The Free Press, Mankato, MN

No Direction Home

December 8, 2013

No Direction Home: Day 1: One night in the life of the Salvation Army shelter

Some men stay a few days, some stay all winter

(Continued)

These were just four of the men at the Salvation Army men's shelter on a recent chilly night.

Each year, during the warmer months, there are dozens of people who are without a place to stay. They sleep under bridges, in parks, in malls — wherever they can find a place to stay until they're told to leave.

But in Minnesota, the climate come November takes “sleeping under a bridge” away as an option. That's why every year on Nov. 1, the Salvation Army's men's shelter opens. Any man who needs a place to stay can come here. They do not accept women. (Women can go to Partners for Affordable Housing's Welcome Inn and Theresa House.)

On any given night when the shelter is open, a collection of men will gather. Some will stay a few days, some will stay all winter and into spring.

These four shared their stories with The Free Press.

NATHAN VICKERS

He talks a mile a minute, and almost every word of it is interesting.

Vickers hails from Lawrence, Kansas, a progressive town he says treats homeless people better than anywhere else he's ever been. They cared for homeless people there, he said, instead of looking down upon them. That's how he feels here, he said. "Looked down upon."

He's traveled the country a lot — out to the coasts, throughout the Midwest — all the while never having permanent housing. He doesn't even like the word “homeless.” He prefers “houseless.”

“Home is where the heart is,” he said.

Vickers, who said he's been without permanent housing since he was 15, came to Mankato with a girl. She drove around the country as a traveling saleswoman for a chain of nightclubs. Vickers followed.

“You can be resentful. Other people have it made and you're on the streets cold and alone. It sucks, but eventually the lifestyle hardens ya,” he said. “I think homeless people are the strongest people out there because they're extremely resilient, we handle the worst conditions. I've slept in a tent in 6 inches of snow. I've been there. Most of the time I sleep in a tent. I've slept under bridges, I've slept in a park.”

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