Letters 10-03-2016

Truths And Minorities While I appreciate Stephen Tuttle’s mention of the Colin Kaepernick situation, I was disappointed he wrote only of his right not to stand for the national anthem but not his reason for doing so. Personally, I commend Mr. Kaepernick for his courageous attempt to bring issues of concern to the forefront. As a white male baby boomer, I sadly realize I am in a minority among my peers...

“Yes” Means Your Rights It has been brought to my attention that some people in Traverse City are being asked to put “no” on Proposal 3 signs in their yards, and are falsely being told this means they do not want tall buildings downtown. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you vote no, you will be giving up your right to vote on future projects involving buildings over 60 feet in height...

Shame On NMC, Nelson The Northwestern Michigan College board and President Tim Nelson should be ashamed of their bad faith negotiations with the faculty. The faculty have received no raise this year, even though all other college staff have received raises. Mr. Nelson is set to receive a $20,000 raise...

Home · Articles · News · Features · Homeless for the Holidays/Hobo...
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Homeless for the Holidays/Hobo Don

Anne Stanton - December 28th, 2009
Homeless for the Holidays
An Interview with Hobo Don
By Anne Stanton
What is a hobo’s life like here in Northern Michigan at Christmastime?
You don’t have to look far to find the answer.
I first heard about “Hobo” Don Espy through Keith Schwartz, who works
at Sight and Sound at the Traverse Area District Library.
Keith told me a couple of months ago that Don had been robbed. A
homeless guy robbed. I thought it interesting, so I asked Keith to ask
Don to give me a call for an interview. And at last he did.
We met at the library last week, where Don and several other homeless
people routinely find a warm, quiet place to listen to music and read.
Don and I met in a conference room, where he sipped from a bottle
containing some wicked looking yellow liquid (vodka I guessed), as he
told me about his life.

NE: Keith told me you were robbed a couple of months ago.
DON: I’ve been robbed, kicked to the curb. People have a vehicle, a
home, HBO, a Social Security check and they want to steal from a guy
who has nothing. They have no consideration. I was robbed again the
other day at Central United Methodist Church --someone took my
hairbrush which was by my bed. Someone once took a library book and
didn’t give it back. It took me four years to get a library card. I
was so upset, but Keith said, “It’s okay man. We’ll still let you
take out books.” Finally, I got the book back.

NE: Tell me a little about yourself, how you became homeless.
DON: I’m not homeless. I’m houseless. I don’t like that term at all
man. … I’ve got a long time out on the streets. I’ve fallen in love
with Traverse City. I love this community. There are a lot of good
folks here. I feel at home. Finally, I’ve found a home after all my
drifting, all my wandering.

NE: What is that you love?
DON: It’s the people. They look you in the eye. It’s nice to say hello
— “Hello!” I’ve met some great people. People who care. I feel part of
this community and I look out for it. If I see a child or senior
citizen getting hurt, I do something. … I love this town so much, my
friend and I, we do street justice. There was a guy showing himself
right out in front of the nursery (at an area church) and I got so
angry. I threw his bike out in the alleyway. I told him, “This is
Traverse City! You can’t do that here.” He said, “I was just adjusting
my pants.” They arrested him for indecent exposure.
The boys in blue know me. They know me as Hobo Don. They understand
that I’m an alcoholic. Last year, I was in a snow bank, sleeping in
the back stairway of the State Theatre. They woke me up. “Don, what
are you doing!” I had no blanket, just my jacket. They saved my life
man. Then they arrested me for disorderly conduct. The D.A. amended it
to trespass, attempted assault. The judge kicked my butt, hit me hard
for it--$850! I pay $25 a month. Traverse City is about money. They
want money instead of putting you into jail. I have people trying to
change the system.

NE: I know that you’re sleeping at area churches, in a program called
Safe Harbor (a group of churches and volunteers that rotate providing
shelter for the homeless in the colder months). Where else do you
sleep when it’s warm outside?
DON: I like Union Street Bridge. When the salmon are spawning, you’re
jumping all night, too. But it’s a good sound compared to snoring or
coughing all night.

NE: So you’ve been homeless for quite a long time. See any trends?
DON: We’re getting more people from Saginaw, Grand Rapids, Flint, even
as far as Detroit. There are services up here, compared to down there.
Not as much competition and easier access. Think of it. You’re
competing with 300 others compared to 3,000.

NE: What did you do before you were homeless?
DON: I was a forest fighter. I was a G.S.-4 and worked for 17 years.

NE: You said when we met that you own two pairs of clothes. Do you need more?
DON: I never have what I need. I guess I’ve got everything I need. But
I miss companionship. I do. I’m scared to talk to my children. I
haven’t talked to my children for 17 years. They’re in upstate New
York. I was married one time. I’ll tell you a joke. Some guy told me I
was a mother *!#% and I said, “Yup, and I’ve got six children to prove
it.” He had no comeback on that one, man.

NE: How do you feel about your life?
DON: I feel like I’ve chosen it. I’m grateful for it. I don’t blame it
on the government or bad luck. But I’m tired of being a sounding board
to people. I want to read a book. “I’m sorry, leave me alone, I don’t
want to hear your problems. Let me sleep.” Some of them call me Doctor
Don. I used to do a lot of LSD. That makes me more perceptible to
people’s feelings. But I need my space too. When someone starts
ragging about their lives, I say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not your
psychologist.” I would say that, but I’m not that rude.
Sometimes I feel like a failure. I have no friends. But I’ve got God.
It works out in different ways. Someone down the street needs a dollar
bill, and I give it to him. It’s my thing to give, and I tell them,
pass it on. And then they do. I learned about debit cards. No, no, no.
I got a block on my ATM. I tried to help too many people. …. I have a
friend at Baypointe Church. She wants to shape me and form me. She’s
my friend man. She loves me, man. This is the person I love from Safe
Harbor. You sleep on the floor at these churches, on mats. Next week
it’s the Presbyterian Church and it changes every two weeks. They
should make a rule -- two bags per person, only what you can carry.
Some people have six or seven bags. I’ve suggested a two-bag rule to
the coordinator of Safe Harbor.

NE: Are you happy?
DON: I’m at that point in my life, I’m happy, but God please forgive
me, don’t reject me. I used to fear dying, but I don’t fear dying
anymore. I used to be ashamed of being homeless, but I learned one
day, I care about people. But I don’t want their problems. But I love
them anyways. I’m dying.

NE: Why do you say you’re dying?
DON: You start dying the day you’re born. Don’t you know that! I’ve
been stabbed seven times during the Watts riot. Burned in Vermont in
2003 in my camp. I had half a gallon of vodka, a sleeping bag. One and
one equals two. Want to see my scars?
(He lifts his shirt and shows me. Ouch.)

NE: That must have hurt.
DON: I was too numbed to feel it. The doctor told me my fun in the sun
is over. He had to take skin off my legs to patch up my torso. I
rolled with the flow. It was my screw-up.
Sometimes I wish I’d never been born. It’s not money. Sometimes I wish
I wouldn’t wake up again. I feel that way. I’m so abused man. It
hurts. I’m a man. I’m a tough guy. I can’t use my hands. I’m so old.
I’m 56-1/2 going on 90. I’m not over the hill yet.
I wonder about it sometimes. I’d like to meet someone, but I’m scared
of responsibility. I keep myself alone that way. It’s scary. No, no,
no, don’t come close. I’m Hobo Don. I’ve got almost 20 years of being
alone. It would be nice to cuddle and hug someone. As far as sex goes,
it scares me. I have six children. I’m here today, gone tomorrow. I’m
subject to fly away. I have six children. I raised them up for 10
years. I was working out in Colorado, and my wife became pregnant by a
17-year-old. She was 34. It blew my mind. That was it. I dropped my
house, I dropped everything. I walked away, and I’ve never been back.
I’ll never go back.

NE: And you really like drinking. Do you ever wish alcohol didn’t exist?
DON: No! Of course not. It numbs my feelings. I like it. A
psychologist told me I was destined to be an alcoholic. It’s gone
father to son, father to son, but I didn’t pass it onto my children. I
left before it happened. I didn’t want them to grow up to be like me.
My daughter is a bank officer and she’s married. I have a grand
daughter who is 12, who I’ve never met. I’m scared to go back. They’ve
got their lives. If I went back, I’d disrupt their lives. They’re
doing their thing.
I’m not selfish. I’m not a selfish man. I’ll take the pain; I’ve got
two shoulders. Many times, I cry my brains out and no one ever sees
me. I’m not cold hearted. I cry out of guilt, out of not being there.
Just because I live on the streets doesn’t mean I don’t feel.

NE: Do people look at you as they walk by?
DON: Most of the time. I say, “God bless you.” They say, “God bless
you too.” Some are zombies, buried in their own heads, but I don’t
take it as a personal insult. Hey, do you have any money so I can buy
something to drink?

NE: I’m sorry I don’t. I gave my last dollar to my husband this
morning for a cup of coffee. But I have these two free certificates
for pies at the Grand Traverse Pie Company.
DON: Where’s the Pie Company?
NE: On Front Street.
DON: Well, okay. Are you sure you don’t have any money?
NE: I’m sorry, but I really don’t.
DON: Okay, well, God bless you.
NE: God bless you too.

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