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After Losing Job, 52-Year-Old Grandfather Struggles to Get Back on His Feet

John, 52, has been a lot of things in his lifetime—a helicopter logger, a lead smelter, a steel worker and a single dad—but he never thought he'd be homeless.

John looks like a typical blue-collar worker. He favors blue jeans and T-shirts and hunting caps.

He's got a gritty edge to his voice from smoking, gray hair and an affable way about him. He looks just like any other guy eating in a local diner or driving a truck at a construction site. Indeed, until recently, John was one of them. 

In spring of 2011, John—a single father whose daughter will soon graduate from nursing school—was fired from his job as a lead man in a lead smelting plant, a position he's held for years. In any other economy, at any other time, the loss of his job could have been easily remedied. But like many people in post-recession America, one false step plunged John into a cycle of poverty. For the first time, John became homeless.

"One thing that's surprising is the way I feel about myself. I'm not pushing a shopping cart with all my belongings in it ... but when I walk down the street or go to the store or something I get the feeling that people look at me like I'm homeless," John said. "And it doesn't make any sense because you can't tell. I dress halfway decent and I'm clean, but I still get the feeling that people are looking at me like I'm homeless. I don't know how to explain it."

Right out of high school, John found work in the same steel mill that had three generations of his family. His work in the industrial sector continued for years, as he bounced from job to job—and even served as a helicopter logger in Oregon.

Eventually, John, a California native, moved to Minnesota to support his brother, who was having difficulty coping with the loss of his teenage son in a car wreck. John got a job at a lead smelting plant in Eagan, and after three years was promoted to lead man.

"But I missed too many days at work. I got in trouble. I straightened up for a while, then I got in trouble again and then they fired me. It was my fault. I don't have anyone to blame for being where I'm at," John said.

Though John had lived through layoffs and losses before, this time was different.

"Before, I'd be out of work for a little while but I'd go find something else," John said. "It wasn't hard to find a job. I don't have any DUIs, no felonies, no nothing. But for some reason right now I'm having a hard time getting on my feet. I just want to work. I still got a good 10 years left in me and I've got a lot experience doing different stuff."

After John got fired, bad luck seemed to nip at his heels at every turn. Before he lost his job, he'd recently spent his savings on a used Jeep, which promptly broke down. John's car trouble complicated his efforts to find a job—and that problem was compounded when he was evicted from the apartment he held for five years.

"I stayed with my brother for a little while because he lives here, in Apple Valley," John said. "My brother has got my stuff right now. If it wasn't for him I would have lost it all. I have a whole apartment full of stuff over at his house—pots and pans and all that stuff. But he's married and it's a small house and they're struggling too so it was like I need to find some place to go. I found this place [the Cochran House, a homeless shelter in Hastings]."

For the last eight and a half months, John has been trying to get back on his feet. He's hopeful that he can still find a job, but has difficulty dealing with his surroundings.

"Staying here is not that bad," John said. "It's a little depressing and it can get to you if you let it. A lot of these guys are in a lot worse shape than I am, actually, so I can't complain too much, except for the way I feel about myself. I just can't get over that.

"There's a job out there for me, I know, it's just going to take some time. I just want to work. I don't care what kind of job it is right now. Anything. If I could get a job after a month or two I'd be able to get out of here."

Editor's Note: Homelessness rates in Dakota County and other suburban communities in Minnesota have risen substantially in the last five years. This article is part of a Patch series exploring that trend. Click on the links below to read other articles on the topic.

Clare Kennedy August 16, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Emma that is rough. My dad was in the exact same place after he got laid off. It took him over a year to get a part-time job. @Pork Chop Guy: That's very kind of you. E-mail me at clare.kennedy@patch.com and we'll figure this out.
Diane Baum August 17, 2012 at 01:14 AM
my husband was a self employed house painter for many years, until 2007 when the economy went down. He tried applying for other likeminded jobs. No luck. He then applied for minimum wage jobs. Still no luck. Finally, his money ran out and mom paid his rent. He was only two weeks away from being homeless when I gathered up the trust and courage to give him a check to cover his rent for a month. (We had just met about 3 weeks prior). His eyes lit up because now he had a one month reprieve from the streets to continue the job search. After indicating interest in truck driving, I co-signed a loan to get him into trucking school. He is now driving OTR for FedEX. What a success story, right? Except that it took three very long years, in which he had to declare bankruptcy to clear almost 40 grand in debt. Things are still looking up slowly and each day is a brand new start. So, John...keep looking up and don't give up on what is out there. I have faith that you can do something...no matter if you messed up in the past. Put your past behind you...it's the future that matters!
Todd August 17, 2012 at 06:43 AM
That was a great story, Diane! Very encouraging. Thanks for sharing. John, I have found that exercise can help reduce stress and I make it a part of my everyday life. I always find that it makes me feel better and it never fails to keep my mental health in check. If not already doing so, please consider incorporating some type of exercise regimen into your daily life, and I guarantee you it will make you feel better. Lastly, rember, "Every adversity has the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit" (W. Clement Stone).
Todd August 17, 2012 at 06:53 AM
I too would like to help. I can contribute $25.00 as well. Additionally, I'm more than happy to pick John up and bring him to get a battery. Pork Chop Guy, please except my apologies for the name calling. Clare, many thanks for getting us back to the issue at hand. I will email my contact info to you.
Diane Baum August 17, 2012 at 12:48 PM
what we all fail to realize...or just think, "it can't happen to me!" is that, yes it DOES! and it CAN! so...be prepared for that. Keep your resume updated and expand your horizons! Hey, maybe being that computer tech fell flat..what ELSE are you good at or take an interest in? Then research it and go from there. I have held a variety of jobs in my life, ranging from animal control, vet tech, school lunch lady and child care worker to janitorial work. I was young, strong and had a motivation to succeed! Success doesn't come in the form of a million dollar paycheck...it comes from knowing that you have "enough" to get by. A Lexus is no different that a Ford...they both have 4 wheels and an engine. So....please keep this in mind!

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