Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 25, 2013

Homeless man wants Decatur County to know he's here

Rob Cox
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — At first glance, Bob may not be the sort of character one might want to invite for Sunday dinner.

He’s got hair to his shoulders. It’s matted and dark, that hair, and hard to discern its true color. It’s weighted and greasy and so stringy in places that it brings to mind spider webs, twigs and skinny damp sticks.

His long beard’s in similar shape. It’s difficult, in fact, to differentiate facial hair from regular hair; the two meet somewhere near Bob’s face and neck like some fuzzy, tangled shrub.

Bob (not his real name) sat at a table at Greensburg’s Bread of Life Soup Kitchen late Wednesday afternoon, where he’s lately become a regular.

Although it’s hard to discern an expression beneath all the straggly hair and the greasy Tony Stewart ball cap, behind the silver wire-rimmed glasses, Bob’s blue eyes were bright and clear.

“If there was a crime for ugly,” he quipped, “You could go ahead and throw me in jail.”

Bob currently lives out of his car, a 1992 model with a dead battery that he leaves parked. He asked the Daily News to reveal neither his real name, nor a detailed description of his vehicle.

For although Bob doesn’t shy away from characterizing himself as homeless, he doesn’t want to risk losing what little shelter his old jalopy affords. He fears that if someone learns of his homelessness, he’ll be forced to vacate his parking place.

“Yeah,” he conceded, “I consider myself homeless. I guess anybody would. About 50 people in Greensburg know I’m homeless. They can hardly believe it when I tell them. There aren’t supposed to be homeless people here.”

According to Carol Burr, counselor with Greensburg’s New Directions Domestic Violence Shelter, Bob fits Indiana’s definition for homeless.

According to Burr, people in Bob’s circumstances are classified by the state as, “unsheltered homeless.”

She explained, “These are people who lack a fixed, adequate nighttime residence. Anyone who lives out of a car definitely meets the definition.”

Bob’s been in this condition for about a year.

He’s originally from Greensburg (a 1984 graduate of GCHS) and, before coming home, he lived briefly with his father in a one-bedroom apartment in Napoleon.

The landlord didn’t want Bob around, though, and claimed it violated the lease. As such, Bob was forced to leave.

He made his way back to Decatur County, homeless that night in February 2012 as he crossed the county line.

“My mom’s here,” he said. “She lives in one of the nursing homes. I see her when I can. It’s a terrible being homeless, but at least I live close to her. I’ll never forgive my sister for putting her in there.”

That sister — Jo Ann — lives in Pasadena, Texas, but the two obviously aren’t close, so Bob can't find refuge there. He has a younger sister, too. She and Bob are on better terms, but still haven’t spoken in a long while. In fact, Bob isn’t even certain in which state she lives. Last he knew, she called Texas home, but thinks she might live in Idaho now.

Although he’s from Greensburg, Texas has played a recurring role in Bob’s life.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Bob first moved to Houston in 1988.

At first, he worked a high-paying job as an underwater welder. An accident, though, forced his retirement from that profession, and he spent the next several years working in contract construction and security. He also applied to the Houston Police Academy a number of times, but never got in.

In 1997, with his mother’s health deteriorating, Bob decided to come home.

“I didn’t really have much going on in Houston in 1997,” he explained. “I was between relationships, with no exciting work ahead of me. There wasn’t anything for me there that I couldn’t find here. So I went home to take care of my mom.”

Upon coming home, Bob went to work for GECOM on the factory line.

A handful of other jobs followed over the years, including a factory job in Franklin working for Mitsubishi Heavy Industry and Climate control, another at the Old Hickory Furniture Factory in Shelbyville, and a five-year stint with PK U.S.A., Shelbyville.

He lost the Mitsubishi job when the factory folded and relocated to Japan. The Shelbyville jobs eventually evaporated as well, and Bob found himself living with an old family friend in Southern Decatur County who needed a caregiver.

It was during this time that Bob earned his CDL. The friend passed away, and Bob sold his mobile home, hitting the road and driving a big rig full-time for Warner Trucking. Alas, two traffic tickets and an accident forced his exit from trucking; he won’t be eligible to reapply for his CDL for another two years.

During his time as a trucker, Bob didn’t bother to buy another home or rent an apartment. Although he lived out of his truck, for all intents and purposes, he first became homeless during that time. His status hasn’t changed since.

He’s got a 24-year-old daughter in Austin, Texas, who he didn’t meet for the first time until about a year-and-a-half ago. There’s another daughter — this one 14 — living in foster care in Shelby County. He’s got an 11-year-old-son, too, living with an ex with whom Bob isn’t on the best terms.

“I haven’t seen my 14-year-old in about a year,” he said. “I haven’t seen my son in nine or 10 months.”

Bob’s story is filled with similar tough breaks and hardship, some minor, others quite severe, but homelessness has, perhaps, brought him to his lowest point.

“I think about suicide everyday,” he admitted. “And right now, I have a running bet on myself on how I’ll die: Will I starve or freeze? I do what I have to do to eat. The Bread of Life has been great, but I’m no stranger to dumpster diving, either.”

Despite it all, Bob remains confident that all he needs is a break to help him get back on his feet.

“It’s hard to pull yourself up when you get into this place,” he said. “But I’m a hard worker. I’m a tough person, too. I’m never sick. I’m dependable, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get my life and my kids back.”

Asked what a job would mean to him at this point, Bob said, “A job would mean life to me. It would mean a shower and four walls and a warm place to sleep. It would mean being a dad again.”

Melissa Foist, Bread of Life founder and operator spoke favorably of Bob.

“I deal with an awful lot of people in need through the Bread of Life,” she said. “And I see many — more than I’d care to mention — who come to us with a sense of entitlement, people who take advantage and aren’t really appreciative of what we do. This is a small town, though, so we almost always find those people out.”

She emphasized, “Bob isn’t like that, though. He’s not a taker; he’s not entitled. He’s genuinely appreciative of what little we’re able to do for him. I think he just needs someone to take him under their wing, clean him up and help him get back on his feet.”

To find out how or if you can help Bob or others sharing a similar plight, call Greensburg’s Bread of Life at 812-663-1055.

Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.