If you’ve driven along East Lancaster Avenue, you may have seen a line of tents being used by homeless people to try to keep warm outdoors despite the frigid temperatures that have blanketed North Texas during the past week.
Tuesday morning, many of the homeless were heading into daytime shelters to escape bitter cold temperatures that topped out in the upper 20s, with an overnight low of 23 degrees. But not Joe Fithian and his friend Patrick McBrayer, who said they spent time incarcerated together a few years ago.
They were camped along a two-block stretch of East Presidio Street, between Poplar and Cypress streets, where more than a dozen tents were pitched and dozens of people were trying to keep warm — and maybe watch a movie.
“I got a laptop that I bought. We’ll put a movie on and laugh and giggle, you know what I mean,” said Fithian, who had layers of oversized clothing and high spirits.
Why were they still outside while dozens of others piled into the True Worth Place day shelter?
"The reason why is because they’ve either had some problems or there’s just too much stuff going on,” McBrayer said. “And some of them are banned or barred from entering.”
McBrayer said he got himself barred from the Presbyterian Night Shelter.
“I had a little whiskey and when they saw me taking a sip I got barred from coming in for six months,” McBrayer said. “They’re liberal, but they’re stern.”
McBrayer stopped talking for a second to offer Fithian a puff on a marijuana cigarette, but Fithian passed.
Fithian said life can become complicated for homeless residents.
He said he thought he was about to get back on his feet a few weeks ago when a guy drove up to the homeless camp on East Lancaster offering a work opportunity. But it didn’t pan out. He only made $50 to $60 a week and ended up having to come back to the homeless camp because it wasn’t enough to get a place to live.
“Some of us don’t have a choice,” said Fithian. “Some of us don’t have an ID, you know. It’s a struggle. I have photocopies but they ain’t good enough. Some of us don’t go in because they have traffic tickets or warrants, you know. Some of us make mistakes and it’s hard.”
McBrayer smiled and said he was happy to see his friend trying his best to do better. But he said the issue of residents staying outside even in colder weather goes deep.
“I have drug problems and need medications too," he said. "Three-quarters of these people are on drugs, so when the first of the month comes around you’ll see nothing but open beds. They all go down to the motel and spend their whole check on dope and do their acts, you know what I mean.”
After a while, the cold became too much for McBrayer and he decided to head to one of the tents on East Presidio. Fithian had one last thing to add before he pulled away in the same direction on his bicycle.
“We got a tent and a bunch of sleeping bags. We’ll find somewhere to put it up and organize it until they tell us to go,” he said.