver without a car and no other specialized skill.
He was elated when he finally qualified for social security, but that was only enough for food and incidentals. Then, the Affordable Care Act went into effect and he was able to see doctors and start treatment for some illnesses that had gone untreated for years. He started to feel better and became more energetic.
Some elderly couples, who came to know Reed through IHELP, hired him to drive them to appointments. They had cars, but were no longer confident about driving. Reed would take a bus to their homes, drive the couple out and back and then take a bus to the next church he was to sleep in.
A retired executive saw his portrait and heard his story and offered to help. They came up with business cards and fliers that Reed distributed to hospitals, churches and life care facilities. He increased his pricing. His business grew. He got a license to drive a small bus. He got more work.
A big unexpected break…
Then, one of his clients died and willed him her car. It was old, but it made it possible to get from one client to the other quickly. He found a rare rooming situation in Carmel.
Today, Reed is in full bloom. He bought a new car. He’s bright, happy and driving the bus for both the IHELP men and women’s programs…as well as his own clients. He’s an inspiration to homeless men and women who now see him as a model for recovery.
He says, “Attitude is everything! Just never give up!”