Homeless on the home front

Foreclosure has man living out of his truck

Dave Peel never thought he would be homeless, but he joins the ranks of many people who find themselves that situation in the last couple of years.

“When I was a homeowner and was part of a family, even when I broke up with my ex-wife, I never thought I’d be in a situation like this. I’d talk about them (the homeless). I didn’t bad mouth people but I did think sometimes that they couldn’t be so lazy to not get a job, and asked myself why they were on the streets,” Peel said.

“Now I know that homelessness is a whole different situation,” he adds. “It’s not a guy dumpster-diving in a back alley. I’ve met ex-police officers, families, and a lot of it happened to them because of the foreclosures. Foreclosures broke up families and caused no work to be available, which resulted in their homelessness.”

According to the state Office of Economic Opportunity’s semi-annual Homeless Sheltered count, about 6,595 people in Minnesota were provided with shelter or transitional housing on Jan. 25, 2012. About 910 were unsheltered on that same date. The count is done on a specific date and only accounts for people in shelters on that date.

The group not included in the count is the precariously housed population in which people are in danger of becoming homeless. Washington County’s count for that evening was 381, a 1.2 percent increase from the 2011 count. About 40 percent of those counted in the county said they were staying with a family member or friend. Peel would’ve fallen into the precariously housed population then.

Peel said after a short sale of his home, he lived with his son at family members’ homes for a time. According to Peel, he and his son were homeless for a time in Woodbury until Peel said his son got a good job and got out of the situation.

From 2010 through 2011, Peel was working off and on until he found a custodian job for about six months in Willarnie. However, he lost that job around Christmas last year. He spent several nights sleeping in his truck at the Interstate 94 rest stop and since August, he’s been living in his truck in the Stillwater area.

When asked why he didn’t live with his son, Peel said: “I can’t live with the idea of making my son take care of me. I’m always the parent first and I have more pride in myself than that.”

Peel said he continues looking for work, and makes connections with people at the local McDonald’s. He admits getting some assistance through food stamps. He’s gone from making $3,000 a month to scraping together about $100 a week when he can.

“I’m not a person that goes on the street and holds up signs. I don’t know if I could handle the embarrassment part of it. I don’t mooch or panhandle and I’m doing things on my own,” Peel said. “There’s only so much help for a single male and most services seem to deal mainly with families.”

A day in Peel’s life involves visiting the library, checking the Internet  for jobs and his email. He then visits a gas station to restock his coolers with ice that he keeps in his truck. When he has enough gas money, Peel said he goes to the St. Paul Workforce Center and looks for jobs. He donates plasma twice a week and occasionally does some custodial work on the side so he can have some spending money. He’s also grateful to have his car, which he says is more than some homeless people have.

Despite the challenges Peel faces with homelessness, he aims to look on the bright side of the situation, and has gotten some great support from area churches, particularly Grace Baptist Church. The pastor there invited him to come to services one day in exchange for a gas card and Peel decided to keep coming to services.

“There are some days that are very stressful and that’s when I thank God I’ve got a minister. It’s frustrating but I keep on keepin’ on. I’m battered, bruised, broken and a wounded warrior but I have a good sense of humor that helps me through,” Peel said.

Church members have offered to keep some of his belongings safe at their homes and Peel helps out around the church and uses a heater that the church pastor gave him for the long cold nights in his truck.

“Though I know I’m just a statistic, I try to do the best for myself and not give up hope. There are ways to be productive and there’s gotta be ways to get back some self-respect and dignity,” Peel said. “There’s a lot you lose when it comes to homelessness. You lose a lot of your normal routines and it’s all taken away from you, and you just have to get back a little self-respect. It’s hard and it’s really hard. Unless you’ve talked to someone who’s been in that situation it’s hard to have people understand.”

What Peel hopes to gain is a roadmap to get out of homelessness that for him includes a custodial job and housing.