Homeless discuss realities

Some of the area’s homeless residents agree that immediate aid resources are plentiful in the county. They say, however, that there is a long line of underlying barriers that require hurdling on the path to help.

The area’s homeless and homed residents talked reality on Tuesday in Hickory during a forum that was part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. They discussed truths, myths, barriers and needs that revolve around homelessness and the quest to getting “back on their feet.”

While some homeless residents admitted that drugs, crime and other commonly cited issues can be facilitating factors of homelessness, they say self-esteem and confidence concerns can sometimes keep them from reaching their goals.

“Not everybody you see is there because they do drugs. I don’t and never have,” said Russell Beacham, a homeless resident in Hickory. “I still, though, at the age of 50, live in a tent in the woods. I spent my 50th birthday in the dark, in a tent, by myself.”

A former truck driver, Beacham said he lost everything after his ex-wife took his children and all his belongings during a custody battle. He said he tries daily to find work, but constantly runs into roadblocks and employers not willing to give a homeless man a chance.

“There are some nights when I want to put a knife to my neck or jump in front of a train and end it all,” he said. “It’s not been a very good experience. I’ve been out there two and a half years and still don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Beacham was one of four panelists at Tuesday's forum that are homeless or used to be homeless. In addition to sharing their personal stories, the panelists answered questions from area residents about what can be done to help them toward a better life.

All of the panelists said area aid organizations help or helped them recover from their darkest days.

Randy Ford, a former alcoholic and drug-user, said he lived on the streets and in cars until The Hickory Soup Kitchen and local Salvation Army gave him a chance.

“I wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for the soup kitchen and Salvation Army,” Ford said at the forum. “When I was on drugs, I stole from my sisters, and I was sleeping on the streets and in cars. Eventually, I made my mind up that there was no future in it."

Ford started volunteering at The Hickory Soup Kitchen and visiting the shelter at the Salvation Army. He said both groups helped him stay sober and made him feel wanted — something that has kept him clean for nearly seven months.

“Now, I volunteer at the soup kitchen every day and have been doing it for six months,” he said. “I knew I was going to wind up back in prison for a long time or be back on the streets, and I don’t want to be sleeping in that car when it’s 22 degrees below.”

While a growing list of aid organizations help homeless men like Ford every day, some say legislative barriers and political correctness have created stark barriers for the homeless or past criminals to obtain jobs or enroll in school.

Nan Lacy is the director of marking and fund development for Sipe’s Orchard Home, a Conover-based care organization. In addition to educational programs for pre-schoolers and toddlers, Sipe’s offers transitional living programs for homeless, disadvantaged youth — a category of teens and young adults that continues to grow.

“We are seeing that when they finally want to get their life together, there are so many barriers keeping them from getting a job,” Lacy said.

“We need to have business owners that are willing to take risks. I’d like to stop seeing businesses being so careful that they forget who needs jobs.”

Lacy said the amount of area support for the homeless is “extensive and wonderful,” but without jobs the disadvantaged will end up back where they started.

“They can give as much as they can, but until corporations and the legislature make changes, they are not going to be able to get jobs,” she said. “I truly believe our legislature needs to review how we deal with the oppressed. We have created more barriers through legislature than anywhere else. I’m afraid that slowly, the human side of us is going by the wayside."