Homeless man can’t find housing so he lives in a storage unit

Lefty Graves

** This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as shared with me by a friend who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

Small towns all have their stories that only the ‘locals’ seem to know. I moved to a small town in the late 90s and would soon learn that the sleepy little town I had moved to wasn’t as sleepy as it appeared. While the sidewalks were all rolled up promptly at 5:00 pm, the bowling alley and the local fast food place remained open. This was where the locals hung out. This is where I learned a wealth of information about the small town I’d chosen to live in.

One particular man in town had a reputation for being a street fighter. He had managed to get himself evicted from a few different apartment complexes in the town for fighting and was living on the streets. No apartment manager would allow him on the property, and no rental houses were affordable for this man who was living on a disability.

Unfortunately, the man chose to remain in this small town that didn’t have the means to help him with his disability. Had he moved to the larger city about 60 miles to the south of the small town, he might have received some help from the VA or other businesses that were set up to help those with his particular disabilities.

Winter months were cold in this area. It wasn’t unusual for snow to fall in late September and linger until mid to late March. This particular year was no different. So instead of living in the park camping area where he normally lived, this man came up with a brilliant idea. He rented a storage unit and made that home for the winter.

He carefully set up his small storage unit with a small heater and a cot. He had gone to the local thrift store, procured a few blankets, and used his backpack as a pillow. He would lock the unit and be gone all day, but at night he would go there to sleep.

It wasn’t long until the reports began pouring that a man was living in the storage units. The storage unit's owner made many a trip over there at night to see why there was a fire in a barrel in the parking lot or why lights were on.

The man had signed a lease for six months, and although it didn’t specify in this particular storage unit’s rules that no one could live in the storage units, it was clearly understood by all of the other storage unit renters.

The homeless man knew just enough that he was able to get away with this for the first winter that I lived in the area. He was pleasant enough in passing, but we all knew that if it was after dark, we needed to steer clear of this man as he would likely be high or drunk and violent.

The following year, the storage owner reworded the lease for his storage units and made it very clear that no one would live in them. The man attempted to live there anyway, but the police took him to jail for violating the law.

The man would be out on the streets a day or so later, and this would become the pattern all winter long. Finally, after I lived in the town for about five years, the man went to the larger city, where he began getting the help he needed. He even sent the storage unit's owner a nice letter of apology.

I still prefer living in a small town or rural area; however, I’ve learned that things aren’t always as they appear when you’re driving through a small town. No longer do I think, “oh, this town looks so quaint,” because I know that there is a story somewhere in the small town. How about you? Have you stumbled on some interesting stories in small towns that only the locals know?

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Lefty has been writing online since 2000 on various topics, including youth mentoring, addiction recovery, parenting, gardening, advocating for seniors, sustainability, farming, and an eclectic mix of other topics. She resides on a farm with her family in Northeastern Washington state.

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