Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Father and Son leave behind legacy of homelessness

Gerald Glassmyer and his son Paul living in a homeless camp
After twenty five years of living on the streets of Tampa Gerald Glassmyer could be considered a career homeless man.

More than a year ago I first met Glassmyer after slapping the cuffs on him. The arrest however came with a bit of advice: "Call me when you settle the matter and I'll help you get off the streets." Not unlike many others suffering from the advanced stages of homelessness Glassymer didn't take the friendly advice right away. If not for a chance meeting many months later it was likely that he would have never called for help. 

During most of this time Glassmyer lived behind an abandoned furniture store on a northern strip of a Dale Mabry Hwy thoroughfare. Taking shelter under a low slung tarp affixed to the side of the aluminum warehouse structure it was a breeding ground for Florida-sized mosquitos.

After working with the chronically homeless for more than two years on the streets I've learned that in these most extreme cases of homeless entrenchment life is a perishable skill set that we on the outside sometimes might take for granted.

In the many trips as a front seat passenger through the city Glassmyer was almost mesmerized by the development in the cities landscape. Living a life of self-imposed isolation for as many years Glassmyer's relatively short road-trips where the same to him as traveling to a far-off and exotic paradise. 

He was also confused about the connectivity of people he didn't know -- and why they would write encouraging comments on stories I wrote about him on a website he later learned to call Facebook. During one of his road trips he saw a Google screen on my laptop and admitted that he didn't know what it did or why people would even need to use it. For this lonesome demographic way at the end of a hockey stick curve this lacking mentality should explain why street engagement is so worthy and the void it fills in the gap of services with conventional homeless recovery efforts.

A few months into Glassmyer's homeless recovery his twenty-four-year-old son became homeless and they double bunked together at his homeless camp. It would be the first time I would find myself working with two generations of homelessness both at the same time. Paul Glassmyer, I soon found out, would be a much easier fix than working with his father suffering from a much deeper entrenchment.

After so much weathered time out on the streets your body, mind and even your soul becomes definitively conditioned to a certain way of life that all but rejects conformity and responsibility.  There was a lot of hand holding and mental realignment with Gerald Glassmyer's resistance to assimilate back into any measure of normalcy that would surely come with having a roof over his head.

For these and other reasons Paul Glassmyer would recover from the streets long before his father would and he was ultimately forced to make a decision to leave his father behind at least temporarily. It was a decision Paul had to make and it was a decision that would leave both men in despair. Gerald thought his hopes for getting off the streets had worsened once he was left behind by his son -- so, when the news came that I had a place for him to stay I was certain it would be a boost to his spirits only to find out that it wasn't.

Gerald Glassmyer found refuge from the street behind a vacant business     
Visiting what would be Gerald's new home he seemed even more distressed than being out on the streets alone than I could have ever imagined. Just when I had thought I learned all I could have about the homeless condition something new gets dumped on me and it came as a big surprise just the same. Gerald was suffering from anxiety with the abrupt change in a lifestyle that he had grown accustomed to after twenty five years. It wasn't an easy transition for him to make, living such a mainstream lifestyle -- even after accepting the rational desire to get off the streets --  his predisposition was telling him something different. 

Much like his son Paul, Gerald was forced with making a decision he simply wasn't prepared to make. At the moment of being faced with taking what would be a leap of faith he was stuck in a vice grip of indecisiveness and uncertainty. Leaving a former life behind that he had grown so accustomed to even with all of its admitted troubles was harder than he or I could have ever anticipated.

There are many others just like Gerald stuck between competing struggles of past regrets and future anxiety and it has little or anything to do with a languishing economy. Fortunately for Gerald and his son he made that fateful decision and today I can say both he and his son are off the streets.  

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

Homeless Initiative

District III Office: (813) 247-033