Our Vendors 

This week’s featured vendor: Scott Elders, his shelter experience

Mon, Nov 28, 2011

Scott Elders

StreetWise Vendor Scott Elders is no stranger to homelessness. He lost his home in 1998 after his struggle with alcoholism caused him to get behind on his bills. He found a place to stay at a shelter called the Daybreak Center in Joliet.

“A shelter can be an aggressive atmosphere. [It’s hard to] get along with people, because everybody’s got their own certain thing. Like, ‘This is mine. Don’t touch it… don’t even look at it, leave me alone,’” Scott said. “Like for me, I had all my medications in my bag. My whole world was in my bag. That’s the same for pretty much 99.9 percent of the people. Whatever’s in their bags is their world. That’s all they’ve got in the world and that’s all they can survive with.”

Because of this increased territorialism, Scott could never relax and was constantly troubled with a state of anxiety. “People go to sleep and you’ve got other people trying to sneak around, dig in your bags, steal your phone or steal whatever things they can get to sell. That happens in all the shelters. It’s hard to sleep at night knowing that there’s other people around who could steal from you [or] could hurt you. It was stressful night after night,” Scott said.
On top of the possibility of having his belongings stolen or being attacked, Scott was especially upset by the hygiene some of the other shelter visitors. “One of the hardest parts was trying to deal with people that wouldn’t take showers. You have to deal with the stench because they wouldn’t even change their clothes for six months [to] a year. They just throw clothes on top of clothes,” Scott explained.

But despite some of the difficulties he’s encountered in the shelter system, Scott is aware that without it, he would have been lost. “[Without a shelter to go to], I’d be sleeping underneath the railroad dock or something. I’ve been on the streets awhile on and off and I’ve seen people sleep in porto potties. I’ve seen them take garbage cans and make little forts to sleep underneath. Thank the good Lord that just because of the shelter system, I’ve never had to go that far,” Scott said.

While he is thankful for the bed that these shelters have provided him, Scott is convinced that there can be a better way than simply providing a roof and food. “A lot of the shelters don’t give [the homeless] a lot of resources. They only tell you where you can go eat. Sure, you’ve got a roof over your head, but you’re not forcing me to go out and do the things that I need to do to help myself, so why should I do it? I could stay like this and be happy with three square meals a day for free. I’ve seen that a lot and they don’t give you anything to go help you find a job. What they need is more programs in the shelters to help people better themselves instead of just letting them come and have a bed and get accustomed to it. They’ve got to give them a little bit more and update their programs and make the shelters a working program so that if you want to stay here, you’ve got to be working [in some way],” Scott said.

Today, Scott has cleaned himself up and has approached a greater level of stability in his life than he’s had in a long time. He has been promoted to the StreetWise Quality Assurance Team and continues to volunteer his time to help others living on the street find their path as he did.

Written by Brittany Langmeyer
StreetWise Staff

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