East Town, People

“I’m invisible”

Lawrence stands on corner of Jackson and Juneau in Milwaukee’s East Town neighborhood asking passers-by for a dollar thirty-nine. He wants Buddy Bars, he explains; they’re like Nutty Bars but the generic kind.

Lawrence is homeless but he doesn’t consider himself a “bum.” “Because of the kind of person I am, I’ll go up to somebody and talk to them and just tell them jokes or poems,” he said. “I want to bring something to the table besides just my appetite.”

He said he’s had to resort to asking for food because he was kicked out of St. Benedict, which serves community meals Sunday through Friday, when another guest started a fight with him. “St. Ben’s has not allowed me to eat there but they’ve got a walk for the hungry, run for the hungry.”

Lawrence speaks in a low, even, yet frustrated voice. “I can’t get clothes, food, any of that stuff,” he said.

“This town, Milwaukee itself, is very perverse, self-centered, self-absorbed. They talk about god but only as a cliché, only as a joke – they know nothing about god’s word, they don’t believe in it,” he said.

“It sucked, what do you think?”

Lawrence grew up in Chicago as a ward of the state of Illinois. “It means my family disowned, got rid of me…like garbage.” How old was he? “Young enough not to be able to have a real job until later on,” he said.

He said the hardest part about growing up without a family was the things he saw in the homes he lived in, including one instance where a one-year-old child had its pelvic bone broken. “What kind of human being would actually hurt a child?”

He, almost immediately, answers his own question. “A lot of human beings would do that.”

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Eventually, Lawrence ended up in Milwaukee because he lost his job “somewhere else.” Then, he says, he had a stint working at a bar before he lost that job, too. Has he worked since? “One year, seven months. No,” he said. “Little odd jobs, here and there.”

Because of his situation, Lawrence says, often, people don’t give him the time of day. “People don’t see other people. They’d rather call 211 (police non-emergency) or call somebody else. This is your community; why wouldn’t you help the people in your community? It doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “They’d rather pass the buck, that’s all they do, that’s what a lot of them do. They’re afraid. They’re afraid cause they don’t want to get their hands dirty.”

I ask Lawrence if he ever had any dreams. “No, I didn’t have dreams; I had nightmares.”

Aspirations, however? That’s another story. “I wanted to grow up and be successful, no matter what I did.” He says success is a, “state, a place of being,” that has, so far, eluded him. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if I would’ve found it.”

Is there anything that he still wants? “What I want I cannot have any more cause it’s dead and gone,” said Lawrence. “I know; I buried it. That was my woman.”

As far as for what’s ahead, he says, “Only god knows.”

 

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