Prized Possessions

Homeless in Houston share their most important objects.

Not long ago, he shelled out over half of one of his disability checks to help fund what is now his favorite possession: a picture of his daughter Kay in her deep blue high school graduation robes. He said he sent her $400 as a gift shortly before the photo was taken, and added that his money went toward clothing her for that photo. "That was money real well-spent," he said, beaming.

"And she's in college now over in Beaumont," he said.

"Say, is this gonna be in the paper?" he asked. "Really? Maybe she will finally have something to be proud of me about now!"

Chandler
John 3:16 medallion

A sensitive young man from Pittsburgh who somewhat resembled the young Laurence Fishburne, Chandler said celebrating the Steelers' last Super Bowl win sent him on a downward spiral that landed him in the streets.

He cadged a dollar off of us on Main near Preston Street. After hearing we were journalists, with no preamble Chandler asked us about the latest developments in the recent case of Jonathan Foster, the 12-year-old who was kidnapped on Christmas Eve and whose burned body was later found in a Northside ditch. Chandler was absolutely haunted by the case — he said it had been keeping him awake nights. He was enormously relieved that the killing could have been the result of a drug debt. "That's still evil, but not the kind of evil that is just plain mean," he said.

He took us to his sleeping place, a spot on the sidewalk under an air vent around the corner, and there he told us of his prized possession — one he no longer owned.

It was a John 3:16 medallion, and it had been given to him by an outreach worker. "This guy handed it to me and told me the Lord had a plan for me and never to lose the medallion," Chandler said.

And then Chandler lost it. For days he was consumed by what he saw as an overwhelming setback. The one thing he loved — indeed he now claims it was the only object he had ever loved in his whole life — was gone.

And then one day he finally found relief, if not the medallion. "I realized it wasn't the coin that mattered, but the message," he said. "That's something nobody can take away from me. It's within me."

He had finally learned to forgive himself. Chandler is all about asking for forgiveness, a concept he distinguishes from merely apologizing. "What does it mean to tell someone you're sorry?" he asked. "I know you're sorry. Ask me to forgive you. That's some real Old Testament stuff there. You can have that for free and carry it around for life."

Richard
Transistor radio lanyard

We found Richard as he was eating his lunch on the sidewalk near the back of the downtown HPD headquarters. Cool Ranch Doritos flecked his abundantly Tolstoyan beard, and his skin was so brown and wizened, you could only guess as to his ethnicity — he could have been white, Hispanic or black.

All our questions were answered with absolute economy. He'd been on the street for 20 years, he thought, and was once a bricklayer. Not long ago he found a little lanyard transistor radio in the trash, and he just loves it. He wears it around his neck and stuffs the earphones in his ears and listens to all kinds of music now: country, rock and roll, and classical. Such radios can be bought for $6 or so; if you're looking to go out and do some random acts of kindness, handing out a dozen or so of these some dreary day on skid row might make you and quite a few recipients much happier.

Jerry Howell
His heart

Astride a battered one-speed bike, laden with a bedroll and backpack, there rode Jerry Howell, a vision out of the Reconstruction-era Piney Woods backcountry. His lined face was all but hidden behind a billowing, snow-white Confederate general's beard, and his long, lank salt-and-pepper hair hung beneath a bright red cap that read "I Jesus."

He wanted to fill his water bottle at the fountain in the County Administration building at Main and Preston, but he took a few minutes to share his peculiar theology with us, his eyes afire when he talked about Jesus, and twinkling when he discussed a supernatural being unique to his own experience: a man named Rah-Rool.

He told us his heart was his prize possession, for it contained his love of Jesus, best exemplified by what he described as "the seven words that God hummed in the Bible." Though more than seven words, in rolling deep East Texas preacher cadence, he could recite the King James version of 1 John 4:2-4 from memory and with utter conviction. It begins like this: "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God..."

And then there is the matter of Rah-Rool. Where the Internet has Chuck Norris, Howell has Rah-Rool, the Renaissance Man's Renaissance Man: a builder who puts Gerald Hines to shame, the lawman Wyatt Earp dreamed of being and a guy whose wealth makes Warren Buffett look like a low-level north Jersey loan shark by comparison.

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19 comments
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Michael Belmares
Michael Belmares

John CatesU.S. Army beret

This man has harassed KPFT 90.1 repeatedly in the past. I find it strangely unsettling that he snake his way into the columns of this paper.

Sralph
Sralph

Hi: Chandler is a gentleman in our neighborhood. He is a nice guy but he has issues. After your story, he saw that he was in your paper and he did not remember talking to you at all. Poor Chandler was so upset Saturday night that he paced in front of my business all night trying to figure out what had happened to him and why his picture was in the Houston Press. We tried to help explain, but to no avail. I know you meant no harm in writing this article, but I felt it iportant to pass this sad situation on to you.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

Aw man, that's too bad. I'll try to go up there and see if he remembers me.

Sralph
Sralph

John, thanks. I have seen him the last day or so and he appears better. Perhaps his episode has passed over him. It was just sad to see him Sat night so distressed and really no way to help him.

Pat Hartman
Pat Hartman

It's a much-needed reminder that these are real people we're dealing with, not extras from Central Casting. Just as interview subjects tend to go off on tangents, a writer could go off on a large number of tangents from the information presented here. For instance, when a trained electrician with 18 years experience can't find work, something is seriously amiss.

It's obvious that some folks on the streets are seriously out of touch with reality. Even if housing can be found or created for them, that is not quite enough. They need structure, and someone on the premises to monitor them and look out for their neighbors, too. Mainstreaming the mentally ill is a nice ideal, but society needs to take responsibility somehow for people who can't be responsible for themselves. And this needs to be done without trampling on their rights, or the rights of anyone else. Just this morning a friend wrote, "My experiences in senior low-income housing have been so horrific as to leave me actually contemplating storing my things and sleeping at a shelter. I have never felt less safe in all of my life and to my amazement I fear the women here every bit as much as the men. My apartment itself is a delight, but what lies outside my front door is the stuff of nightmares… The reason for my fear is 100% based on the high ratio of mentally ill inmates...I mean tenants!"

Thanks for a very illuminating look at some lives.

Pat HartmanNews Editor, House the Homeless

Zan
Zan

I forgot to add that my favorite story was that of Mr. Temple, the gentleman who used a good portion of his disability check to help his daughter pay for her cap and gown. I can see the pride in his eyes for her, and yes, Mr. Temple, I think that she is proud of you, too. You did a lot more for her with that $400 than most men in better situations do for their children. I'd be proud of you if you were my dad.

Zan
Zan

Thank you for this. Stories like these remind me that our material possession don't mean crap and it is true that you don't necessarily have to be an alcoholic or a drug addict to be homeless; homeless people come from all walks of life. Lord knows that a lot of us are one paycheck away from being where they are. Not one of these people complained about anything, even though they had the platform to do so. Lord forgive me when I whine.

Creg
Creg

Really Real, if that is your real name.... Psalm 23 is not in your Gideon's New Testament.

John Nova Lomax
John Nova Lomax

@Ash: My mom died in the streets of Nashville in 1998. Like you, I know all too well that the homeless can come from anywhere, even your own home.

ash
ash

my uncle died a homeless man. before that he was a husband, father and my dad by default (after my parents divorced). he would take us camping and sit outside with us and watch us play. the girls were never allowed to wimp out of anything the boys were capable of and he made us try weird foods and contributed to my love of classic rock. he was an extraordinary man. i never turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to a homeless person, they're people too...

Michelle O
Michelle O

@Anon, your feelings called and said you're retarded.

TJ
TJ

Great story!

antiM
antiM

thanks for doing this story!

Christine
Christine

What a great story! Thanks for opening a window for us to see into their lives.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Please don't use the term "deaf-mute" to describe someone who is deaf or hard-of -hearing. Most deaf people are not mute, they are quite capable of making sounds. This term rates with other ignorant descriptive terms such as "Colored" or "Jewess" or "Spic". Thank you so much.

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Anonymous...The smiling lady in this article was a deaf mute. She self identified as a deaf person who choose not to speak with her voice.

Attempts at being political correct almost always results in harm...which is itself ignorant.::GP

Anonymous
Anonymous

Gary, if she CHOSE not to speak with her voice she is not mute. It isn't about being PC so much as it is in being just plain correct. Mute means unable to speak or make sounds. Mute people do not choose to be mute. And not to put too fine a point on this, would you choose to call people colored? Or use any other "politically incorrect" term? I doubt it. You could at least show the Deaf community the same respect. And if you don't know Sign Language, or could she "self identify" to you? And, again honing the point a bit too fine for someone like you, if you had any experience in the Deaf community you would know its an offensive term, as well as an inaccurate one.

Being obtuse usually results in harm, which is in itself ignorant. And willful ignorance in light of available evidence to the contrary is the worst of all. Or is the best defense a good offense? In that case, points to you. Many many points.

MT

 
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