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Vendor Spotlight: William (Homeward Bound, USA)

 Homeward Bound News - USA 07 May 2019

William once was part of America’s workforce. He worked most of his life; a life that also included bouts with substance abuse and law enforcement. Yet this 55-year-old, who is now homeless, still dreams of returning to work. As a first step, he has become a vendor for Indianapolis’ new street paper Homeward Bound. (1623 Words) - By Jeff Tavares


Homeward Bound_william vendor story

William stands at an Indianapolis, Ind. intersection where he panhandles each day while looking and hoping for another job. Photo: HBN PHOTO/Jeff Tavares

In September last year, a small publication in Indianapolis made a big announcement: "Rocky Carter, a disabled Gulf War veteran was the first to become a vendor. He sold the first copy of Homeward Bound News on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2011. Mr. Carter, who has panhandled at the intersection of Meridian and West Washington streets for years, says he will continue to sell the paper." Indianapolis' first street paper was born.

In the past eight months, volunteer executive director and publisher Jeff Tavares has been working around the clock to make the paper a success. He is involved in everything - from the writing of the content to the recruitment of new vendors. This is the story of one of his journeys on the streets of Indianapolis:

If you want to see passion on William's face or hear his voice vibrate with elation - ask him about the jobs he's had in his life.

For this homeless man who now relies on the generosity of others while sitting at the intersection of East Maryland and North Meridian Streets, life has had times of normalcy as practiced by the workers who pass him each day on the way to their jobs. But life for William, 55, has also been interrupted by stretches of depression, despair, alcoholism and jail.

"I started out as dishwasher and was taught me how to prep, and I became a prep cook, then was taught me how to sauté and how to grill, so I would end up as a cook," William recalls of his almost four years working at the upscale 14 West Restaurant less than 50 yards from where he now sits each day on a milk carton with his personal belongings in a bag next to him.

According to William, a manager at the restaurant hired him off the street one day no questions asked -giving him an opportunity that he took full advantage of.

The how and why of William ending up on a street corner in downtown Indianapolis sitting with a cardboard sign at his feet asking for help and thanking strangers as their coins fall into his plastic cup involve jobs layoffs and bad choices.

After his mother died, William moved to Maryland to live with his father, who was in the military and stationed at the Pentagon. After high school, William attended a community college, did construction work for four years and then moved back to Indianapolis.

In Indy, work for William was as a kitchen steward at the Indianapolis Convention Center for eight years, when his normal life was about to remain anything but normal.

"A friend of mine - I thought he was a friend of mine - he picked me up. I was on my way to work," William recalls. I was walking down Meridian Street … he came by and he picked me up, and he was in a stolen vehicle. I didn't know it was stolen."

The vehicle was stopped by the police prior to William's "friend" dropping him off for work at the convention center. He was arrested and spent six months in jail.

"I would rather work than be sitting out here."

After his release, William was fortunate to not have his felony record be a barrier to employment. He soon began working again through the help of his cousin, who owned a home remodeling business. He has steady work for three or four years until the business slows down and his cousin no longer needs him. William seeks and gets a new job with PERI Formworks inc. without the felony becoming an issue.

"The guy that hired me, he had been in trouble before, so he said as long as you're going to come in and do the work, I don't care," William says "So he gave me the job and let me do the work."

The company takes William in and teaches him the process of building concrete forms, including reading blueprints - a skill he learned at community college. He again lifts his voice and smiles as he describes the work he did.

He works there for 10 years without incident until the company closes its Indianapolis office. William is offered the opportunity to continue working for the firm - but it means he must move to Los Angles. He chooses not to.

Once again, William is about to fall off the "normal life" treadmill.

This time it was into a world of homelessness and worse - and by his own admission, it was his own doing.

"When they closed up, man, that's when I really had a problem," William recalls, "because I started drinking real heavy."

After a while, with no job and money being spent on alcohol, William ends up on the street. He is homeless for the first time in his life. He also starts doing "some drugs."

He says the layoff from a company he worked at for 10 years put him into a depression. Unfortunately, he chose self-medicating over seeking help.

William says, however, that during that time he still sought work.

But this time there was no family member or an understanding employer with a troubled background to put him back to work. Weeks, months and then two years pass.

"I went to every place down here and every place in the surrounding area … on bus routes, I mean I went all the way to Park 100 [Indianapolis largest industrial-office park], out by the airport," he says.

He applies for "at least 100 jobs if not more."

Once again opportunity reaches out to William, this time while he sits on a milk carton on Meridian Street. The manager from 14 West Restaurant reaches out to William after speaking with four or five other homeless men who refuse a job offer.

William takes the opportunity without questions and shows up at the restaurant the next day as instructed. It turns into a job that will last four years - one he loves. But then, William says, his schedule is cut from five days a week to just two because of a slowdown in business. With a big cut in his paycheck, William looks for work on his days off from the restaurant.

His good intentions, solid work ethic and desire "to make some extra money" turn against him and result in another life-altering collapse. A friend tells him about a company that needs to hire a couple of guys to help with the installation of drywall. He and the friend take the work.

He is given a check once the work is done. William says the check has the name of the company on it but that it is hand written, not printed. He takes the check to cash it but it turns out to be stolen; William is arrested for forgery and spends six months in Marion County Jail while he fights the charge.

Although initially the restaurant doesn't fire him, once it becomes clear William will be in jail for six months, they have no choice but to replace him. When he gets out of jail, he is ineligible for unemployment.

It is 2009 and life again is about spending time on the streets simply trying to survive. Yet again he starts to looks for work but this time the felonies and a bad economy are two big boulders blocking his path to employment.

"[It's] the first thing they notice. If my felonies are not 10 years or older, then automatically they tell me 'Look, Will, we'll keep your application for six months but really we can't do nothing with you.' "

After more than 40 rejections, he sought help.

"I went to Andrea [Founder and Executive Director Andrea De Mink] who runs the PourHouse - a local homeless outreach group - and she gave me a bonding paper, so it told [employers] if you hire him, OK, we'll give you $5,000 if anything comes up missing…. That didn't help."

The bonding paper William had in hand is a federal bond program under the U.S. Department of Labor to assist job seekers with criminal records and others whom employers might consider high-risk individuals in obtaining employment.

But a guaranteed protection against loss is not always the incentive that a job applicant or those agencies that are attempting to find work for ex-offenders hope it is. William's hope that the bonding paper would help him didn't turn out to be the solution to finding him his next job.

"A lot of them don't really care about that bonding thing …. If they're not willing to take a chance on you, they completely ignore that," he says.

The economic condition and high unemployment rate magnify the difficulties for ex-offenders looking for work. William continues to look for work while depending on the generosity of strangers who pass him each day.

Despite the layoffs, felonies that in two cases - according to William - were not of his doing and bouts with depression and substance abuse, it is a smiling and hopeful man who stands on the intersection of East Maryland and North Meridian Streets on a warm Saturday morning.

A man who still believes he will work again. "I would rather work than be sitting out here."

Post script:

William called about a week after I gave him a copy of the paper with his story in it and asked to sell the paper. He has been buying 60 papers a week for the last 3 weeks. He is steady and on a good intersection.

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