obrienfreelance

Claudia and Jack

In Homeless, Journalism, poverty on April 26, 2012 at 11:29 am

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.”

Advertisements

Home

In Homeless, poverty on April 8, 2012 at 8:55 am

Below is description of my journey to find homeless people who live along the Milwaukee River for an upcoming story.

A police officer sits in his patrol car parked on a cement block in the distance as joggers, with their large unleashed dogs lagging close behind, trot through the park.

The park’s main foot and bike path becomes a gravel service road, detouring its way down through the brush and trees.

The cement road disappears into dirt and then mud. The chorus of chirps from small birds replaced the constant humming of the traffic above as the river slaps against the banks of cement, mud and riprap.

A trail leads underneath a massive viaduct where a small animal – a raccoon or a rat – looks for food near a wall covered with freshly painted graffiti. Garbage and vast concrete formations intermingle with small trees and brush that tickle the river’s surface.

The trail now is lined feet from the bank of the rushing river. It narrows, becoming a stripe of mud and dirt.

Absent is any sign of human life, expect for faint glimpses of architecture rising above the bare tree branches, which are waiting patiently for the spring sun to summon their bloom.

A city block from the park, back beyond the first layer of trees and branches, is an opening. A maze forms around the recess, puzzling even the best navigators of forestry. To gain the opening, a nibble exhibition would be required to duck underneath fallen limbs, weave past small webs of twigs and hurdle long gate-like branches.

The journey ends at a pop tent tucked into brush, secured to the ground by brick and stone.

A man and his beard peak out the tent’s mouth. Surprised to have a visitor, he pleasantly says hello.

No Jacket Required

In Gov. Scott Walker, Politics, Recalls, Uncategorized, Wisconsin, Wisconsin news on April 3, 2012 at 7:56 am

A couple of hours after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was recalled, he visited Technical Metal Specialties Inc., a metal fabrication company on the southside of Milwaukee. 

In a small metal fabrication shop in the heart of Milwaukee’s south side, on a uncomfortable cool spring day, Governor Scott Walker spoke.

Hours after learning he had become just the third governor to be recalled in U.S. history, he seemed somewhat upbeat, confident. He also seemed to have hit the campaign trail in a full sprint. His spirited voice and his punctuated hand gestures were that of an enthused candidate.

Walker was without a jacket as he spoke in the center of the hollow shop floor to about 50 employees of the non-union shop. He used a microphone jacked into two speakers, similar to those one would find being used by various garage bands. He audience sat in folding chairs in front of an army of reporters and cameras. He weaved a little baseball, a little football and a little family into a talking-point tapestry of fiscal conservatism.

He didn’t break a sweat when asked by an audience member about facing a special election spurred on by progressive organizers who rebuked his union reform measures.

“Governor Lee Dreyfus, called Madison 38 square miles surrounded by reality. The best thing I do is get out into reality … the more I get out to factories, the farms and the small businesses, the more I hear from people around the state,” he told the blue-collar audience.

Walker, for a few precious moments, was in his element, at a factory, hearing from his constituents. A perfect antidote for the current political firestorm that rages around him.

Today, Walker was among friends and supporters.