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Successful Drafter Battled Personal Issues, Alcoholism Before Becoming Homeless

The story of Richard, 57, who became homeless for the first time last year.

Richard's whole life has been distilled into two suitcases and a trash bag.

That's all the 57-year-old has in the world after 10 months of homelessness. But he makes no excuses. When asked how his life led him from the safety of a home in a small southern Minnesota town to the Cochran House in Hastings, he keeps it simple.

"Mistakes I made in my past," he says.

A casual observer would not know that Richard is homeless. He is clean-shaven, with a trim haircut and a business-like demeanor. His T-shirt is impeccably white and neatly tucked in to his blue jean shorts, which have clearly been pressed. The only small hint is a hole in one of his white sneakers. Otherwise, it would be impossible to know just how far his fortunes have fallen. 

Years ago, Richard was a successful drafter and designer who studied at vocational school before working at a company in Iowa.

"I worked there for 23 years and rose up through the ranks. I used to carry $100 bills in my wallet just for pocket change. I had two houses then."

But personal issues led him down the path to serious alcoholism, Richard said. After losing the job in Iowa, he moved back to Minnesota, where he held a series of jobs before ending up in treatment and a halfway house in Hastings.

But Richard tried to bounce back. He found an apartment in Hastings and took two part-time jobs. Even with two jobs, however, he didn't have enough after rent to pay for utilities and food. After swallowing his pride, he started receiving food assistance and got help paying his rent from his mother.

But when she passed away last fall, his fortunes fell and he found himself at Cochran House.

"This isn't a home by any means, but it's a place to live," Richard said of the Cochran House. "I may not like it, but I accept and appreciate the fact that this place is here for me."

While the Cochran House may never feel like home, Richard said he appreciates the relative safety and stability the house provides.

"I know of homeless shelters in the Twin Cities area that are just bad news. I know one person who left this place for another shelter and when he came back he showed me a stab wound. Someone pulled a knife on him when he was trying to protect his stuff."

The Cochran house has six single rooms, then doubles, triples and eight-man dorm-style rooms. Even when it's at capacity, with 42 people, it can be lonely there, Richard said.

"You get all kinds here," Richard said. "I'm pretty hairy about picking my friends. Some of them are just bad news. I've become hardened. I can tune people out. You don't mess with me, I don't mess with you."

When asked what he's hoping for, Richard hesitates.

"I don't know. I can't answer that. The goal for everybody is to get out of here, get an apartment. I'd like to get a driver's license and a vehicle again, but to do that I'd need a job, and to get a job I'd need a vehicle. It's like a Catch-22. Between age, lack of a vehicle and in Hastings, Minnesota, that's three things against me. I'm not a city person anymore.

"I've been through a lot in my life, ups and downs. I can look back and see what led me here today," Richard said. "Most of what happened in my life happened for a reason and most of it was self-inflicted."

Editor's Note: Homelessness rates in Dakota County and other suburban communities in Minnesota have risen substantially in the last five years. This letter to the editor is part of a Patch series exploring that trend. Click on the links below to read other articles on the topic.

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Diane Baum August 17, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Richard...you can stay strong and focused. Life has its series of ups and downs. I hope your down is short lived...good luck and God bless.
linda August 19, 2012 at 02:13 PM
This article makes me think about what programs we have as a society to help people like Richard get incorporated back into a job. We do need programs as life circumstances are different for everbody - some by choice, some not.

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