By Anthony DeMeo IV
While drawing in Chippewa Square, a stout, weathered, middle-aged man approached me. He explained that one of my vertical lines was off and helped me sporadically as I continued the drawing. I was curious to learn more about the homeless community in Savannah, and Lonnie seemed like the right person to show me first hand what the homeless community was really like.
When Lonnie was two years old he had his first drink, he said it was some kind of Schnapps. Being subjected to a caustically abusive home life where exposure to substances was relatively frequent caused a swift maturation of Lonnie’s consciousness. In the midst of two deaths — his father and his dog — and a few DUIs, Lonnie was cast out by his mother. He had money to prevent being homeless, but decided to experience being homeless out of spite.
He noted that many people don’t pay attention to the homeless people of the Savannah community, and to him, helping his fellow homeless men is important.
“People walk around with blinders on, focus on too much bad and miss a lot of the good,” Lonnie explained. “The birds don’t worry about it — we shouldn’t either.”
When I asked him about what keeps him going he attributed his motivation to spirituality saying, “If I didn’t have that I wouldn’t be here.”
This type of lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It’s not just spirituality that allows people to survive in these conditions, it’s a knowledge of the basics of survival.
Lonnie further revealed his worry for those who have no knowledge in simpler adaptive life styles. “The economy is going to collapse, [but] I already know how to live out here. I can survive in the woods and a lot of people can’t.”
Lonnie brought me along the path beyond the city limits where only a fraction of the homeless populace find refuge.
As we walked down a busy road toward the edge of the city and the woods, I tried to imagine this as home.
He showed me some secret entrances to the camp, the paths leading to the settlement are not dangerous but adventurous. Tents scattered about. Lonnie had donated supplies and several tents to homeless brethren and strangers alike.
This was a camp that he’d helped to create and maintain. It was a makeshift shelter for those who like him, had nowhere to call home. The camp was trashed. It had been a while since Lonnie visited. Pots, pans and blankets hung on lines, and bottles filled with urine were just some of the traces of life. Lonnie wanted to show me what “luxury” was, so he took me over to the toilet. Lonnie installed a recycled school desk with a square cut in it, over a sewer pipe with a large circular opening. This exhibited such ingenuity for the sake of something I take for granted every day.
The zippers on all his tents were broken by overuse and dirty pans and spent embers rested upon a makeshift wood stove. The influx of visitors seemed tremendous. I have camped before, but never out of desperation. Carelessness lingered, it was unpleasantly serene to see no one inhabiting Lonnie’s charity camp that had been brutally taken advantage of.
He wanted to show me where some other people he knew lived. Eventually we reached an imposing “Keep Out” tag with a large village of tents, chairs and fire pits. Not soon after our arrival, a couple of men approached. Lonnie quickly greeted them, but one was skeptical of my presence. Lonnie gave him $20 to calm his uneasiness, which seemed to make me being there bearable.
Among these survivalists were many former soldiers who toured Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The faces of war are not always clad with medals and showered with honor. Too many forgotten servicemen still fight the harsh reality of a society drowned by warfare. The man presiding over this particular camp asked not to be named. However, I must say I was impressed by the proud display of humanity to make the best out of less than nothing.
After seeing with open eyes and ears the conditions and culture of the Savannah homeless populace I gained a new respect for those who withstand the simple suffering of life below luxury. Realizing what I had taken for granted for so long left a bitter taste in my mouth. Why do I or anyone for that matter deserve to live in excess while others starve and strive for the strength to make it through every day? I am not suggesting we drop everything and start treating these individuals like kings, but at least treat them as fellow Americans. The reflection of a society lies in the lowest circumstances lived. This country is supposed to be better than how these men are living.
Contact Anthony Demeo.