Photos by historymike
(Toledo, OH) Major Goodlow is upfront about the reasons behind his homelessness.
“What it really comes down to is that I have a problem with disobedience,” he said. “I know that I shouldn’t be doing certain things, but I wind up doing them anyways.”
Among those disobedient behaviors was a decision years ago that Major made to try crack cocaine.
“I was a star fullback and nose tackle on my high school football team, and the last person you would think would get into crack,” he said. “Then one day I tried smoking it at a party, and my life has never been the same since.”
Major is 37, and just celebrated his birthday inside the Cherry Street Mission, Toledo’s oldest and busiest homeless shelter. Originally from Providence RI, Major moved to Toledo with his parents in the 1980s.
As a child Major was surrounded by family members who sold drugs.
“My parents did not approve of it, but drugs were everywhere and there were a lot of members of my family who used and sold,” he said. “I’m not making excuses, but the real surprise was that it took so long before I tried drugs.”
After high school Major spent many years working as an auto mechanic.
“I worked at a lot of those oil and lube places,” he said. “I was a manager for quite a few years of one place.”
Major’s drug use seemed to go in cycles.
“I would swear I would never touch that shit again, and I could go for two years without touching it,” he said. “And then I would back into someone and the thing would start all over again.”
One of the worst parts about addiction, for Major, was his entry into criminal behavior.
“The way I supported my habit was through shoplifting,” he said. “There’s like a network that develops, and somebody tells you the item they want – like a leather coat – and you go into a store and steal it.”
This activity caused Major to be convicted of petty theft.
“I had never really been in trouble before, and then I thought: ‘I am now a criminal,’” he said. “When you start using hard drugs you lose your self-respect and find yourself doing things you could never imagine you would do.”
Major has a wife, and he has been married about three years.
“My wife finally reached the point where she couldn’t live with me using any more,” he said. “When she left me I hit rock bottom.”
Major and his wife are trying to work out the problems associated with his drug use; he is currently about six months into his current stretch of sobriety.
“I love her so much, and I tell myself: ‘You love her! Why do you keep doing this?’” he said. “I want to get back together, but she is not ready to completely trust me.”
The Cherry Street Mission
Founded in 1947 the Cherry Street Mission provides shelter, meals, and services to hundreds of Toledo’s homeless men and women. The 26-bed facility for women is called the Sparrow’s Nest, and it is expanding to a total of 52 beds.
The Mission served over 80,000 meals in 2005, and has 110 beds for men.
“We try to never turn anyone away, though,” said Reverend Dan Rogers. “We have mats that can be rolled out when we exceed the number of available beds.”
Funding for the Mission is an ongoing struggle, and Rogers said that people tend to forget about the year-round need for support.
“We get a burst of donations around the holidays when people are in a giving mood,” he said. “But we hope that people will remember us throughout the year.”
One of the most important sources of support comes in the form of food.
“We had a budget last year of just $20,000 for meals,” said Rogers. “But through the generosity of area restaurants and merchants we managed to prepare those 80,000 meals and stay within our budget.”
Major said that the prepared meals are not necessarily gourmet food, but they are enough to keep a person alive for another day.
“Look, I’m grateful for anything they give us,” he said, adding that the morning’s meal was one pancake and two link sausages. “But people think we are down here living like kings, and that is definitely not the case.”
Feeding and sheltering the homeless is only part of the work of the Cherry Street Mission.
“We try to get everyone that comes through our doors to make a commitment to our rehabilitation programs,” Rogers said. “We recently conducted an audit, and found that 74% of the men who completed the program avoided falling back into homelessness after one year.”
Major hopes to be among those successful graduates in 2006.
“I want this to be my last time making this place my home,” he said.
Life On Toledo’s Streets
One of the biggest difficulties for Major has been the availability of crack in the area around the mission.
“You can find it anywhere, but there are houses all around this place that sell it,” he said. “For people who are struggling with addiction it’s even harder to stay clean when you know that the drug is right around the corner.”
Being on the streets also means that homeless people are in danger of assault.
“If you are walking by yourself around here, you might as well expect to get robbed,” he said. “We also have problems with local gangsters who have an initiation ritual of attacking homeless people. They come flying up the street on bikes and beat on you for fun.”
Even the mission itself is not necessarily a haven from violence.
“Sometimes guys come in here drunk, high, or just angry,” he said. “There are fights all the time, even though they screen everyone before they get in here.”
Denny Hartman, assistant director of men’s ministries for the Mission, is one of those responsible for checking in the men at night.
“We won’t let anyone in who we believe to be a problem,” he said, waving a hand-held metal detector over men entering the facility. “But even though we keep a close watch, sometimes fights still break out.”
There was a fairly long line of men entering the shelter on this night; Hartman pointed out that many of the men work jobs.
“Many people think that ‘homeless’ means ‘lazy’ or ‘bum,’ but a lot of these guys are working jobs,” he said. “They are working to get back into having their own place again.”
Having to accept charity was one of the hardest things for Major, who said that it “almost killed him” to have to go to a shelter.
“My mother was the one who encouraged me to go to the shelter,” he said. She knew that I needed help, but I could have never seen myself doing that, sinking that low.”
Major’s mother passed away over the holidays, and he believes that there may be something hopeful in a time of mourning.
“When she died, a part of me realized that I have to get serious about changing my life,” he said, adding that he traveled to Rhode Island for the funeral. “Maybe this was a sign from God to wake me up.”
This is a two-part series examining homelessness in Toledo, and also appears in this week's Toledo Free Press. Next Week: "Breaking The Cycle Of Homelessness.".