Homeless Man Makes Do With a Little Help

Living on a river with a view of the city: it’s a home that some people, save for their whole lives. There are people in Columbus who live on the river front, but would rather live some place else. They’re homeless. They live in a camp along the Scioto River in the middle of a brush patch that’s been cleared. Most of them live in tents.

If you didn’t know any better you might think it was a campground for vacationers. Small trees hang over the tents like a canopy, and will provide much needed shade during the summer. Thick brush separates the camp from the rest of society.

One camp sits behind COSI. It has a view of the Leveque Tower and the A-E-P building.

Fred Huffman says he’s lived at the camp since November. Huffman says seeing the Columbus skyline at night makes being homeless a little more tolerable. “At night, oh my God, if you come up here you get to see all the buildings lit up. With the Leveque Towers. They light the Leveque Tower up and they light up the AEP building, they light it up. And you know, all the ones you see lit up it’s absolutely beautiful when you sit here. You can kind of sit back and be like oh my goodness. This is absolutely great.” Says Huffman

Huffman and a dozen others live at the camp. It’s a mix of people. There are blacks, whites and a Hispanic man. There are couples. And even two women who are pregnant. Each person brings their own personality to their living space. Holiday wreaths still decorate a couple of trees. Some people have laid mats in front of their tents. Mismatched coffee tables, chairs and carpets serve as a family room for others. “We try to make it as comfortable as possible. Uh, none of us plan to be out here long term. But my philosophy was for the period of time that I am out here I’m trying to make myself as comfortable as possible.” Says Huffman.

But living with no running water, sewer system or electricity is hardly comfortable for more than a couple of days. The people at this camp have made do, however. Huffman designed and built a urinal system for the men. Plastic tubes and p-v-c piping carries the waste into the ground away from the living area. He also built an outhouse 15 feet away from the tents. There’s a toilet seat attached to one of the walls, and below it is a bucket. “Got tired of holding at night. But it keeps from feces and everything from being laid all around. We got a hole dug up. You see the shovel stuck up in the ground back there. We take it and walk it back there, dump it, and put a little more dirt in it and things like that. Who’s the one who does that? Whoever the last person to use it. Everybody’s responsible for their own waste.” Huffman adds.

The camp is like a small neighborhood. They have conversations that you might hear at a local pub talking about what kind of beer or brand of cigarettes they prefer. 29-year-old James Stephens, who lives a couple of tents down from Huffman, boasts about smoking all natural loose leaf tobacco, which Huffman considers a luxury. “See, but his is Midnight Special. Mine’s organic blend, natural American Spirit which is there’s no additive chemical like. See, he can afford that, I can’t. His is like a $1.75, this is $5.70 a pouch. See, he can afford that, I can’t.” Says companion James Stephens.

The people living at this site appear to have enough to eat. They snacked constantly. While many of them eat their main meal at a soup kitchen on Grubb Street, much of their food comes from various food pantries around the area.

Huffman serves as cook and keeper of most of the food at the camp.

Huffman and Stephens sort the food items Stephens brought back with him that day. Huffman keeps canned goods like tuna fish and fruit in a small cabinet in his tent. He says at Easter, when the soup kitchen was closed for a few days, everyone had plenty to eat. “You know, we cooked here. And we held our own. And it was from the woods bags and different things that Sister Francis provided us with, and you know a lot of the time they give us the subs that the girl got there. I know in the woods bags she gave, I had four, maybe four, five sub sandwiches. So how, how do you keep those from, from spoiling.Because I’m sure it’s meat, and meat doesn’t keep forever? Right, right. It doesn’t keep forever. You have to eat it in a short, in a period of time. With the sandwiches we ate in a couple of days. We took and went on ahead and ate those within a couple.” Huffman explains.

While men like Huffman have tried to make the best of their situation, Huffman does not want to live there forever. Tomorrow a look at how Huffman ended up there and his struggle to escape homelessness.

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