Alva James-Johnson

Out of prison with no place to go

The homeless man sat on a bench not far from the Hardaway Building at Broadway and 10th Street.

I had just left the building, where the Ledger-Enquirer is now located, for a quick trip to the market across the street.

The only thing on my mind was the Almond Joy that I would soon purchase to satisfy my intense craving for a crunchy candy bar. It’s a little indulgence that sometimes gets me through the day.

As I approached the store, I noticed the man sitting there. Our eyes locked for a moment and then he asked me this question: “How come I can’t get any help?”

I was busy at work and really didn’t have time for a lengthy conversation. But I paused long enough to hear some of his story.

The man said he was 60 years old and had been recently released from prison. He needed a place to stay, but local shelters had turned him away, he said.

That seemed a bit strange to me, considering the number of agencies serving the homeless population in Columbus. Why, I wondered, would a man still be on the street with no place to go for help?

So I asked him why he had been rejected, and he told me a little more about his story.

The man said he got into a fight at a local shelter and now he is banned from going into most of those places. He got some help at Trinity Episcopal Church, and sleeps on the church porch most nights.

He has been trying to stay out of trouble since leaving prison, he said, but it’s difficult since he can’t find shelter or work.

I didn’t have time to check out his story, so I just gave him the benefit of the doubt.

I asked the man if he was thirsty and needed something to eat. He nodded. So I ran into the market and purchased one Almond Joy for myself, and then a honey bun and a bottle of water for the man.

I returned to the bench, gave him the items, along with some change, and then went back to work.

When I returned to my desk, I sent a Facebook message to Waleisah Wilson, of New Life - Second Chances, an organization that helps ex-convicts transition back into society. I shared the story with Wilson and asked if she had any suggestions for helping the homeless man.

“That’s the sad part about it,” she responded. “Once you get in a fight or something at a shelter, they ban you, which is absolutely ridiculous because a lot of homeless people have mental illness and can’t help their behavior.”

Then she gave me a few numbers for places that the man could call, which included the Salvation Army, the Grace House and the Safe House in Columbus.

I worked late that afternoon, and didn’t see the man when I left the building. I’m not sure what happened to him after that, or if he ever found the help that he needed.

His story is a reminder that there are many people living on the streets of Columbus, and their backgrounds aren’t always pretty. Homelessness is a complex issue and solving the problem won’t be easy.

Yet, it’s disturbing to know that there are still so many people without a safe place to sleep.

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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