Wednesday, November 21, 2012

JOHN ELLSTROM - Have you ever dreamed about running away to join the circus?

                                                "You Get to Know People Real Quick."

     John Ellstrom is forty-five years old. He grew up in the small town of Otis Orchard, Washington. He has been homeless most of his adult life.      He left home when he was sixteen years old.
     "I didn’t feel loved by my family," he said. "I was an adopted child. "My parents were good people. They had kind of Victorian principles. Both of them were college-educated. They didn’t drink much.
     "When I was a little boy, my parents were pretty good to me. But when we turned teenagers (there were three of us, and we were all adopted), our adoptive parents just didn’t seem to want us any more.
     "I could see it coming when I was younger. My parents would make comments about how tough it was going to be for them, once we became teenagers.
     "Then, when I did become a teenager, it was like, my parents’ love for me just went away. Instead, my parents started asking, ‘When are you going to leave?’
     "So, one day, I just grabbed my coat, and the two dollars in my pocket, and I started walking down the road."
     I ask John if he ever went back.
     "No. I never went back.
     "I kept moving around, from job to job. I worked for a number of carnivals. Once in awhile, I’d get a pretty good job situation. But every time, something would go wrong, and I’d eventually lose my job.
     "I got arrested for possession of a controlled substance... I was doing speed at that time.
     "After I served my prison time, I was let out on parole. But, because I was chronically homeless, I kept leaving the place where I was supposed to serve my parole before completing my parole time.
     "I’d travel around for awhile. But eventually, some police officer would stop me for something, and run my name through the computer, and see that I was wanted for a parole violation. Then, I’d get hauled back to jail, and I’d have to serve another four to six months for parole violation.
     "This was a repeating pattern for me that went on for ten years. It took me ten years to finally complete my parole.
     "When I finally got off of parole, things were looking up for me. I was working for a carnival.
     "But then, I fell off of a carnival ride, and broke my hip.
     "Since the carnival had been paying me under the table, I had no health insurance, and I had no worker’s compensation.
     "So, since getting injured, I’ve been camping out, and flying a cardboard sign for handouts.
     "I do drink a bit, and I smoke some weed. But doing that helps to kill the pain. I’ve got physical pain in my hip, and emotional pain from being homeless, jobless, and crippled up.
     "I’ve applied for disability.
     "But the Social Security people said, ‘If you can still put a shoe into a box, then you are still well enough to work.’ Well, that’s easy for them to say. But I’ve got six screws in my leg. I sure can’t do the kind of work at the carnival that I used to do."
     What is the hardest part about being homeless for John?
     "Getting out of being homeless," John answers. "Once you become homeless, it’s very, very hard to get out of it.
     "Even if you stay completely sober, getting work, getting a place indoors to live, and getting transportation so that you can get to work, is very hard.
     If John had a magic wand, so that he could be or do absolutely anything, what would he be doing?
     "I’d continue my education. I’d get a college degree. Then, I’d like to build something, or invent something that would help the whole world.
     "I’m a very intelligent person. I just sometimes have a bit of a problem with being responsible, and with managing my money. I’d like to use the gifts that God gave me to do something good for the world."
    Does John have a message for the world?
   "Yes. Don’t group homeless people all in one category. We’re all out here for different reasons. We’re not all the same."
     I ask John what he believes makes him special and unique in the world.
     "I’m a caring person. I’m empathetic, and I’m intelligent.
     "Part of why I’m out here is just bad luck. Every time I get into something good, it gets all twisted. I’ve tried some group recovery programs. But even those attempts turned out bad for me. I’ve shot myself in the foot, a lot of times."
     I ask John is he has anything else that he would like people to know about him, or about his life.
     "If I have one thing to say," John answers, "it would be, hey, try it. Put two sets of clothing into a bag, or a backpack, and grab a few snacks, and just start walking down the road.
     "See what it’s like to be homeless. See what it’s like to have no bills to pay, no rent, no utility bill, and no job.
     "Come out here, and sit down with a few other homeless people, and drink a few beers with them, and find out what we’re really like.
     "That’s how you really get to know someone.
     "There’s good people out here, and there’s bad people.
     "If you come out here, it takes your blinders off, and you’re not seeing us through the blinders of society.
     "When you’re out here, and you need something to eat, you might not get anything to eat for quite some time.
     "When you meet someone out here, the person you meet could be a friend, or an enemy. He could be a robber, or even a molester. When you’re out here, you get to know people real quick."

     This is the one-hundredth article in the series of articles on Auburn-area homeless people.
     For those of you who have been with me for the whole series, thank you.
     As you already know, it has been an incredible spiritual journey and learning experience for me.
     The journey is not yet over.
     The initial goal was to interview one hundred Auburn-area homeless people. The one-hundredth article does not complete this project, because several of the early articles were not interviews of homeless people, but rather, were articles about Ryan Frew, the documentary film maker, or his film.
     So, there will be more interviews of homeless people posted on this blog, until I reach one hundred.
     I’m not sure how many more that will be. I've lost count of exactly how many interviews I've done. 
     Over this Holiday weekend, I will go back and count up how many interviews have been completed, and how many more are needed. When I get the count, I’ll let you know.
     I hope that you, and all of your loved ones have a wonderful, Happy Thanksgiving!
     Love and Many Blessings, Bob

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