Ross has a light in his eyes that nothing could extinguish. He has a deep reservoir of emotion and an even deeper capacity for love. Ross is the epitome of a man who, when life was the roughest one could imagine it to be, drew on his ability to turn tragedy into triumph. He is an example for all of us to follow. My hope is that whoever reads this can gain at least a tiny bit of his resolve. I left this interview thinking that if I only had a fraction of Ross’ “zest” for life, I’d be a rich man.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Calgary Canada. This was in the early 60s. My mom and dad divorced when I was 10 and my mom and me and my little brother moved to Santa Monica, California. My sister went to BYU and went to California afterward with her boyfriend and stayed. We went down there to stay with them. In Santa Monica my mom went to a Mormon dance for single seniors and met my step dad. He already had kids and she already had kids. We all just kind of came together. My brothers in Canada were all older and drifting around. I didn’t see them for eight years.
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Benson is a soft-spoken, gentle man with kind eyes. His courage in the face of so many obstacles is an inspiration.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Louisiana. It was just growing up, like everyone else. I have two sisters and four brothers. One died at six months but that was before I was born. Louisiana was hot and humid. We had fun times. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other. We’d go in the backyard and climb trees you know just doing everything our mom told us not to do until she got home. I was raised Pentecostal so it was pretty strict. I guess they call it the Holiness Church. They believe in speaking in tongues and shouting. It’s a lot different from churches today. Some of it is smoke and mirrors but I still hold on to the beliefs. I’m just trying to find my place in the world and where I fit in. I’m still looking for the truth. There’s more to it than what it seems. We didn’t do much but summertime was fun. We weren’t supposed to let anyone in or open the door for anyone but we’d let our friends over. We really wouldn’t let them in the house but we’d go play outside. My mom was pretty strict. She wanted to give us the type of childhood she didn’t have but at the same time she couldn’t. She did the best she could you know. She went to work every day and kept a roof over our heads.
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I spoke with Charles in an office amid the incredible activity that is Corpus Christi House*. We were interrupted more than a few times by people who wanted help from “Chuck.” He truly is their go-to-guy. As he should, Charles takes great pride in what he has achieved. He gives me hope.
Where are you from?
“Growing up in Memphis was great. My father and mother were divorced. I hardly ever saw my father. My mother did the best she could to take care of us. My dad didn’t pay child support so we grew up very poor. Her step father was homeless so that’s how I got to know homeless people. When I got into music, I was feeding them on Saturday and Sunday in the park there in Memphis. I had family in Texas I’d go visit. My grandfather was one of the biggest inspirations of my life. He was the one who maintained the honesty in my life. The first band I got together was named Sidewinder because that was his CB handle. That and you never know which way a sidewinder is going to hit. We played heavy metal. What is called classic rock now was called heavy metal then.”
“Back then Memphis was a tourist attraction. It has Bill Street which was the home of the blues and Tom Lee Park which was where they would hold music festivals. There was Mud Island Amphitheater. That was where I played my last show. Sun Records is there. It’s a museum now. You can go there and see where greats like Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded. My mom was in love with Elvis. We used to go to Graceland. The most impressive thing about Graceland was Elvis’ trophy room. I have a picture of me sitting in the cockpit of his plane, the Lisa Marie. I missed my dad but my mother did the best she could to support us. Even if that meant eating potatoes and beans, she got us what we needed.”
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The first time I laid eyes on Rick, he had a screwdriver in his hand. He was explaining to those around him a way to make the washer work, when it seemed as if the machine would never wash again. Rick’s laugh is pure joy. He is well spoken and intelligent. If I stepped into this interview with any negative preconceptions about homelessness, they were proven wrong yet again. I thank Rick for his candor and for the many laughs we had together.
1. Where are you from?
“I was born in Boise in 1952. I grew up in the North End right across from Lowell Swimming Pool. One thing my dad always taught was to respect wherever we were. When we were camping we always left the campsite cleaner than when we found it. We didn’t have a lot. We weren’t poor but my dad didn’t make a whole lot of money. Later on my mom got a job working for a newspaper. She waited till all of us kids were out of school.”
“My folks were model parents. I never heard them quarrel or raise their voices up to each other. They were hoping for a boy but they had three girls, all two years apart. Then six years later I showed up. Really, growing up it was like I had four moms. There was no arguing among us kids either. It was just the way we were brought up. It wasn’t heavy strictness or anything like that.”
“My dad was an avid outdoorsman. We spent a lot of time camping and fishing. He was a fireman and he’d be on 24 hours and off 48. All through the year my dad would switch with someone and we’d get a five-day vacation with him. I don’t think there’s a mountain lake in the northwest I haven’t been to. He taught us to respect and love the outdoors. We were taught to respect the law. I still like to get out and go on nature walks. Any hunting I do these days, I do with a camera.”
“By the time I was in junior high and high school we moved onto the second Bench. I went to West and Borah. I took some classes at Boise Junior College when I was still in junior high. I took a science class in [an introduction to] genetics. I started my first business then too, breeding and raising tropical fish. I supplied them to local pet store owners and had 83 aquariums. When I was still in high school the government came around and gave everyone an aptitude test. I still kick myself about this because after graduation they offered me a full scholarship to learn about a little something called the computer. In those days computers were still so big they’d fill a room. They were still using punch cards. With no idea what a computer was or if it was anything I could earn a living at, I turned them down.”
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Meeting Tim, I felt as if we could have shaken hands on the showroom floor of any business. He has an easy way about him. Everything with Tim is a soft sell, yet I left wanting to buy more. He cuts straight to the point and as in his words, “when you want to accomplish something, there’s just no other way.”
Where are you from?
“I was born in Medford Oregon. It’s about the same it is in Boise though Medford is more of a valley. The weather is pretty much the same. It doesn’t have as many people. I grew up in the city but I spent a lot of time in the country because those are the type of things I like to do. I’m an avid hunter and fisherman. I like to go snowmobiling. Oregon fit my lifestyle at that point. I had a mother and father for a number of years. Unfortunately my parents did split when I was fourteen and I supported my mom after that. She was one of those women who believe the mother should stay home with the kids. I did keep a relationship with my dad. It’s been strained at times because we had a lot of differences. That was back in the 60s. My dad remarried and my mom went on. It really didn’t affect me that much. They still lived in the same town. When I was 16 and my parents split I worked at a furniture store. I got a work permit. In 1971 I finished high school and started my motorcycle business.”
“I sold used motorcycles. I had a repair shop and accessory store. I could do a lot of things. I liked that work, it was very satisfying and the end result was that I was good at it. So I stayed with it. I rode dirt bikes and then all of a sudden people found out I was pretty good at fixing them. When I was young every time my dad wanted to get into his garage, it was filled with dirt bikes. That upset him but it all worked out. My dad and I talked all the time. He just wasn’t in the same house. I never really saw it as a problem. I ran that motorcycle shop from 1971 to 1995 and lost it in a divorce. That changed the dynamics and triggered everything. It was pretty devastating. I continued my motorcycle business in other cities. I moved to Reno and did well until the owner sold the property. Then I came to Boise in ‘96 and the same story. The owner of the property sold. I have three daughters. My dream was to keep my business going and to one day give it to my kids. Working on motorcycles was a hobby for me. I was glad to be able to get paid for it.”
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James is a quiet, well-mannered man in his fifties. He conveys an inspiring personal strength and I thank him for his time and his story.
Where did you grow up?
“I was born in Boise and lived in Idaho most of my life except for a six-month stay in Wyoming. I lived in a lot of foster homes. Mom read the Bible and prayed for us a lot. She was the thread that held us together and when she decided to follow my father and become a drunkard I went to the foster home. I was nine. That just led me right into institutions. I had no fatherly training. I didn’t know how to make decisions in important situations. I loved my family and I wanted to live with my family. A lot of [foster parents] didn’t care. They didn’t love me like a parent would. I liked them and I’d give each one a shot. If they didn’t care, I was out of there. I was suicidal. I’d go lay on the railroad tracks. They’d always see me and stop about a quarter of a mile away. At that point I was 14 and full of energy so after a while I’d get up and go play.”
“When my dad started drinking, he got these really dull light bulbs. When I’d do the dishes, I’d have to stand in this really dark corner and do them by feel. I didn’t want [my family] eating on dirty dishes. I know it’s because I read the Bible, and that’s not typical behavior for a six year old.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers. We all have a potential to turn violent. The more you pray, the more Jesus will become a part of your life. I call it engaging. I try to engage. When I was 17, the foster home tried to decide whether or not to let me go. I was pretty troubled even though I was ministering everyday. I ended up going to prison. We were drinking. I pled guilty because I was. I didn’t want to drag people out of their jobs for a jury. They sent me to prison for that. It was five years in St. Anthony but it felt like the same thing. I met a lot of brave and courageous young people there. I tried to teach the Bible while I was there but they wouldn’t let me do it before chores. Of course only two people wanted to stay after they had to do their chores. So that didn’t work out really good.”
“I work trimming trees and if I’m working and living at a place, I’ll pay for that first. But I never make enough money to pay the bills. I’ve learned many things about life and one of them is that you have to give. I give constantly. I may not have made the right decisions but maybe I can help other people do right. While I’m working I have to submit to God. I rake and I pray and I say God, this is really what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I try to help my coworkers as much as possible. It makes me a better worker and I know I’m doing my part.”
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Every so often we take a chance on an experience and that chance goes on to change our lives in many ways. I am grateful to David for sharing his life with me. This is his story.
Where did you grow up?
“I was born in Boone Iowa. My dad drove a soft-top Studebaker and I have fond memories of him taking me for a ride. I remember we used to go to The Ledges. They’re a little State Park just outside Boone. Rivers ran through the place but they were low enough that a car could easily drive through. We’d get out, park and play in the river. I have 8mm videos of my parents and I floating down the Apple River. I had that converted to DVD. It cost me but that was when I was working. I had a job, a family and a house. I was someone. I’m still someone. When most people think about material things and a job, they think that if you don’t have any of that you’re not someone. I’m still that same person but then again I’m not. I’ve grown; I’ve aged since then. Being homeless can take its toll. When I was in school and the teacher asked me, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up little David?’ I didn’t answer I want to be a homeless man. But here I am.”
“Losing everything has made me a little more cautious and maybe a little more cynical. My trust level is not there as much as it used to be. I was married for 21 years and I’m a throwaway husband. That’s my fault I know that but I also know it takes two to make a marriage. I was there for my kids, I was there for my job but I forgot my best friend. She’s the mother of my children and I forgot about her. It took its toll to the point where there’s no turning back and I couldn’t repair it. I tried to go to therapy and asked her to come along. She didn’t want to have anything to with it, or me. We divorced in February of 1997.”