During the 1990's, a Texas Tech researching team discovered that Lubbock has 300 to 500 homeless people living on the streets or in shelters, among those are families with children. Furthermore, 19,000 more are on the verge of becoming homeless. We all live fast paced lives, but have we ever stopped to think what it's like to be homeless? I spent 1 1/2 days living on the streets trying to make it, and I want to tell you about my experience.
Downtown Lubbock is a busy place, where it's fair share of tall buildings sit. Between those buildings are alley ways. If you stop and look, you may notice a different type of person walking around. They're either homeless or close to becoming homeless.
I met a man named Jack. He's homeless. Jack has been without his own home for almost six months. He came to Lubbock from Arlington. If there's one thing Jack wants, it's for people to understand the homeless. "Well, I just wish they would understand there are people out there that are trying to find something. Don't put us down because we just don't have a home. Like I said, I used to have an apartment, a nice job. I just lost it," says Jack.
I took our hidden cameras to the streets and went homeless for almost two days. I wanted to experience what Jack and several hundred others do when they do not have a job or a home.
Finding a warm meal was not tough. I found there is somewhere to get a free lunch every day of the week. Three different churches in town and the South Plains Food Bank volunteer their services for the needy. In particular, those people who venture out to the Methodist Outreach Center talk about jobs, money, and the best place to make money.
The hard reality hits you when lunch is over, and it's time to rough it back on the streets. Simple things like going to the bathroom are not so easy. You need quarters to use the bathroom at the downtown bus station. If you don't have the spare change, then you have to look elsewhere, like the Lubbock County Courthouse or the public library.
During the day, I ran into a homeless person in the alley way. He wasn't the only person I had seen dumpster diving. I found out those people are working for money because they're fishing out all the cans they can find. Some of these individuals cash in those cans at A-1 Metal Recycling which is conveniently located next to downtown.
Manager Jeff Gritter says a lot of the homeless make their cash this way. "Fifty pounds of cans will get them $15," says Gritter. That's for a full day's work.
There are other ways to find money. I've seen some homeless asking for help on the street corners, and I thought that I would see what that was like. That was the toughest part of this whole assignment. People just stared and passed me by. I felt stripped of my pride and stood there hopelessly until someone reached out to me. Two people gave me money. "There, this is all that I have," said one woman.
Downtown Lubbock becomes a ghost town after the sun goes down. The alley ways become dark and scary, plus they are empty. That's because a lot of the homeless find a place to call home for the night.
It was getting late that Thursday night. I headed to the Salvation Army Shelter just 10 minutes before 10:00. The shelter is locked and does not re-open until the morning.
I signed myself into the shelter. I had to fill out an identification card and was told the rules of the shelter. I had to be up at 6 a.m. Breakfast is served at 6:30, and I had to be out by 7. After the shelter attendant told me the rules, she gave me a towel, a bar of soap, and linens to make up my bed. The lights were out when I got into the women's side of the shelter. I went immediately to bed. It wasn't the most comfortable night of rest, but at least it was warm.
Just as I was told, there was a 6 wake up call. I got ready for another day to begin along with the three other women who slept in the same room as me. At 6:30, breakfast was served. The room shortly filled up with people who stayed at the shelter that night. I was amazed to see all sorts of people sleeping there. Young, old, clean, and dirty. They all had one thing in common though: they needed a place to stay.
I was accompanied by two men at my table. I kept quiet while the two of them talked about jobs, making money, and how many days they have left to stay at the shelter. When the man to my left got up, the man on my right talked to me: "He's been here for two months and hasn't found a job. All he does is walk around downtown in circles. You have to work in order to stay here long."
"This is my last night here," he proceeded to tell me. I asked him how long he's been at the shelter, and he said, "10 days, but I have a job. I'm going to get a place." The shelter allows extensions for those who work. Since I told the shelter that I didn't have a job, she gave me three days. Those are the rules.
After I finished breakfast, it was time to face the cold morning. It was still difficult for me to think about where to go because I was half asleep. But a man, who is also homeless, gave me some pointers: "If you want, you can keep warm at the bus station. Then, you can go to the Methodist Church right across the street from it to have some coffee. That's what I do," he told me.
As the day got brighter and warmed up, I tried my last attempt to make some more money. "Do you have any spare change?" I asked. "No, I sure don't," one woman told me. "Do you have any spare change," I asked a man this time. "I don't know if I do. Here, this is all I have," he said.
"It's frustrating to have to look for food and shelter. There are people like this that try to get out there and work, stay clean, get a job, get off the streets. We all want a place of our own again," says Jack.
This is just a fraction of what the homeless have to go through day after day. While I was homeless, I was given a total of $4.39 in a one hour time span. That money will be donated to the Salvation Army.