Matthew Whalan: No trespassed year round

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Caterpillar - 29. Born in Sudan. Family came to the United State as refugees when he was a baby. Raised in Madison, Wisconsin. Traumatic upbringing with both family and law enforcement. Suffered severe frostbite in 2010, resulting in "Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy," or "Complex Regional Pain Syndrome," which is a nerve disease. Has been homeless in several places as an adult - in Brattleboro since summer 2018, upon leaving Madison again. Came east hoping to reconnect with a friend. Arrived in town by car. Lost the car after accident. Struggles with alcoholism and sometimes anger issues.

Lost my car in the fall. I started campin' outside in tents, sleepin' on decks. It was cold. Some nights it wasn't that bad. It was just really rough when it was raining. Some days I'd be wet for like two, three days, and like my tent be wet, my sleepin' bag, sleepin' pad - everything be wet.

So I'm basically wet and cold for like two, three days, and that was da most rough thing. I was drinkin' more when I's more cold and wet, so I's drunk n cold n irritated - like angry - kinda yellin' at people.

Then the shelter opened up n that was kinda weird - sleepin' in a bed in a warm place. First night, I was sweatin' n hot, tossin' n turnin', like barely sleepin'. It took a few nights to actually start to get some good sleep there. It was nice though - way better than sleepin' outside in the cold.

I wore this jacket n pants that were so thick - jacket could be soaked n still sorta keep me warm. I'd just lay anywhere n fall asleep.

November, the shelter opened. I's in there like a month. It was nice. Thanksgiving was my birthday. That's when it was best

(emotional pause)

when it first opened up - before I got kicked out da first time. They gave me a disorderly conduct n I got kicked out.

So I was back sleepin' outside, sleepin' on decks like da whole month a December. First a December's when nay kicked me out. I's kicked out da whole month n back sleeping in my tent. It was cold.

(That tent was stolen early that month. He was donated a new tent weeks later.)

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So then I didn't even have a tent. I's sleepin' on decks. Like even though I wasn't allowed at the Drop-in I'd still go there at night, sleep on the deck with a bunch a blankets. Sometimes it's like six degrees. I'd hop in [the sleeping bag] n be cold for a couple hours, then I'd warm up eventually n wake up warm.

But as soon as you hop out, you're cold again. So you gotta move, walk around or somethin' just to warm up.

One night, I was at the Drop-in. It was so cold. All I had was my sleepin' pad n like one thin blanket. I threw my sleepin' pad in the gazebo near the Drop-in n just passed out there n some kid saw me n was checkin my pulse because he wasn't sure'f I's dead. He felt so bad. I's so cold.

For a lot of the winter, I was up all night most nights just a stay warm. I'd just walk around town three in a mornin' cuz I'd wake up n I'd be cold, so I'd just get my shit on n start walkin' around, snipin' cigarette butts, lookin' for half-empty beers.

First time I got kicked out, I knew I could do the cold weather [Exception] n get a motel but for some reason I didn't wanna go ask. But I remember on Christmas Eve, my friend felt so sorry for me, so she was like, `We're going to Economic Services,' n went with me, so I got a motel. After that I used the motels more.

Second time I got kicked out, they let me in the motels for about a week. The problem was: Economic Services wanted to figure out whether the shelter was full or not.

I told em, `It doesn't matter whether the list is full or not. I'm not allowed there.' Then the lady workin' there talked to her supervisor n said, `My supervisor said because you're banned from the Overflow Shelter, we can't help you with housing.'

Third time I got kicked out, they put me on a Do Not House list for three or four days after I got into a fight, which is confusing because that night da cops made me call 2-11 [the hotline for Economic Services]. I said, `They're not gonna house me because they said I need to report to Economic Services,' n I hadn't reported to Economic Services. They still made me call em n 2-11 didn't house me that night.

I don't think the cops put me on the Do Not House list because they made me call 2-11. So I'm confused - it must've been Groundworks that put me on the Do Not House list those days. I don't know why they'd do that to me because they know I was kicked outta the shelter.

Caterpillar was still No Trespassed from Groundworks properties at the time of our interview, including their two shelters. Their so-called "Overflow Shelter" had closed for the season soon before our interview. Caterpillar looks forward to warmer weather, plans on quitting drinking, and getting a job. He wants to save up for a car and drive to Arcata, California before winter returns.

Matthew Vernon Whalan is a writer living in Brattleboro. His work has appeared in The New York Journal of Books, CounterPunch, The Commons, The Berkshire Record, and dozens of other literary journals and newspapers. He has just completed a book on homelessness in America, as told to him by the homeless community of Brattleboro. Whalan is also involved in activism regarding homelessness. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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