By Tara Williams | CNA Media Team
Chris Gibbons became unhoused last August, six months after being released from prison. An attempt to make hash oil in his apartment kitchen had ended in an explosion and three years in prison.
“I wasn’t out burning anyone or anything up. It was due to me doing something stupid, and it blew up in my face,” Chris said. “I got burned up really bad. I was nine days in Emanuel’s intensive care burn unit.”
He had been out of the hospital for a week. “The police came at 2 a.m. I was still all bandaged up and looked like a Q-tip, but they handcuffed me anyway. I was terrified.
“I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t talk to anybody. The court declared my wife and two daughters victims because they were there. I had no contact with any of them until I was sentenced and placed into prison.”
Chris pled guilty to the arson charge, which reduced his sentence. His marriage did not survive his prison term.
Recently an organization that had denied him housing in the past notified Chris he is eligible for a grant to pay for two years of housing.
“They said the problem now is finding a place that is suitable and will accept me. Some places won’t accept me because of my arson charge. That’s my biggest barrier. That’s why I’m still here at the camp.
“I know someone who had an arson charge, and it took him four years.”
Chris acknowledged not all campers would rather be housed. Some are happy with how they’re living. “They’re content being here. I’m not trying to sound rude, but it’s like they don’t care. That kind of threw me for a loop.
“They don’t care that they might have to move spontaneously, so they just create these big giant messes. Then they leave it for people like us, and we get stereotyped because we’re stuck with it.
“It’s kind of sad, you know? I guess I’m trying to emphasize that we’re not the type that don’t care.
“A lot of people come up to us and ask, ‘Hey, do you mind if I post a tent up over here?’ At this camp, we’re really selective about who we’re going to have here,” he said. “We don’t want trouble.”
Chris shares camp space at 33rd Avenue and Dekum Street with a couple who live in another tent. “We talk a lot. We want to change. We do care. We know that this is just a step we have to take in order to move up or to improve. “Unfortunately we’re here. We’re going to try to make the best of it.”
Tara Williams is new to Concordia and loving life on Liberty Street. She’s a writer and English professor, not always in that order. Contact her at Eudaimonia.Dr.Williams@gmail.com.