Hidden Homeless: One man’s story of living on the streets of Green Bay

Local News

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Homelessness in Northeast Wisconsin- just like anywhere else- is a sensitive subject to talk about.

Too many Americans are just one missed paycheck away from poverty and homelessness, that includes thousands of people in Wisconsin.

As of January 2018, Wisconsin had about 4,900 people experiencing homelessness on any given day- that’s according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. One of those people was a man named Vern. He is, just like you and me, a resident of a community in Northeast Wisconsin- only, at one point, he found himself living on city streets.

“When we talk about homelessness, I think that is the subtitle,” says Vern. “The real title of this movie is displacement. As a displaced person, you don’t think normally. Yes, you behave as normally as you can, but you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. You’re having to carry your belongings around in a duffle bag or in a backpack and you’re hoping that wherever you’re going to lay your head is someplace safe and secure where you can find a meal.”

Often times, Vern found himself at St. John’s Homeless Shelter where he was able to have just that. While it provided him with food and shelter, it also made him very aware of the situation he was in.

“When you’re in something by yourself, it seems surrealistic- it doesn’t seem like, ‘This can’t be happening to me,'” said Vern. “But when you see other individuals who are looking at you while you’re looking at them, you realize, ‘I’m in trouble.'”

That’s when he decided it was time for a change. Making the most of his situation, Vern used the resources available to him. Most days he found himself at the Brown County Library, looking for job opportunities on a computer.

“It takes assessing of what you have and what you need and trying to get those things to meet,” says Vern. “I needed a place to live, I needed a place to call home, I needed a job; I needed all of these things. As a result that’s when it started to turn around for me, when I made up my mind that I’m not going to continue living this way.”

Recommended to him by a shelter manager, Vern applied to Curative Connections- a facility for the elderly and those with disabilities. As it would happen, he qualified for a position and he found himself employed again.

Although his life has returned to some normality, he still feels there is more that can be done for those less fortunate.

“There is revenue here that could be used to help St. John’s, new community shelters and other displaced persons areas that they need the help,” said Vern. “Donations are great. You have churches that donate, you have social agencies that donate- they donate product, personal hygeine, clothing, etcetera. But there really needs to be a reliable source of revenue that can address the homeless situation in this county.”

For now, he’s doing what he can to help starting at work- and that’s returning the kindness he once received.

“It brings wisdom, it brings compassion, it brings understanding, it brings empathy,” says Vern. “It helps you to look at yourself in such a small way so that you can be the bigger person and help them to see themselves as better people.”

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