Greg Brucke rushed into each room at Hope Missions, pushing a vacuum back and forth.
One of the rooms he stepped into was filled with racks of clothes. People without a place to live can sleep in here for a time, he said, pointing to a room with green cots on the floor.
“I have a place now, I’m out of the cold,” Brucke said, in December after weeks of using his paychecks from washing dishes at a downtown restaurant to escape the bitter weather with motel rooms.
Brucke’s journey from sleeping on the ground next to the library to living in a quiet apartment was not easy and like many without a home, it took a community to bring him through.
The Independent Mail followed Brucke for four months documenting his journey to affordable housing.
Brucke fought through the barriers of housing shortages, delays in obtaining identification and lack of transportation and four months later has an apartment to rent and a consistent part-time job, but more importantly a community.
“These folks just need somebody to walk through life with them,” said Julie Huber with Hope Missions. “It doesn’t take any super power skills, it’s just persistence.”
‘Sometimes people just need help’: Barriers facing Brucke
Cashing checks was something Brucke couldn’t do on his own until this month. Without an ID, he couldn’t cash paychecks from work so either his employer, Adam Wilson, or Huber’s husband Ron would drive him.
Brucke has been working at Electric City Pizza Company in Anderson since it opened in October but can just afford rent with the pay he gets from 20 hours a week in addition to 9 hours a week working at Hope Missions.
“He’s definitely in a better spot now than he was November, December, even early January,” Wilson said. “I’m just trying to find more ways I can use him around here to give him a few more hours.”
Getting to places was difficult after Brucke’s bike was stolen in December.
“Transportation is a huge barrier,” Huber said.
The Hubers eventually bought him a new bike and Hope Missions also offered rides for $5 a day.
The drives home from work and the nights Wilson helped Brucke with a motel room motivates Brucke to stay at Electric City Pizza and continue being diligent there.
“Sometimes people just need help,” Wilson said. “And if I’m in a position where I can help somebody, I always want to do it.”
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Anderson County lacks shelter space
The exact number of people experiencing homelessness in Anderson is hard to determine because many get by how they can, sleeping in a car or some other arrangement and that uncertainty makes them an “invisible population,” Hope Missions vice chairman Dave Phillips said.
But no doubt, Anderson County’s homeless population has grown recently, Phillips said.
“One of the biggest issues we have in the county, is we have a lack of shelter space,” he said.
The Salvation Army of Anderson has 22 beds for men, 10 beds for women and two family dorms that can hold up to five people.
The family dorms are not always full but more often than not, the other beds are at capacity, said Major Joseph Irvin, with the Salvation Army of Anderson.
The emergency lodge was built in the late 1970s and is not designed with the 21st century homeless population in mind, he said.
“We’re very short on space,” Irvin said.
Phillips said the Salvation Army is the only place with emergency beds in Anderson for people in need.
“We desperately need more shelter beds,” Phillips said. “That’s where we buy time.”
Time to build relationships.
Time to make people feel seen in their community.
Time to wait for IDs to come in and fill out job applications.
A lakeside dream turned into an affordable housing plan
Huber and her husband Ron know a thing or two about time.
On any given day, they’re driving people to cash checks, on the phone asking about documents or supervising their transition housing; time well spent.
Instead of getting the home they always wanted on the lake, the couple bought a home near downtown with two apartments behind it where they can house six people for a weekly rent of around $100.
One of those six is now Brucke.
“I’m settled in,” he said in April pointing to parts of the room he’d like to fix up.
His kitchen was full of gravy, ground chuck patties and local bread, he said. His new friends at the Hope Missions wouldn’t let him go hungry.
The familiar chatter from the television would catch his attention but his favorite part of his new home, the quiet.
Affordable housing in the state is challenging to come by, especially transitional housing like the Hubers offer that doesn’t require proof of income.
“It’s difficult, once a person has saved up money, and has money for deposits and the like, it’s hard to get them into housing, there’s a shortage of units,” Irvin said.
The typical wait time on the Anderson Housing Authority waitlist is six months to a year for the hundred people typically waiting.
They need time.
The Hubers and organizations like Salvation Army or Hope Missions are focused on cultivating needed time.
After Brucke finished cleaning at Hope Missions one February morning, his shoulders relaxed and smile brightened when Ron Huber walked past.
Huber fired off a joke and bumped Brucke’s shoulder. It was time to head to the bank and cash his latest check from work.
Brucke was still waiting on his birth certificate to come in from Colorado, so he relied on Wilson or Huber to take him to the bank to cash his work checks.
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Identity is hard to regain in a post-COVID-19 world with delays
Gaining back identity documents varies by case. For South Carolina residents, it isn’t too difficult but in a post-COVID-19 era of delays and staff shortages, the process can overwhelm some who were already struggling with the cost.
Organizations and people in the community can play a big part in making the identification process smoother.
Hope Missions started during the pandemic as shower trailers and grew into an organization providing basic needs while looking for specific ways to take next steps toward housing.
Getting Brucke an ID meant two and a half months of calls and mailing the health department in Colorado, waiting on hold for up to an hour at times.
“It took us forever to just get him an ID because he was born in Colorado,” Huber said. “With COVID, it changed the rules on everything. It was a much more difficult process.”
Another man in downtown Anderson, known by many for his familiar tattered jacket, has been on his own journey to obtaining back his identity.
Heather Duvall has seen Ricky Robertson around Anderson the past 18 years. She’s seen him asleep on the sidewalk or sitting outside gas stations.
In January, she decided to walk over and ask if he needed anything.
He said he was good, but Duvall said snow was on the way and she wouldn’t take no for an answer to booking him a hotel room. She got him dinner and learned his favorite drink was a Coke and Dr Pepper mix.
Three months later and Robertson is about to move into his first home with a restarted disability check and new family in Duvall.
Over the three months, Duvall has spent hours on the phone with the social security office and DMV. She has documented Robertson’s journey on Facebook and many contributed.
Over the months, Duvall learned Robertson’s cloth Arizona jacket was given to him by his brother before he died, his last living family member, and because of his deep connection to it, he won’t be parting with it.
“It has been a crazy hectic roller coaster, but I would not change anything,” she said. “He’s now one of our family members.”
Time and persistence drastically changed Robertson’s life over three months.
Those two ingredients continue to weave through Brucke’s story. He is on the right track, Huber said, but the struggles have not ended. Staying positive is difficult as barriers still flog Brucke’s way.
But with his identification, job, and home, his journey moves forward.
Brucke has a reflective vest waiting to be used in one of his drawers while he eyes a moped he’d like to purchase with tax refund money. The moped looks like a motorcycle, of course, an homage to his love of fast cars.
At 51, he considers this season of life a fresh start.
Anderson is home to him, the place where he graduated from Crescent High School and the place that continues to set the scene to his life’s story.
“The journey, it wasn’t too bad of a journey,” Brucke said in April. “It just took me a little time to get there, but I managed to get there.”
Photojournalist Ken Ruinard contributed to this story.
Sarah Sheridan is the community reporter in Anderson. She’d appreciate your help telling important stories; reach her at [email protected] or on twitter @saralinasher.