Garbage to You

Homeless people, like all of us, own things that can't be replaced

He says he was awake at the time of the sweep outside the Resource Center, but he couldn't get back to his stash of possessions along the fence on Cadiz.

"There was a lot of people had some valuable stuff. They came through that morning and had everybody to get up and wrote up tickets and registered people that had warrants. Then they come and picked up our stuff. They didn't even give us a warning, man."

He lost his identification papers, which have been replaced. I ask if he lost anything that couldn't be replaced.

Odis Monroe, homeless and disabled, lost treasured family photos when the city threw his possessions into a garbage truck.
Jim Schutze
Odis Monroe, homeless and disabled, lost treasured family photos when the city threw his possessions into a garbage truck.

"They can never replace the pictures. They never can replace the letters, the jewelry my mother gave me before she passed."

I ask what the pictures were of. He mentions his children first. "I have two sons and two daughters." One picture was of a family reunion, "where everybody's just sitting around and having a big dinner. I had pictures of when we went to the park or parades, Juneteenth, all kind of different holidays. I even had a picture of us washing the car. Me and my sons, we did a lot of things together."

Those pictures went into the garbage truck.

Now I must plunge back inside. At the far end of the building in a cave-like day room, every chair is taken and people lie on the floor half-slumped against the wall. On a television set at the far end, a young woman on a reality television show strips off her blouse in response to a dare. Her tits have been pixelated by the censors so that they appear perfectly square and sort of plaid. A few men in the front row grunt huzzahs and "take it all off." But in the rest of the room glassy eyes gaze indifferently toward the green blur of the television.

Not everyone here is on serious meds, but many are. Who knows what pixelated versions of the world they may see anyway, without aid of censors? I bet their reality could kick the reality television show's ass with its hands tied behind its back. Something I wouldn't mind seeing.

I went back to the Resource Center a few times to find these interviews. In between, I covered a hearing of the Dunning Commission, working to find a solution to the city's homeless problem. Retired insurance executive and former mayoral candidate Tom Dunning, head of it, knows every social worker in the audience by name and also knows the names of all the homeless people who attend. Everybody's trying hard. It isn't that people don't care. It's that no one quite knows what to do.

In the corridor at the Resource Center I find Eddie Jackson, 38, a slim, soft-spoken man who rises from a chair to talk. He lost all of his clothes in the sweep, his birth certificate and all other identification. He says none of it has been replaced. I ask about other possessions.

"I had a family Bible that I had since 1998 when my mama died, with a picture of her in her casket. I had my nephew's obituary in it. Everything about my family, I kept in that Bible.

"I got five sisters and four brothers. I got over 46 nieces and nephews. There's always something happening in my family, some nieces being born or something. I kept so much stuff in my Bible. I learned that from my mother.

"I had pictures of my son from when he was a newborn baby up till where he was 16."

I ask more about that. A picture every year from the son: That's something. In response to my questions, he revises his story slightly. He tells me that he had a picture of his son from birth to age 10. But there have been no pictures in the last five years.

"But up till he was like 10 years old, I kept a picture every year. He sent me a picture every summer.

"Only thing I ever had to look back was that Bible. I valued that more than anything I had."

From his description, I will try to re-create the last picture of his mother. Her name was Selester Cargile, and she died in Little Rock at the age of 77.

The picture showed her in a pink coffin. She wore a white dress. At her neck was her string of pearls. An heirloom ring was on one hand. She wore her glasses.

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