When I was six, I started smoking weed. When I was seven or eight, my mom remarried. Her husband helped shape me into the man I am today. I dropped out of school in the ninth grade. I have a fairly high IQ, but I could not process things fast enough and I fell behind. I couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t trying to be a slacker or screw up.”
Facing the streets at such a young age, Bubba described his first years of experiencing homelessness. “I became homeless for the first time when I was 15 years old. I left home because of my mom. Even now we [my mom and I] don’t talk that often. After that [leaving home], I moved around a lot. I was in Oregon for a good period of time and that was the first time I was truly homeless. I began to understand why people are the way they are. No matter how good of a person you are, being homeless will change that. Sometimes it can be for the better and other times for the worse. I also spent 13 months in jail. When I was in jail, I decided to get my GED. I was about 30 years old at that time. I had the highest math score to have ever come out of that jail. It really made me think about what I could have done with my life if I would have finished high school.”
Explaining his past, Bubba further discussed his family and their battles with substance abuse. “As far as family goes, I recently talked to one of my younger brothers who is in a treatment facility for drugs and alcohol. My step dad was the reason that I moved to La Crosse. He really did make me the man I am today. He [my stepdad] did not make me the drug addict I became, I did. Because of the molestation I was using drugs to suppress the memories. My step dad recently passed away. I have talked to my mom twice in the last year. She also suffers from alcoholism.”
Even at Bubba’s darkest moments on the streets, he still found ways to discover happiness in the warmth of a smile. “There were two parts of being homeless that were especially hard for me. The first being winters and just not being able to stay warm. The second was not being able to help everyone. Especially at Christmas time, it was so hard for me to not be able to help everybody. That is also what still makes me the happiest, just seeing anyone else happy. If a baby is smiling, I am smiling back just as big. Knowing that there is someone out there that I might be able to help is what keeps me going. Knowing that I am wanted by someone and loved the way I need to be loved is so important. I just need to know that I am loved.”
A bright spot in Bubba’s own life recently appeared when he found housing. “I’ve been in housing for about a month now and I love it. I love having my own bed. I haven’t had a mattress and a box spring in around 13 years. The hardest part about being housed is saying “no” to someone that needs a warm place to sleep. It hurts to say it [no] when I have heard it so many times before. I would give the shirt off my back for someone, I don’t care if I am freezing, just to help somebody else.”
The future remains uncertain for Bubba, but he holds onto the hope of brighter days. “I am figuring out the next steps for me. I will be 50 in four years and honestly, I just want to help people. The hard part is, I could be rich and still not help everybody because not everyone needs money. In the next five to ten years, I see myself being alive, but beyond that I don’t really care. I do still see myself in housing.”
For us, Bubba’s message truly resonated and reminded us of the importance of treating everyone with respect. “My message for someone experiencing homelessness is to never forget what could happen tomorrow. You can find happiness. My message for the general public is to simply acknowledge us. Let us know we are still human beings. The worst thing you can do is to ignore a homeless person. All we want is for you to see us as another human being.”
Author’s Note: Bubba’s raw honesty left us speechless. His desire to help others in the face of his own tragedy persists beyond anything most of us could imagine. Stories like Bubba’s remind us to take a pause, see people, acknowledge one another’s worth and value, and hold on to hope for all humanity.
Artist’s Note: Even on the darkest of days, flowers hold their beauty, just like Bubba. His heart reminds us that kindness unites us as humans. Be a friend, share a smile.