Even though my parents were employed we were still poor. At that time in my life, I had assumed that we were rich, because my parents provided everything that we children needed, and we had stability. We were not a religious family we were non- denominational. I have never been married; as a result I do not have any children. I graduated from a trade school (Scarlet Oaks), in Industrial Maintenance that includes plumbing, electrical and HVAC. I have some college experience, but the majority of my skills were self-taught.
Over the years I have worked as a plumber. During this time in my life, I was working for a company that required me to travel. It was great, I did this for about five years, I got an opportunity to visit different cities, I probably would not have gotten to visit otherwise, plus the salary was good. At one time in my life I worked for myself. I started a Handy Man Services. It was successful for about twelve years until the economy started to decline. I also started a music production company; I wrote songs and played Bass instruments. The majority of the people that I worked with during that time are doing great things in the music industry today.
When I became homeless, I was in denial for a long time. I did not have any substance abuse issues, or mental illness that would contribute to me becoming homeless. Those are the images that I had associated with homelessness. The economy started declining and I started getting fewer and fewer contracts for work so eventually I had to close my business. Eventually I was unable to afford housing.
As I stated, I was in denial, I just plain refused to believe that I was homeless. I was constantly job seeking, months on end. Eventually I started living in my work van. During my life the only struggle I had encountered was being a perfectionist. I had always expected one hundred and ten percent from myself, with any situation that I encountered in life. I had always had a sense of self and felt that I was destined for greatness. I believed that I would do great things in life and I had always expected the best performance from myself.
During my school years the teachers and my classmates always elected me to represent the class. As a child I would always ask my father what did he want me to be when I grew up and he always responded that I could be anything that I wanted to be as long as I put my mind to it. I always believed him.
I lived in my van for eight months, I would not ask family for help because, and they had never experienced job loss, or homelessness, or any other crisis. Their perception of the predicament I was in was that there was some other cause. Their thoughts were, “He lost his business, what did he do to cause that”.
At first I did not seek assistance from the resources that are available to homeless persons in OTR, like the soup kitchens. I started meeting others that were in the same situation as me and had become homeless because of the decline in the economy. I could relate to them, and became aware that my situation was not unique and that there are different causes of homelessness, and that everybody has a story. After that realization I had only one goal, and that was to get off the streets. I started to pray and ask God to give me the strength, and to help me help myself out of this situation, and that this situation is not in vain.
One day I was walking past the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, I said to myself, “that is a long name.” I walked in and was told that because of my homeless status I could use the telephone for free and use the Coalition’s address to receive mail, since I did not have a mailing address. I started reading the literature that is posted for resources for the homeless population, as I was reading I heard a woman’s voice; she introduced herself as Jenni Jenkins, Director of Education and Development at GCCH. I was surprised and shocked, Ms. Jenkins, talked with me as if she had known me all of my life. She asked me if I would be interested in becoming a distributor of Street vibes, I explained that I was not interested in selling street vibes, I did not want anyone to see me standing around the city selling papers, what I needed was a job. Ms. Jenkins explained to me that being a street vibes distributor is not about selling papers, it is about networking with the public by sharing your story. Initially, I did not agree with Ms. Jenkins, but she was so nice that I thought that I would at least give it a try.
One day I was out and I met a gentleman, I asked him if I could have two minutes of his time, also I informed him that I was not going to try and sell him anything, I just wanted him to hear my story. After the two minutes, the gentleman asked me how much the Street vibes publication costs; I told him a one dollar donation. He said to me that one dollar is not going to help me get back on my feet. He ended up donating about forty three, forty – four dollars to me. That was a blessing, it helped out, and more than anything else the experience gave me hope that things were going to be ok. This business man did not look down on me or my situation, and gave me the respect that all humans deserve despite their circumstances. I showered at Mary Malden House and started to get more esteem and confidence in myself.
There was a fast food business that I would visit often; I would always ask the manager if there were any job opportunities available. I was always told that there was nothing open at that time, I feel that the manager thought that I was not serious or that I would not be reliable. I persisted and continued to enquire, the manager saw that I was sincere and offered me a position. I started out as a back house cook, eventually I did not know what my job title was because I was performing every job duty at the establishment. I did whatever needed to be done so that the business would run smoothly. I did all of this in a uniform. During my life span I had never thought that I would be employed by an employer that would require me to wear a uniform. It was a humbling experience. I stopped buying chips, and other snacks that I had called a meal, and started saving my earnings. I found an efficiency apartment and when I received the keys I had a really big sigh of relief.
Eventually I bought another truck, and I promised myself that, as long as I was able to, I would help others that were going through the same experience that I had undergone. Today, I am an advocate for the homeless population. Since March 2009, I have worked with the “Voice of Homeless” Speakers Bureau at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. The Coalition understands that education is a key component in eradicating homelessness. The Speakers Bureau is made up of currently or formerly homeless individuals who are willing to share their experiences being homeless. I believe that telling my story is therapeutic and empowers me to move forward with my life.
Since coming to the Homeless Coalition I have spoken to over 3,500 people through over 150 speaking engagements. I also spoke in 2010 at the Affordable Housing Advocates Annual Meeting as well as lead student groups on tours of downtown Cincinnati where I talked about life on the streets and teach students how I and other street vibes distributors vend the street vibes Newspaper. Street vibes distributors donate 50 cents per copy and sell it for a one-dollar and fifty cent donation. They keep the profit that they have earned. This program has helped hundreds of people find and maintain housing.
Street vibes targets homeless and formerly homeless individuals who require supplemental income. For me street vibes was a hand up and that helped me move from homelessness to housing. My experience with homelessness has had a positive outcome and I’ve dedicated my life to helping homeless individuals. I started a non-profit, tommygives.worldpress.com. The mission statement is: “To inspire and engage in giving on all levels in order to build a stronger more connected life.” I plan to purchase abandoned buildings and turn them into affordable housing. (i.e. Transitional and Section 8).
At most homeless shelters an individual has to have mental or substance abuse issues to qualify for long term services. My desire is to target the population that has been dislocated because of the economy, and /or job loss, they are the new homeless and a growing population. My experience being homeless has changed the direction of my life for the better.