Couple sticks together through difficult times

 

MOUNT VERNON — In mid-October, just in time to escape the chill of an autumn that turned immediately to winter, Jeremy and Lisa sit in the waiting room of an unused car wash. Before the News arrives to speak with them, Jeremy cleans the place up a bit for guests. Modified by the owner, Jeff Cline, to serve as a temporary residence, the car wash is the first home that he and Lisa have had in nearly three years, and he wants to make sure it looks nice.

The couple preferred that the News not publish their last names.

Sheets and blankets are hung over the many windows of the car wash and over the entrance to provide the couple with privacy, a luxury they haven’t had for quite some time. In the corner sits Lisa’s new motorized wheel chair. When the News previously spoke with Jeremy in late March, Lisa was still using a regular wheelchair, and relied heavily on Jeremy to get around. They have a few pieces of furniture, including a pull-out sleeper sofa, furnished by Cline. The make-shift room they’re staying in isn’t very big, but it’s a far cry from the tent they had been living out of.

The couple met four and a half years ago. Introduced by a friend, they hit it off immediately. They lived in Mount Vernon with a friend of Lisa’s for a few years, but were left homeless around three years ago when the lease expired. Jeremy’s daughters were taken in by his mother, who was granted temporary custody, as their birth mother was out of the picture. It was the first of many hard lessons Jeremy and Lisa learned about life without a roof over their heads.

Joshua Morrison/News

Just from talking with the two of them, it’s obvious that they work well together, often finishing each other’s thoughts. They’ve stuck together through all the trials and tribulations of homelessness and continue to look out for each other.

“She’s my rock,” Jeremy said. “She kept me out of trouble, because trouble finds me very, very easy.”

Lisa is bound to a wheelchair, due to undiagnosed health issues, and is cut off from medical care by lack of money and transportation. Jeremy serves as her caretaker, helping her in and out of her chair, and with everyday tasks disrupted by limited mobility. In order to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Lisa is required to see a doctor for diagnoses.

“It’s hard to get to doctors, because most of them, you have to have referrals and go to specialists and stuff, and I’ve got to get to them in Columbus,” Lisa shared. “It’s been very difficult…I was congested with a cold all winter. You just had to deal with it.”

Jeremy has received SSDI since he was 17 years old. He was the sole survivor of a car crash, in which his best friends died. Jeremy escaped with his life, but sustained severe injuries to his hip, changing his life forever.

“I never even [thought] about being homeless,” Jeremy said. “I came from a pretty good family, you know what I’m saying? My grandpa raised me. My mom was mom, but you know, she always done her thing [sic]. I lived with my grandma and grandpa.”

Both Lisa and Jeremy are also recovering heroin users; Jeremy said he is five years clean, and Lisa is eight and a half years clean.

“That’s one thing (drugs) you’ve got to watch down there,” Lisa said of a homeless camp they lived at on South Norton Street near the Kokosing River. “You’ve got to watch yourself to make sure you don’t get into that kind of group that’s down there. We, like, stayed to ourselves, that way we wouldn’t.”

Lisa’s six adult children have helped the couple as much as possible. But they have lease agreements they would risk losing if they took Lisa and Jeremy in, Lisa said. Lisa’s youngest daughter allows them to use her shower, and her oldest son provided them with a tent for shelter.

Joshua Morrison/News

“I really don’t [ask my kids for help], it’s really not —I know it’s nuts but — it’s not for a parent to ask their kids for help. It’s for kids to ask their parents [for help],” Lisa said. “My husband took care of everything before he passed, and you know, I used to take a lot of things for granted… I just thought it was easy to be able to get. And, you know, you’ve got to respect everything you get and be thankful for it. It was a struggle for a couple years and then it just like went downhill. At the time I didn’t feel like there was [anyway] out.”

In addition to the tent, Jeremy explained that the heavy blankets they received from the Winter Sanctuary Emergency Homeless Shelter and Interchurch Social Services were vital to survival.

“Even in the heat, that moisture (humidity) comes up and gets the whole bottom of your tent wet,” Lisa explained.

At sunrise, Jeremy would wake and organize the tent, and would hang their blankets out to keep them dry. Before leaving, he would padlock the tent and set booby-traps to secure their belongings. Jeremy said that the last camp they sheltered in was rife with drugs and prostitution. They hadn’t noticed the problems initially, mostly because they weren’t looking for them. The other sites in the area that they had sheltered in, the couple explained, typically hadn’t had as much drug activity or prostitution. They were especially caught off guard by the amount of theft between the homeless groups living around the site.

“People would set back [sic] and watch [as we cleaned up],” Lisa said, explaining the need for booby-traps. “I thought the homeless helped the homeless but they didn’t. It was just the different groups that were there. You had the groups that watched out for each other and then it was like homeless robbing the homeless.”

Each day the two would leave their tent to get dinner at the hot meals program, but, as the thefts continued, skipped several meals to stay behind and protect their belongings.

“Survival. That’s your main first goal is survival,” Jeremy said. “You gotta eat man… We was too scared to leave our camp, because people was stealing our stuff. Three days not eating; I was a pretty big boy, not being able to eat and that’s not good man. When you’re hungry, you haven’t ate for three days, food is the only thing on your mind.”

Growing up, Jeremy was introverted and stuck to himself, but “that shyness kind of went away as you started being homeless,” he said. He recalled the first time he and Lisa received money, when a woman drove up to them around Christmastime and handed them an envelope containing money.

“She pulled up, said ‘Here you go, Merry Christmas.’ It meant food — we could go eat,” Jeremy remembered. “There’s many, many days and many nights when I stood right over here at the [gas station] and panhandled.”

While there were moments of generosity, there were also moments of cruelty. They recalled a few times that they had plastic bottles of liquid thrown at them by people in passing cars; water mostly, Jeremy said, but some contained urine.

“Just random people driving by us, being stupid,” Jeremy explained. “It made me upset man, it made me feel low. I don’t know why they had to do something stupid like that. [I want to be treated] like everybody else. When they know you’re homeless, you feel like you’re not treated like everybody else.”

Jeremy and Lisa said they would like to see the town do more to help their homeless neighbors.

“I just hope this town can give a little bit more help to the homeless, because I tell you what, there’s going to be a lot more of them,” Jeremy said. “They need a homeless shelter that’s open all year round, because in this town, people who have kids man, it’s rough. It’s real rough. I don’t wish it on anybody.”

Though the car wash provides little in the way of warmth for the couple, they have a roof over their head and a door that locks while they find a way to get back on their feet. Lisa is still waiting for her application for SSDI to go through so she can see the specialists she needs. The couple attends church Sundays with Cline. They are working hard to find a permanent place to stay, so that Jeremy can see his daughters on a regular basis.

“I’m really thankful for Jeff [Cline] and his people that came down there (into the camps), because it kind of woke me up even a little bit more,” Jeremy explained. “Started going to church [with Cline]. Got saved. [Got] baptized, and I’m getting ready to hopefully get a stable place and I can get my kids back.

 

Callan Pugh: 740-397-5333 or callan@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews

 

 

 

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