“I’m not home-less, I’m wall-less,” Leroy told St Augustine reporter Michael Gold this morning; as he took his one-hour turn at the designated panhandling spot in front of the St Johns County Public Library on West San Carlos Avenue.
This morning’s 45-degree weather doesn’t stop Leroy, or his new wife Pam, from making their way from a campsite in the woods across from the Labor Ready on US-1 North to their “job” at Davenport Park — standing patiently, smiling pleasantly at drivers passing by.
Leroy and Pam, together with their pet dog “Baby”, are bundled up under jackets, t-shirts, over-shirts, and sweaters, as well as heavy socks and mittens. Baby is sporting a donated Santa outfit to show that she is in the Holiday spirit.
Pam made her way to St. Augustine from Texas seven years ago with her then boyfriend. Pam left a restaurant job behind, but, when she arrived in town, she says that she found work as a housekeeper at the Travelodge within two weeks. Because business has slowed, she has been cut to two days each week.
Pam’s husband, Leroy, says he hasn’t had work in three years — his last job was detailing cars. “I’m fit as a fiddle,” Leroy said. “If someone offered me a job today, I’d ask them how soon I could start.” Leroy says he has a Florida driver’s license, but no car. He drives a bicycle towing Baby behind in a child carrier.
Nine years ago, Leroy accompanied a friend from his home in Pennsylvania to St. Augustine with every intention of returning in a few days. The pair were delayed once they arrived and Leroy said that while he was waiting, he was offered a job if he would stay, so he did.
Pam said that she has “a husband and two dogs to take care of” when asked why she was “flying a sign” instead of running down jobs. Both Pam and Leroy have cell phones. They say they both drink, even though they appeared sober when they were interviewed. In fact, in the encampment that they call home, Leroy says they live a quiet life, keep to themselves, and are not afraid for their safety.
Pam and Leroy say that they have received money, food and clothes, but no job offers. “The biggest day I had here I made $100,” Leroy told Historic City News. The couple each has a library card that gives them an advantage over other homeless people who can’t prove residency in St. Johns County and therefore are not allowed to use the library computers to search job listings or e-mail prospective employers over the Internet.
They say that they used to “dumpster dive” at Winn Dixie; collecting wrapped food with expired shelf dates. Leroy has a grill and cooler at his tent and says he doesn’t mind cooking. At one time, Winn Dixie would distribute all the leftover prepared food from the deli each night before closing the store — now, Leroy said they donate the food to someone and won’t let anyone have anything from the store unless they pay for it.
Leroy says he is able to operate equipment and that at one time he worked for a contractor doing road repairs on SR-207. He is concerned about renewing his driver’s license next year because of strict new requirements on address verification and other identification.
Another regular face at the corner across from Randy Brunson’s Thrift Store, is Julie. She came to St. Augustine alone, and did not have a ride like Pam and Leroy. Instead, Julie was chauffeured in a $90,000 Greyhound bus from south Florida and was dropped off at the Visitor Information Center in September of last year.
Julie told Historic City News reporters that she was working in south Florida through 2009. She said that she had a boyfriend living in St. Augustine who was working in lawn care and landscaping. She figured that she could find work and, between them, they could better their situation. That hasn’t worked out too well for Julie. She says that she hasn’t worked more than a few days since arriving here and hasn’t worked at all since last July or August.
Julie says that she has applied for restaurant work, housekeeping positions, even though she quotes a resume as a retail sales associate, childcare of all ages, and work as an administrative assistant. Julie has a prepaid cell phone but says that she doesn’t always have the money to buy time to keep it active. All the people we spoke to, including Julie, had at least one story to tell about someone offering them work — that either didn’t show up when they were supposed to stopped taking their phone calls.
Not everyone flying a sign is able to work. One man told reporters that he is a diabetic and has grand mall seizures if he doesn’t take his prescribed medications. He has been back in St. Augustine only two days and says he only has two days’ worth of the seizure medication left. According to the man who asked not to be named, if he can get transportation to the health department he believes he can get the medications.
Another man working the corner today was Laif. He is from North Carolina and said he was laid-off from a coffee shop and is able to work; although, with the exception of a day’s work cleaning a few times, he’s never had a job in St Augustine.
Laif told reporters that he had visited New Orleans prior to arriving in town and while he was there, he was given a cell phone and charger, without cost. Through a government program, he receives 250 minutes every month without cost. When asked where he recharges his phone, he said he uses a plug in the library.
Laif is not able to use the computers in the library, though. He has been in St Augustine six months and lives in a converted shed on a friend’s property with no verifiable address so he has not been able to obtain a library card.
Laif does not have a bicycle. He came here as a hitchhiker and says that unless he finds work, he’s headed back to North Carolina “when the weather warms up”. Laif said that he did have friends in St Augustine before deciding to move here and that although he stopped in other towns along the way, doing odd jobs, he’s as far south as he’s going.
If he was offered a job today, he said he’s ready to work — he does not like being homeless or asking for handouts. He has worked in construction, mechanical, and computers and as a cook in a restaurant. He says he will accept any type of job if it will help him support himself.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer