So the last few days have been a little on the rough side. My friend Gina called me late Friday and said she was concerned about our friend Mack. She was not sure why, she was just worried about him. He usually calls me a couple of time each day and he had not been doing that. I agreed, I was worried too and Gina and I promised to check on him the next morning, Saturday morning, at our usual homeless breakfast. So I went to Johnson Towers at about 11AM and banged on the door. I did not know then that it was too late, Mack was already gone.
In early 2009 I went with some friends from church out on a Saturday morning to do a service project. The City arranged the event as a day of service so we made sandwiches and went to Lincoln Village. We learned that people in Lincoln Village are not particularly hungry. They’d like a pack of cigarettes or some gas money but ham sandwiches, not so much. So we regrouped and tried Tent City, where the homeless are camped under an interstate highway bridge. There, we met Mack.
The homeless men lay old carpets and boards over the rough gravel under the bridges. Then they put down a pallet, like a little wooden box used to stack merchandise on. The things that forklifts pickup, you know the thing. About 5×5 feet and maybe 6 inches thick made of wood. They put their tents on these things to keep them off the ground and out of the wet. Although my friend Mike P says that you can hear rats moving around under there. He likes his better on the ground.
Mack lived there when we met. He wore a Carhartt coverall and a ball cap and his ears were blue in the winter. His nose too. I once found him face down in his tent, covered with blankets. I was sure he was dead and sort of kicked his lifeless boot sticking out. It startled him and he bounded out of the tent ready to “stick” someone with his pocket knife. Mack was not a mean guy, not at all. He lived in a jungle and some of that behavior just rubs off on a person after a few years. And Mack lived on the streets for at least four years, that’s how long I’ve known him.
Afraid Mack would freeze to death, two years ago we decided to check him into a local flophouse motel with instructions to “cut back” and “get better”. He made a fairly pathetic effort that was unsuccessful and we decided that getting him off the streets had helped, at first, then it stopped helping. So, we told Mack to pack it up and head back to the tents. That was very hard for us to do. But, it was Spring and nice outside and maybe the shock of it would pull him out of his haze.
Back in the tents he reengaged with a local agency committed to getting these guys get housing and in short order, he got an apartment at Johnson Towers. He called it his Little House on the Praire. Mack was no Laura Ingals but he cherished his refuge from the camps and it helped him. He slowed his drinking and seemed to be committed to getting better. Until he wasn’t. Then he started drinking more and more. He sold his food stamps and collected cans for money and basically sought to keep alcohol in his system, pretty much at all costs.
About a month ago Mack got out of jail for hitting his girlfriend, for the second time since August. We told Mack that we were going to stop paying his $50/month rent at Johnson Towers. That he was not getting better and that actually, he was getting worse. His choices were to just go back to the streets, or to seek out a rehab facility where he could go. We gave him several phone numbers and helped him fill out an application for The Way. He was left with instructions to call them every day, or twice a day, or ten times a day to tell them he was dying to get better, so they’d give him a bed and save his life.
I did not talk to Mack much last week but when I did he said he’d tried to call them. His speech was slurred, at 9:15AM, and he was not sure what day it was. I told him to please stop drinking and call The Way when he was sober and beg them to admit him. He said he’d try but he’d dropped his phone in the toilet and the screen was not working. I told him that was one more excuse and reminded him that there was a phone in the lobby. We agreed to leave it alone. He’d call when he was ready or go to the camps.
I expected him Saturday at Tent City. After Gina called I was more worried but still expected to see him walking up through the old Cleveland Cemetery. He didn’t come so I stopped in to check and bang on his door again after cleaning up at church. I tried the door and found it locked. So I left a note and left, assuming that he was staying with someone. But when I came back Monday morning and my note was still there, I knew he was inside.
Shirley and Huntsville Public Housing Security came up and opened the door. Mack was sitting on his couch as if he was still watching TV. He appeared to have just passed out. I hope he died there, in his sleep, out of it.
He was not behaving like a man committed to life, and he got what he chose at the very young age of 49. It’s very sad to see someone commit suicide, even a long slow one like Mack’s. It makes me angry on some level, suicide has always made me angry. I should probably pray about that while I am praying for Mack.
Y’all add Timothy “Mack” McElyea to your prayer lists… he and his family could use it.