Dayton citizens struggle with life on the streets

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Photo: Dalton Smith

Over half a million people are homeless.

According to St. Vincent de Paul’s website, there were around 150,000 Ohioans homeless in 2012 and over 12,000 people went to bed without a home every night. This year, St. Vincent de Paul’s organization strives to help those people in need.  

After years of working in the Dayton area, St. Vincent de Paul has witnessed countless lives struggling with homelessness. In recent years, this epidemic has seen a slight decrease in the number of people it affects in the United States, but it still remains a prominent issue in our community.

Dayton is home to over 140,000 people and more than six percent of them battle with living on the streets. Chris Zimmer, a student at the University of Dayton who works at the St. Vincent de Paul’s women and family shelter, says homelessness has really become an issue in Dayton.

“Dayton has had a real problem with homelessness in recent years,” Zimmer said, “A lot of these people have jobs, but they get paid so poorly that they can’t pay for a home and food for their family.”

Zimmer believes it’s been a big struggle getting people back on their feet because a lot these people have mental health issues and can’t care for themselves.

“Even recently we’ve had a boost in the homelessness we’ve seen come to the shelters because a mental health hospital was closed down and so many of these people had nowhere to go,” Zimmer said.

The shelters do their best to provide what they can. “We give them beds, showers, three meals a day and even lounge areas where they can relax and watch TV,” he said. “Law & Order is really big with the adults and the kids still love to watch Spongebob.” 

St. Vincent de Paul also tries to help with the children’s education. “Everyday, we have tutors come in and help teach the kids,” Zimmer said.

Not all people who are struggling with homelessness though are as fortunate as to be able to stay at one of St. Vincent de Paul’s two shelters. The Women and Family shelter for example can only hold 180 people.

Edward Drayton, Fairmont’s School Resource Officer, has encountered a couple cases where homeless families have tried to live off land that doesn’t belong to them.

“I dealt with an older gentlemen who was squatting at someone’s house and unfortunately we had to arrest him,” Drayton said, “It’s a really tough situation to deal with. We don’t want to arrest them, but when they’re trespassing, we don’t have much of a choice.”

Before his time at Fairmont, Drayton met a girl that was living with her family in a condemned house. “The water was turned off, there was no heat and her mother was a hoarder,” Drayton said, “The bedroom was filled with garbage and the bed was surrounded by 5 feet deep of trash.”

Drayton contacted the girl’s school and worked with them to enroll her in certain programs to help her. On Valentine’s Day, Drayton and his wife visited the girl and gave her gifts, such as a teddy bear and some hygiene products like a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Not many cases of homelessness that Drayton has worked with has had as happy of an ending. “A lot of times, I’ve had people ask me to arrest them. They want to be out of the elements and have a place to sleep and something to eat,” Drayton said. “It’s really sad, but it’s a real problem people are dealing with.”

A man named Todd has been living homeless in Dayton for eight years. He admits that drugs and alcohol has led him to the difficult life he lives today. “I’m not gonna lie. I started using drugs and drinking a lot. I’m an alcoholic and everyday I just try to pay for my cigarettes and alcohol. But, you can’t do drugs if you don’t have any money.”

He hasn’t gone to any of the shelters in Dayton and doesn’t try to get help from his family. “I’m not gonna go to my family with my problems because I don’t like putting it on them. They’re my problems, not theirs,” Todd said.

Todd has seen many of his friends struggle with the same problems he’s experienced. “A lot of my friends are addicted to heavy drugs and it’s destroying them.”

He experiences people looking at him differently, but he’s accepted what his life is like and that he’s trying to move forward.

“We all got our own problems and I’m just trying to get better.” Todd said. “You choose your own path. You take it.”