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   from the issue of April 19, 2007

There is no easy way out


Tim never intended to be homeless.

CARDBOARD REQUEST - Tim, a 44-year-old homeless man, holds a cardboard sign as an individual walks by in downtown Lincoln...
CARDBOARD REQUEST - Tim, a 44-year-old homeless man, holds a cardboard sign as an individual walks by in downtown Lincoln. A new campaign aims to direct people to give donations to Lincoln organizations that help the homeless rather than giving directly to panhandlers. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.

Clutching a cardboard sign on a downtown street corner, the 44-year-old Fairbury native watches as people pass by his request for a bit of assistance. Slowly, he begins to talk about his slide from family man to the streets.

"I've been on the streets for five years now," said Tim, who didn't feel comfortable giving his last name. "I lost my wife and went on a drunken spree. I lost my job and things just spun out of control."

Hunkered on top of a duffle filled with his life possessions, Tim eyes a few more members of the lunch crowd.

"I'm so hungry," Tim said. "When I get money I don't use it to buy alcohol. I don't touch the stuff anymore. I buy food. That's why I get up every day and come down here, to collect money so I can eat."

One of his favorite recent memories is a visit from a friend who took him to Kuhl's Restaurant for breakfast - his favorite meal.

He has traveled from coast to coast, but Nebraska continues to draw him back. Tim has a few friends in town - some established with homes, others who live on the street and even a daughter and grandchild.

"When I need a shower, I have a few friends I can go to," Tim said. "I don't bother my daughter. It's hard enough for her raising a child as a single mother. She doesn't need me dragging her down."

When it's cold, Tim ventures to a shelter. When the weather warms he sleeps outside.

He's apprehensive about the new chronic homeless education program introduced April 18 by the Downtown Lincoln Association and UNL Student Affairs - especially when he believes it will take food out of his mouth.

Tim understands the organizations involved are there to help people in his position. He's tried to get assistance from a few of them in the past, but it's never gotten him out of the homeless rut.

"What I really need is an address," Tim said. "I'm a cook with over 30 years of experience. I've applied at every downtown restaurant you can name. But, without an address, no one is going to hire me.

"If anyone of those places could offer me an address, I would go to them."

Despite having to swallow his pride every day, rising to sit on a corner and beg for spare change, Tim remains hopeful. He thinks the new chronic homeless campaign could provide new opportunities and is willing to give the organizations a second chance.

But, it's hard to plan for the long term when you are living meal to meal.

"If people stop giving money downtown, I'll have to move to somewhere else," Tim said. "I don't like being out here, but I gotta eat."



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