Below is an account about Claudia, who is proof that there is some hope for the homeless.
Jack would be the first to admit that he does not have much to offer. The 62 year old is penniless, sleeping in the woods and living on the street.
But there is a one thing that Jack does have, and that’s a crush.
“It’s like a love story,” Jack said as he sat on the back of a park bench as he enjoys the last bit of a cigarette.
Seven years ago, he met Claudia, a homeless woman. They start to run together, relying on each other and protecting each other from the harsh realities of living on the street. Jack ended up leaving the area, returning to Key West, Florida, where he is from. Somehow, he ended back in Milwaukee three years ago, and has been “stranded” ever since.
“It’s a long story,” he said.
The first time I met Claudia – a year and a half ago – she was near a cliff’s edge. She was sitting on a cold cement curb. Much of her speech was mush. Her dialog was a rambling array of sentence fragments and brief comments. Her tone was dulled with her lifeless voice. Her hair was a bushel of greyed string that had not been washed properly for weeks.
She told me that she was living on the street due to a puzzling string of bad luck and worse choices. All of her belongs were in a couple of garbage bags and a suitcase while she bounced around from shelters to hide-outs with other homeless individuals.
“She was on the street for years. Alcohol, and I’m pretty sure that she had a crack addiction,” said Bob Burmeister, who met her four or five years ago. “I watched her digress for a while … she was staying behind the court house for a while.”
Burmeister runs Mr. Bob’s under the Bridge, a volunteer organization that hands out clothes and supplies to homeless in Milwaukee.
For a year, after a local organization intervened, she lived in a transition housing facility, according to Burmeister.
“Then her medication got all screwed up by this asshole doctor,” he said. “I didn’t see her for a while and was really worried about her.”
Burmeister found her in the Cathedral Park one day, smoking a snipe, burning her fingers.
“I called her case worker and, after three weeks, he got her somewhere else and got her medication squared away, she started becoming more normal,” Burmeister said.
Claudia has turned the corner to a brighter future. She now lives transition housing on the south side of the city. It’s a studio in a crisp, clean apartment building.
“It’s just an (small apartment), but you would think that it’s a palace for her,” Burmeister said.
She looks forward to getting a job.
“I’m in the old section of the apartment building … I love it,” Claudia said.
Claudia will never be completely removed from the trauma. Her sunken eyes and shaky hands are products of years of mental illness, misdiagnosis, homelessness and drug addiction.
However, Claudia, each Sunday, rain or shine, gets out of her warm bed in her proud abode and goes back to the park. This time to serve the homeless, handing out clothes, warm cups of coffee and encouragement to those that she shared the street with during the greatest emptiness of her life.
She’s a product and a producer of love, the cause and effect of compassion. Jack gets it. He also, deep down, gets that she is at a different place now. A better place. A more secure, meaningful place than he is.
“I don’t know if it’s going to work out with her, but she’s a good girl,” Jack said. “A really good girl.”