Interview: The Homeless Home Builders of America


He and his partner were stuck living in a tent for months at a time, once in a car in northern MI, then again in WI . This is a picture of just one occasion they were struck homeless.

Imagine nearing retirement age after decades of hard work and chasing fruitless opportunities, growing up in a working class family with 7 siblings, mastering your trade young, and building the family house with your father by the age of 13; with more house additions from there.

Born and raised in Wisconsin, but having traveled all across the country to find work, he tried for the American Dream. From Texas to Michigan, Washington to Illinois, building houses with living areas that would become show pieces for the home owners and talking points of neighborhoods. Countless jobs performed on countless homes; dozens worth over a million dollars, with business initiatives in construction started, and dismantled, trying to make a living through the turbulent housing market of the 90’s-2000’s.

But these days he scrounges and tinkers; repairing electronics or small engines in effort to get by. Sometimes he sets enough money aside to buy enough broken electronics, or a motor for a bicycle, to produce something worth selling to purchase necessities. He has no home of his own, and over the decades he has seldom found friends generous enough to offer a roof while forced to live in a tent.

Time and again, despite making timely rent payments, a situation would unfold whereby hostilities develop: the lease expires, the remodeling he has done changes the value, and a personal storm of finance negotiation breaks loose with increasing month-to-month leasing until the final eviction. Or perhaps there’s simply a change in the market making rent unaffordable.

In Wisconsin, there exists a 5-day eviction notice, but protest to unfair treatment has left this former leader in a construction company, journeyman, trim carpenter out in the cold. A broken verbal agreement over remodeling and an unfair eviction would usually mean finding housing – but this is impossible when your only references refuse to comply, you have no transportation other than a bicycle, you spend all your money on food without refrigeration, and “urgent” letters for public benefits are piling up at the post office, sometimes getting sent back demanding “proof of address.”

Mastering your trade does little good when the trade leaves your body broken with barely anything to live on. Imagine reflecting on ruptured spinal discs, nerve damage, and calloused hands while being discarded by family for your work-induced disability, sleeping in a tent with your partner who suffers equal medical neglect and misfortune. This is just one situation faced by one American worker – there are millions of others facing similar struggles.

So, what does this worker think about the “ideal capitalist American system?”

Q: About how long have you had problems working, or finding work due to chronic pain?
A: Around thirty years, but I always dealt with it.  Muscle and back pain is part of the trade. It got bad around ten years ago, a wall fell on me, ruptured discs in my back – haven’t been able to work like I used to, y’know?

Q: Do you think you would have continued the same line of work if you had access to proper medical care to address the pain?
A: I did continue! Regardless! I had no choice. Sometimes resorting to self-medication; homeopathy, marijuana – with s*** insurance they give you s*** care; one of those nutjobs tried putting me on anti-psychotics for ruptured discs in my back! Seizure meds for muscle pain! They don’t give a damn unless you got the right insurance!

Q: Around what kind of wage would someone with your skill set be expected to make?  Would it be a living wage in a stable market?  Do you think that’s fair compensation for the work?
A: Around $35.00 an hour, depending. Around 25 years ago, the wage was more valuable and it was easier to budget and live on – since then the prices have hiked on the necessities. It would be hard to live comfortable on $25-35 an hour nowadays, but back then it was alright. Millionaires made tons of money off the work I’d done for them, but I didn’t complain at the time, I didn’t think about it, I had enough to live on.

Q: Have you ever been evicted for something that is legal in another state?
A: It’s been the same in most every state – the law is on their side. Even if the law “favors the tenant,” the judge don’t care.

Q: If you were to put it into a percent, how much is your current income compared to when you were able to work?
A: Around 15-20% of what I used to earn.

Q: What kind of difference would nationalized public housing be for you?
A: It would make a world of difference! Basically half my stress would be gone! Those rich f***ers would live in a swamp and have every house empty if they could make a buck off it! They’d suck the scum out of the gutters and eat it to save a dime – and let everyone else go hungry!

Q: What sort of troubles do you have with transportation? How do you get around?
A: None! I have no transportation! I hardly get around. Can’t have troubles getting around if you don’t get around, can you? I have to bicycle to the bus stop, or ask a favor for a ride just to see the sh** doctor about once a month.

Q: In America, it’s popularly emphasized that profit reflects social value – given the labor you’ve put into society, with 40 years of trying to work despite chronic pain, 20+ of steady work, do you feel fairly compensated for that labor?
A: Absolutely not! That would be ridiculous! Entertainers do NOTHING, investors do NOTHING, yet here I am! I feel like I’ve got at least a little bit of sweat equity in those million-dollar homes – why aren’t they paying me when they pay their taxes?

Q: Do you think there’s any hope for reform of the American system of democracy, between the Republicans and Democrats, or is there even a difference?
A: Between those two – it’s seriously seeming pretty hopeless. The corporate pockets are too deep. Just look at the last election – they’re not gonna change, as long as the corporations get their way.  Then they let the Republicans get in charge because they both want the same thing, and they don’t have to face the slack for it. There’s posers, and powerless sincere people – but it’s all corporate. They’ve been exposed, they’re a corporate sham, everybody knows what they are, y’know?

Q: Are you affiliated with any political party or independent?
A: Independent.

Q: Do you think anybody who is not a war criminal deserves to suffer a chronic illness or disability while homeless?
A: I don’t think there should be war to begin with – there’s no reason for it. But, no.  Nobody deserves this kind of stress. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone except the f***ers who cause these things to happen. Those careless investors, the landowners.

Categories: Economy, Health Care, Interview, Labor, U.S. News, Workers Struggle

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