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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Saving Uncle Will

I'm going to depart from my usual blog format here to tell the story of my Uncle Will. 

Uncle Will has been homeless for the last decade or so.  The reasons are the usual ones - depression, bad decisions, drugs, bad luck.  They don't really matter that much. 

Uncle Will was a teenager when I was a little girl.  There is something about an uncle that is still a kid during the years when you were a kid.  He was doing cool teenage boy things.  Sometimes he and his friends would play with my sister and I.  One of their favorite games was to hog-tie  (that's what they called it) us to a chair or hog-tie each other to a chair and see if they could escape.  I remember it as being really fun.  I'm sure I was just thrilled to be included.  I also remember them taking me to "ice skate" on frozen mud puddles. 

Uncle Will pretty much always lived with my grandma.  He never moved out and was on his own.  He had lots of labor type jobs, including working for my dad for a number of years.  When my sister grew up and got married, her husband and Uncle Will were friends.  We all sort of ran in the same social group for a time. 

The walls in Uncle Will's bedroom at my grandma's house were elaborately painted with murals of dragons and monsters.  He also had lots and lots of cats and kittens. 

My grandma's husband (Virgil) was awful to Will.  He called him names and made snotty asides about him under his breath.  He mostly complained about Will being lazy and smoking pot.  He usually made those comments as he refilled his glass of booze at 11:00 in the morning before going to hang out with the neighbor all day.  I guess the irony of Virgil mooching off of my grandma as much as Will mooched off of her was lost on Virgil.

My grandpa also wasn't always very nice to his son.  He didn't like that his ex-wife, my grandma, let Will live at home and didn't force him to work all of the time.  Grandpa respected hard-working men who pulled themselves up by their boot-straps.  He didn't respect Will all that much, and I suspect he felt that if Will had lived with him after he and Grandma divorced, he could have beat the lazy out of him.  I'm sure he tried whenever he had a chance.

There are "issues" that have glided along in the background of our family.  Issues with depression.  Issues of inappropriate sexual behavior. Substance abuse.  Physical violence.  At times Will was both the victim and the perpetrator of these behaviors. 

Will's life was pretty stable while my grandma was alive.  She protected him and took care of him.  Even when he stole her debit card and drained her checking account.  Even when he was arrested.  Even when he went to rehab.  When Grandma died, everyone decided Will should keep living in her house.  It was paid for.  All he had to do was cover the utilities and property taxes.  The power was off after a few weeks.  The house was seized for non-payment of taxes within a few months.  Will became homeless.

At first he lived in his truck and then in a little RV my mom bought him.  But he lost both of those to parking fines.  He was jailed for vagrancy.  My mom moved to Eugene and after a while, Will moved there too.

Large sums of money came Will's way, but they never stuck around.  There was $19,000 when Grandpa died in 2004, then $23,000 in 2007.  When he got that last check, he was living in my mom's backyard.  He blew through the money in about two months, partying with some homeless friends.  My mom actually moved away from that house to make a break from him and his friends.

A few years ago, Will started living with another man, Mark.  They lived in a tent.  A short time later, I ran into an old friend who told me that Uncle Will had had a relationship with a different man back in Washington before he'd moved to Eugene.


This made some sense.  Grandpa would have killed, literally put him to death, had he known his son was gay.   Virgil wouldn't have handled it much better.  Is it any wonder that Will struggled with depression and drugs?

Will and Mark have gotten by.  Someone buys their food stamps so they have money for cigarettes.  They have 14 cats at their camp site. 

Last Fall Uncle Will had a stroke.  He's 54.  He spent some time in the hospital and then they sent him to a nursing home.  After a few weeks, he was sent back to the hospital with some alarming symptoms.  Lesions  all over the place, thrush in his mouth and throat.


At one point they were talking about putting him on hospice.  But Uncle Will rebounded.  They started him on anti-viral drugs.  The lesions healed.  The thrush was treated.  He was able to go back to the nursing home.  He got better.

Uncle Will didn't like the nursing home much.  I work as a property manager and have worked with the HIV Alliance before and I knew they have programs for rental assistance. We got Will on the program.  An apartment opened up that met their criteria.

Will and Mark moved into their new place last week.  Another tenant had left behind some furniture so we put that in there for them.  When Will walked through the first time, he had to wipe the tears from his eyes.


#fatfreefloozy said...

Thanks for sharing such a personal story! It's interesting to see what shapes us as people and this has obviously helped make you the strong chicken you are today.

Anonymous said...

I have close family in a very similar situation, so I could really relate. I am so happy that people like your Uncle Will have you, your mom and grandmother looking out for them. They have such a tough life and deserve our love and compassion. Your story about your Uncle has warmed my heart.

I hope he enjoys his new home and his health improves.


MGC said...

God Bless you and your family and thank you for sharing your story. I have a sister who has substance abuse issues combined with mental health issues. If it wasn't for the fact that she has a supportive and generous family she would likely be homeless. She is in rehab now for the second time and my parents say this is the last time they can afford to pay for it. I hope and pray it sticks this time. Again thank you for sharing your heart breaking yet heart warming story.

Catherine55 said...

What an interesting and sad story, and how wonderful that you were able to help your Uncle and his partner find a home. Thank you for sharing this.

Grandma Bonnie said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It was very moving and we all have those stories in our families, we just are not able to articulate them or don't know the whole story. I hope your uncle and his partner so well in their new home. You are surely a blessing to them.