As American skies are filled with bright pops of fireworks and American flags majestically soar celebrating our independence, our veterans are the ones we should be celebrating. In honor of Independence Day, today’s story is of a homeless veteran named Joe. Joe enlisted in the military after his 2 beloved daughters were killed in a car accident. Joe’s children gave him his life purpose and without them, he felt lost in the world. He felt that serving his country could help him cope with the devastation and loss.
Joe was born and raised in Kansas, where he spent most of his days fishing, hunting, and camping. Today, he uses the skills he learned as a young boy to survive on the streets, as he is facing homelessness. Joe has been homeless in the Las Vegas area for the past 12 years, staying within the caves of the Red Rock National Park and living off the land. For his basic necessities, Joe rides his bike down Charleston and panhandles for money and goods. To stay cool within the summer months, he leaves a wet towel around his neck and constantly keeps up with water.
Joe spent 34 years of his adult life working as a truck driver traveling around from state-to-state, following his next adventure. Since being homeless, he has traveled around the world by hitchhiking with truck drivers. Through Joe’s travels, he has found a profound understanding of the world around him and has become extremely wise. Joe told me that the key to being homeless successfully is by using public restrooms to stay clean, by washing his clothes and remaining well-kept. He does this so that he can fit in in social situations and not be asked to leave public places. He called this going “unnoticed,” saying that if you don’t look homeless, places of business cannot kick you out. Joe has multiple encounters with the police due to panhandling. He made a good point asking, “If I cannot beg for money on the streets, will they be willing to house and feed me?” Joe explained to me that, consumerism is having profound effect on the way we live. He said that so many new cars drive by him, avoiding eye contact and offering no help, yet the people with beat up cars in most cases are the ones to lend a dollar and a smile.
Joe told me that the best gift he has ever received on the streets was a tent. This offered Joe protection and a place to call home throughout the night. Sadly, after 3 weeks his tent was stolen while he was out for the day. In telling him about the Can You Spare a Story Priceless Pop-Up Shop, he said that it was wonderful, but the homeless truly need items like tents and can openers to survive. Joe wishes that the world would stop labeling and degrading him due to his homelessness because anyone could be in the same situation in one simple paycheck. He wants the people in the world to open their eyes and stop caring about what others think, and instead provide for those who have nothing at all.
By spending an hour or so speaking with Joe, I found him to be one of the wisest and kindest human beings I had ever met. He does the unimaginable on an everyday basis and has been doing so for 12 years. His kind smile and motivational words made me realize how unimportant the material items in life are and how conversation should be valued. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have met Joe and wish nothing but the best for him on his next adventure.