Dave Garrett has generated a lot of interest in the few short weeks he’s been blogging about being homeless in Jacksonville at theviewfromjaxstreets.wordpress.com. Periodically homeless throughout his adult life, Garrett has recently gotten into a transitional housing program at Clara White Mission when we meet at Chamblin BookMine on a sunny Friday afternoon. Between slivers of menthols and sips of strong black coffee, the highly articulate 43-year-old military veteran is alternately philosophical and animated as he shares his thoughts, personal history and frustrations coping with the Gordian knot that is life on the streets.
Here follows an excerpt from our conversation (edited for space and readability).
Folio Weekly: What inspired you to start your blog, The View from Jax Streets?
Dave Garrett: I decided to write about this because I already had a music blog going (DaveGarrettMusic.com). And I put myself in this situation. Because I’ve been diagnosed as being bipolar. I’m an alcoholic. I also have a seizure disorder and I’m a binge drinker … over the last few years, it’s been binge-drinking. Things will be going great then I just go off, “Fuck this, fuck life, blah, blah, blah.”
In your blog, you’re unflinchingly honest about yourself, which may affect people’s sympathy toward you one way or another. What inspires you to be so honest?
Why lie? You know, it got to the point when I was looking for a job, I was just so frustrated that when they’d put reason for leaving, I’m like, “Look, the reason for leaving my last job: I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for x time. I can’t promise you it won’t happen again.” That’s how I got the job at First Watch last year … I’m honest because there’s no other way to be. It’s gonna come out eventually.
In your post, “The Professional Line Stander,” you are openly critical of “that small percentage of those who have chosen to be homeless and have no intention of ever getting off the streets or who became homeless for whatever reason and decided to just keep doing it for the free shit and no responsibilities.” How do you differentiate yourself from these individuals?
I want to get out of this situation. No sane person wants to live like this, to sleep outside. You know, I’ve slept on park benches, I’ve slept under bridges, I’ve stayed in every shelter the city has to offer one time or another, I’ve stood in every line the city has to offer. And eventually, civilized behavior sometimes has to go out the window. Sometimes you have to become an animal to get things because if you do what you’re supposed to do, you know, you’re going to be left short. Sometimes you have to do what everybody else is doing; you have to play the game the way it’s played.
How much does not in my backyard (or NIMBY), which you’ve written about, affect how homeless people are treated?
Look at what they’re doing to Hemming Park. Let’s take out all the tables, the permanent tables, because heaven forbid old homeless guys sit and play chess all day. You know, they’re not causing any problems, they’re not robbing anybody, they’re not manhandling anybody, they’re playing chess … it’s, like, people mean well. [But] they’re, like, “Oh, something should be done about the homeless. But not in my backyard.”
How does it feel to know that people view the homeless as a scourge and take great pains just to move them away from view? What kind of affect does that have on your psyche?
It makes you feel like a piece of shit. You know, there was talk about, a couple of years ago, there was talk about making a homeless day center but putting it like at the 60s, at 60th Street. That’s great. But all the services are down here, so you’re making a homeless person walk 60 streets away and then come back 60 blocks if they have to go to services, the facilities around here … and the private facilities you have to put up with them. Like the ones run by churches. They make you go to chapel or church service to get the service. ’Cause that’s how Jesus was. “Oh, you want some of this bread and fish? You weren’t at my sermon, you can kiss my ass.”
You’ve written about the procedures and requirements the homeless have to navigate just to get help, be it a bed for the night, a shower, a meal or employment. What are some of the biggest gaps in services and other assistance for the homeless in Jacksonville?
There’s no shortage of food, it’s the other facilities that are the problem. “Oh, you’ve gotta use the bathroom? Use the library.” That’s it. Unless you’re a paying customer or you sneak into one of these businesses. They’ve got two porta potties down there, but they only open them for special events because heaven forbid the homeless fuck them up. No, no way it could be the drunken bros that you have out here for your beer festivals.
What should people do to help the homeless other than volunteer at a soup kitchen?
Call the facilities and find out what they need … It’s like you mean well, but you know, go clean out your closets and donate shit. Maybe sweaters aren’t needed in July. Socks are actually one of the most needed items. No shortage of shirts and pants. But find out what’s needed. If you donate money to a place, from my understanding, make sure you hand-deliver that check. Be like, “Use this for such and such. Earmark it for this.” Don’t just randomly hand them money. Find out what they need.