"I Am Neighbor" - Bob

Autumn days are shorter.  Mornings are colder.  Anticipation swells for the colors of the season. It’s a time of plenty: the market is full of produce; stores are full of candy; neighborhood windows are full of cobwebs. Children are looking forward to the holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas.

For Bob, the anticipation he feels is more aptly described as fear. For the roughly 2,400 homeless people like Bob in Muskegon County, winter is a time of hardship.

Click the image for more "I Am Neighbor" stories.

Click the image for more "I Am Neighbor" stories.

Bob didn’t always live in his friend's garage. After getting a qualification in accounting in the 80’s the financial market crashed, so Bob moved into Muskegon's busy manufacturing industry. Similar to the financial market, the manufacturing market in the USA also crashed. Like the rest of Michigan, Muskegon's manufacturing started to slow and shut down: Factories were closed; jobs moved overseas; thousands of people were slowly laid off. After 9 years in his position, Bob also was reshuffled, and then, because he cost the company too much money, he also was sacked.

Bob moved on to another manufacturing job through a temporary work service. Despite continually being told that the company would be hiring full permanent positions soon, he was surprised to find himself unemployed again after the company decided to move their business to China.

Again Bob moved on, this time to work at a die cast facility that produced automobile parts.

“It was during that time GM went belly under {sic},” Bob says.  The facility panicked because they had lost major contracts and had to cut costs.  Bob was not an essential employee. “I didn't get my 90 days, so I had to go.”

Bob moved on once more, doing landscaping and working for a cleaning agency until his Landlord decided to sell off the property. “I stayed there for another 3 or 4 months doing odd jobs and helping out with plumbers and stuff, just to be an extra pair of hands,” but when the work was completed, Bob was left with nowhere to go. It was winter and the cold, icy temperatures left Bob with one choice--The Rescue Mission.  

When the cold of winter had passed, Bob moved his life into a storage unit.  “I ended up on the news. ‘Homeless man sleeping in storage unit.’  It was kinda true, kinda not: you gotta do what you gotta do to keep tugging along.” That's exactly what Bob does, despite the circumstances, despite his health, he keeps tugging along.

He currently sleeps in a friend’s garage, moving around every couple of weeks and has his belongings scattered around other friends’ houses. Bob walks everywhere.  He doesn't drive, and couldn't afford the cost even if he wanted to. Finding work has depended on his ability to travel, having to rely on his friends for transport if the work was too far for him to walk.

Earlier this year, Bob was referred to Pathways to Better Health of the Lakeshore, a  Mercy Health Community Benefit Program that helps develop care plans for vulnerable people with two or more chronic diseases. From there he was referred to Community enCompass, where he was connected to Housing Resource Specialists who are helping him navigate towards permanent housing.  Bob is currently waiting for a Section 8 Housing Voucher so that he can get off the streets and back on his feet.  He’s also waiting on a disability claim. On top of Bob’s chronic illnesses, he also has back problems and is blind in one eye. Like 30%* of the homeless population of Muskegon, Bob’s health prevents him from working. Yet like the season, Bob’s still moving on.

Autumn is here and Bob is left waiting. He volunteers at Sacred Suds, a community center and day shelter program of Community enCompass.  He also does occasional yard work for his church. Bob has no certainty in his future: where he will be staying, if he will be working, what will happen with his health.  All Bob knows is that if nothing changes, he'll face no choice but to go back to the Mission for the winter.  

We would like to thank Bob for sharing his story and for agreeing to keep us updated as he progresses. Unfortunately, Bob's story is all too common in Muskegon, but it is integral to changing the narrative and helping the broader society better understand the challenges faced by homeless people

*Data taken from the MHCCN Annual Data Report 2007-2015