Memphis homeless struggle to move forward

Arturo Castillo sits outside the Memphis Union Mission. The Memphis Union Mission offers applicants four free nights of stay a month, and charges six dollars a night after the four free nights have been used.

On any given day of the week, at the Exxon on the corner of Poplar Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard, you can find Arturo Castillo sitting at the edge of the parking lot on an upside-down milk crate, resting his eczema-covered forearms on his walker.

“I just sit here because I don’t know what else to do,” Castillo said. “I don’t ask for anything. I just sit, and talk to people who speak to me.”

Castillo, originally from Northern Mexico, said he has lived in the United States for more years than he can remember, spending at least 30 years in Dallas, but he just moved to Memphis a year ago. In Texas, he worked in construction to support himself.

“I worked on roofs for years and years out in the hot sun, pouring sweat, always moving all day long, and I loved it,” Castillo said, scratching his salt-and-pepper beard. “All I did was work, and have a few beers in the little time that I wasn’t working.”

Castillo’s boss convinced him to move to Memphis for a job that would pay more, and require less manual labor than his Dallas job.

“Not long after I got here and started working, my legs stopped working,” Castillo said. “I went to the hospital several times, but they didn’t fix anything, so I lost my job.”

“I worked hard my whole life. I love it. I just don’t know what to do now that I can’t do what I’ve always done.” —Arturo Castillo

After losing his job, he soon lost his apartment, because he couldn’t pay rent, and now he stays around the Memphis Union Mission hoping they will let him stay the night.

“I worked hard my whole life. I love it.” Castillo said “I just don’t know what to do now that I can’t do what I’ve always done.”

When he gets the chance, he applies to sleep in a shelter on Poplar Avenue. The Memphis Union Mission is a non-profit shelter that provides a place to stay, a meal to eat, and a program designed to help people struggling with substance abuse and homelessness stand back up on their own feet. There are about 2,000 homeless people in the Bluff City every day, according to recent studies posted on The Memphis Union Mission’s website.

Steve Carpenter, the director of development for the mission, said they do their best to provide four free nights a month to anyone who needs a place to stay.

“We see all types of people come through our doors,”Carpenter said people often come to them for help after they move to Memphis with the promise of a job or place to live. Once they arrive the job or housing falls through, much like Castillo’s case.

The job they were offered may not exist, or the home they were promised may be boarded up, and the family is left in a city with no connections and no money to get back home. Other than that, Carpenter said the majority of the clientele consists of people struggling with mental disabilities and/or substance abuse.

“Our main goal isn’t just to house all of these people,” Carpenter said. “We want to get them to a place where they can support themselves.”

Brandi Marter stands in her restaurant, Bedrock Eats & Sweets. Marter, who was once homeless, now owns her own business.

Brandi Marter stands in her restaurant, Bedrock Eats & Sweets. Marter, who was once homeless, now owns her own business.

There are people who do get back to a place of self-sustainability after living through homelessness. Brandi Marter,

35, owns Bedrock Eats & Sweets on Main Street, but she hasn’t always been so successful.

“I’ve been homeless,” Marter said. “It sucked, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

She said she went through a time in life where money was tight, and she didn’t have a place to stay. However, she said she has always been determined keep moving forward.

“I’m not necessarily great at any one thing, but I am really good at working hard,” Marter said.  “If I just keep scratching and swinging, I know I can claw my way out of any situation.”

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About the Author

Robbie Porter
Robbie Porter is a photographer and layout editor for The Daily Helmsman. He has worked as a reporter for the Helmsman in the past, but prefers to spend the majority of his time in the field behind a camera. He plans on receiving his B.A. in journalism at the University of Memphis in December. The Memphis native will be reporting on poverty and homelessness in the Memphis area using visual storytelling to put a face on poverty in the Bluff City.

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