Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Around a long series of tables sit representatives of a myriad of agencies providing services to the community who make up the Dorchester County Human Services Coalition.
The topic of discussion is the homeless and what can be done to help them.
“One of the main problems for the homeless,” offers one gentleman, “is the lack of an address. They can’t get many of the services offered without one.”
The gentleman, a quiet listener, offers the occasional clarification or suggestion. What makes him so unique in this gathering is his first-hand knowledge.
He is homeless.
Lawrence Droze doesn’t necessarily look homeless, if there is a look attributable to the homeless. He looks like an intelligent middle class man, well groomed with something to offer. He is and he has.
Originally from North Charleston, the 52-year-old is a recovering alcoholic and suffers from Wernicke Encephalopathy.
Caused by a thiamine (vitamin B-1) deficiency, Wernicke Encephalopathy is a serious neurologic disorder which often segues to Korsakoff Syndrome. Effects include memory loss, short-term memory issues, hearing and vision loss, inability to focus and apathy amongst a long list of symptoms. It is often caused by alcoholism.
“I stopped drinking 10 years ago,” says Droze. “I lived with my brother but I didn’t even know I was in the world.”
Droze says he woke up one day and “just decided I wasn’t going to drink anymore.” When he stopped drinking he also stopped eating. “I didn’t eat for 15 days and I had brain seizures.” He says what kept him alive was going into stores and drinking Nyquil.
Droze has been homeless for the past 17 months. He lives under a tarp in the woods. He doesn’t have a tent but does own two sleeping bags and a heavy coat. He doesn’t want a camp stove because, he says, “I have to be very careful.”
His camp has been broken into by kids three times.
He used to build houses, and made good money, too, he says. He rented a fancy home right across from the Windjammer on the Isle of Palms. But because of his disorder, he can no longer work and pay rent.
“I can’t focus and can’t stick with something … I forget why or what I am supposed to be doing.”
“I can’t even remember the alphabet.”
He says he used to have friends but can’t remember who they are. “It’s like starting over.”
He moved in with his brother when he lost his own rental and lived with him for 10 years. He then moved into a trailer next door but got evicted because he couldn’t pay the rent.
He doesn’t want to live with his brother again and he can’t really say why.
“Something in my head tells me I have got to be on my own,” he says. “I always feel with other people, I am being belittled. For the longest time I couldn’t even talk to people…I can’t even talk to my own brother in his house…it was like I was a piece of furniture.”
He says the problem is not with his brother, but with him. “I don’t have a clue why I can’t talk to my brother. I try every so often but nothing in here [taps his head] clicks.
“I am very happy in the woods. No one bothers me and I have peace and quiet.”
Droze keeps his campsite clean and takes the trash “out” every Monday, finding a barrel in a nearby neighborhood to put his trash in.
He uses the bathroom prior to going “home” each day. “Thank God Summerville has all these parks so I can use the bathroom all the time!”
Up at 4 a.m. every day, he spends his mornings at the Senior Center.
He arrives at the center around 8:30, he says. He leaves at noon and is back in the woods by 1 p.m. He doesn’t go out again. “I don’t like to go out in the afternoon or evening…I get judged.”
He doesn’t get judged at the senior center. And it has to be daylight when he goes into the woods “so I know no one is waiting for me…”
While at the center he uses the computers to wade through the volumes of red tape to access his Social Security benefits. The lack of address is a problem. He can use his brother’s address but because it is an “in care of” it doesn’t meet the requirements of some of the state and federal agencies.
“I have a lawyer now who is going to help with Social Security disability and they are doing some good.” However, this lawyer will take 25 percent of any settlement Droze gets, up to $5,200.
Droze takes a bath at his brother’s home or utilizes public restrooms for a “bird bath.”
He used to get health care at the Franklin Fetter Center on Cedar St., but ran out of money so he can no longer get health care.
Droze eats cold meals every day made from food he buys with food stamps. There’s a sad irony with this. He is old enough (over 50) to be a member of the Senior Center but too young, according to state regulations, to get the free midday hot meal served there.
He lives on a budget, he says. “I get $189 a month on my food card and I budget this on a daily basis.” His daily food budget is about $5.60 he says. “But I am full all the time.”
If his food stamps run out, he depends on found money to get him through.
“If I need money, I ask God.”
And it works, he says. To date every time he has “asked” he has found money.
“I found $60 in the park, $50, $100, and $50” in various parking lots.
“I believe God is my church and I don’t use nothing that God doesn’t give me.”
Droze walks miles and miles on a weekly basis, he says, and occasionally has walked 30 miles in a day. He explains that his balance is affected by his neurological disease and walking helps with balance. “It also keeps me warm.”
“In the summer I sweat a lot. But I drink a lot more water.”
Droze doesn’t look for sympathy or handouts. “I might be homeless but I don’t beg and I don’t steal.”
“I live by the Bible. I have two and keep one with me all the time. The police will ask me ‘What’s in that pouch?’ and I say ‘You have a gun but my weapon is more powerful. I have a Bible.’
“You know,” he says, “there’s no such thing really as homeless. We are on God’s earth in God’s home. We might be houseless, but we are not homeless.”
Droze has a mother and sister in Alabama, he says, and he visited briefly with them last Christmas. “I don’t want to be a burden. Living with my brother (who has six kids)… well, it was time for me not to be a burden.”
Droze says he fights a daily battle to “come back to where I used to be.”
“Homeless people really want a job. To stand on their own and not be judged. We homeless are not always homeless by our own doing but regardless, we’re human beings.
“I am alive, I can remember my name and for a long time I couldn’t even do that. I ask God every night in prayers for wisdom and knowledge.
“Homeless people don’t up and say ‘I’m going to be homeless.’ It’s an event, something happens where they can’t function in Society the way Society wants. We try our hardest to overcome – some do, some don’t.”
You can’t worry about what people say, says Droze. “I tell Donovan [a homeless young man] ‘Don’t worry what people call you.’”
Droze wants nothing from people except respect. He gets all he needs, he says, from God. He does, however, feel he has something to offer. The folks on the Coalition know he has a lot to offer and have made him a member. He is pragmatic about the Coalition – “you all just talk about it…you don’t dream it or live it…for us it’s not safe to talk about.”
And yet, he still wants to be a part of anything that renders aide. “I think my calling is to get the word out that homeless people are not bad people.”