Saturday, August 11, 2012

Two years later homelessness becomes a distant memory

 Tampa - By Steven L Donaldson

For over ten years Christopher Wall learned to survive on the streets as a homeless man. He learned where to huddle at night -- camouflaged from the camp raiders that would invade and pillage. He learned how to posture himself in his wheel chair -- all in the hopes a fleeting passerby would toss a few shekels his way. And, he also learned how to hide from the police when he could.

He was good at it too.
During the last few years of his homeless journey he called a convenience store dumpster-corral his home. A narrow easement nuzzled between the corral and a perimeter fence-line obscured his slumbering shelter from prying eyes while affording him a sense of security.

At the end of his day he maneuvered his wheel chair flush against the cardboard liner that matted down the weeds and insulated him from the dampened earth. Each time it became a tactical exercise that came across as a sloppy transfer of motion from sitting to resting -- it rarely ended without a thump. It would be his bed for the evening and his place for solace and refuge. 

The next day it would start all over again.    

But, survival on the streets as a minimalist always leads, even for the most prolific of homeless, to the very last rung of the ladder. You're one slip away from a downward spiral into the relentless pursuit of a zero sum game where there is never a winner -- just marginal survivors.

For much of these last few years as a homeless man bound to a wheelchair his lukewarm existence could only be defined by the perpetual motion of trifle loitering. And, it was this same loitering that one day would lead him in a direction that he could have never been prepared for.

The long arm of the law is now more than just an expression of enforcement and compliance -- it is also the beacon for homeless recovery and rehabilitation should you find yourself aimlessly homeless on the streets of Hillsborough County.

It was a faithful trespassing complaint from a Town N' Country business that first led to my encounter with Wall -- the six-foot-six frame of his former self reduced to the shrunken and disheveled imagery of a homeless persona. Tattered and unkempt would only begin to describe his overgrown appearance.

But, for Wall where his body became listless his soul remained animated. He always maintained his spirits -- and, if not for this sometimes deceptively simple survival skill it's hard to say where Wall may have ended up today.

Since this time Wall has successfully remained off the streets living in a group home environment where he praises the blessing of three squares a day. With the companion of a walking cane Wall now leaves his wheel chair beyond arms reach -- sometimes for remembrance and other times for trips to the nearby convenience store.

His body and mind has since repaired to catch up with his congenial soul.

On occasion Wall will use the house phone to leave a message for me at the district office just to say hello and stay in touch. After two years of pink messages they are usually dictated in much the same way:

 " I called just to say Hi  -- and things are going well, you don't have to call back -- I just wanted you to know I'm still off the streets ...Chris."

Early on many dissenters bemoaned the conventional wisdom: "...the homeless don't want help to get off the street."

When the homeless gleefully accepted the help these same dissenters repurposed their angle of attack: "Yeah, their off the streets -- but for how long?"

Now, more than two years later, Christopher Wall and many former homeless men and women in Hillsborough County have proved what was once conventional wisdom may have been more an old wives' tale.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-033

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