Join WOSU Public Media and the Short North Alliance for a Broad & High community screening event and happy hour at Brothers Drake Meadery on Wednesday, April 30 from 5-7 pm.
Some Columbus Homeless Prefer Streets to Shelters.
The homeless and needy sit at rows of tables in the Holy Family soup kitchen on Grubb Street. Before the food is served everyone recites the Lord’s Prayer.
Fred Huffman, who lives at a homeless camp along the Scioto River, is one of more than 700 people who go to the soup kitchen each day. For many of them it’s their main source of nutrition.
Huffman says he’s been homeless since Halloween. That’s the day he got out of prison. Huffman spent six months at the Ross Correctional Institution for forging a check, a crime he committed in 2004. He says he did it because he was desperate for cash. Huffman, who says he quit his job after his wife left and his mother died, had exhausted his money. “I was hurting more inside than, like I said, I was willing to show everyone. And I just fell apart. I ran away. I was so mad and so upset behind losing my mother that I didn’t care about anything else. You know, there was nothing else for me to do. I had no one to, I felt I had no one to make happy or make proud anymore.” Says Huffman.
If you saw Huffman on the street you would never know he was homeless. The 5’4″ African-American man has a neatly groomed goatee. His clothes are neat and clean. And you can even smell a hint of aftershave. He says he washes up every day in a bathroom at the soup kitchen. Huffman says just because he’s homeless, he doesn’t have to look or smell like it. And it’s that optimistic outlook he says helps him and his friends get through the everyday struggles of being homeless. “I try to, I try to keep a positive attitude. Uh, because when you keep a positive attitude normally it rubs off on, on everyone else.” Huffman says.
Everyday Huffman and some of his friends make the twelve minute walk from their camp to Grubb Street. He says the Holy Family Catholic Church’s bells serve as a backup alarm clock. “But you know, we usually walk over together. Wait til after the eight o’clock train go by. Eight o’clock train usually wake us up. But a lot of times if we don’t wake up we’ll hear this and we’ll wake up and we’re like hold on, that’s nine chimes. Hold up!” Huffman says.
After Huffman finishes his meal he sometimes goes back to the camp. Other times he pan handles. Since he says he’s been unable to get a job his days are free. This day he goes back to the campsite. And he shares his frustration with not being able to find work because of his felony conviction. “If you’re honest enough to be honest and say yes you have it’s like a totally different, different view of you from that point on. I don’t care how good you are, how much experience you have or anything like that. Once they hear oh yes you have a felony or whatever the case it may be their whole attitude turns. You know, we’ll contact you. Right now, we’re just doing interviews. And you never hear from them, so. It’s like I’m damned if I don’t, I’m damned if I do.” Adds Huffman.
So in the mean time Huffman serves as a confidante to some of his camp friends. One in particular is 29-year-old James Stephens, who suffers with bi-polar disorder. Stephens describes Huffman as a counselor. “Now when I get frustrated we go down and feed the geese. And that’s so relaxing to us. To me it is. It helps get rid of my problems. He sings and it just, it just, you know, it just helps.” Says Stephens
Another way Huffman occupies his time is by preparing many of the meals for everyone at the camp. He and his friends will dine on tuna fish salad this night. Huffman started by opening up at least half a dozen cans of tuna. Then he chops up some onions.
He adds ranch dressing instead of mayonnaise and a few of his own special spices he keeps on hand to give it was he calls a kick.
While this is not what Huffman would consider the best meal he’s ever had, he says it tastes pretty good and keeps away the hunger pangs.
Huffman says he does not plan on living off the land forever. In fact he has family he could stay with if he wanted to. But he doesn’t. He says he has to prove to himself that he can get back on his feet by himself. Huffman says he’s not sure how long it will take him to do that, but he says every day’s a deadline.