Living on the streets

Kate Underwood/The Register

Casey Burdette spent two years homeless and looking for shelter. He now works at the Madison County Public Library.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series looking at homelessness in Madison County. The second part will appear in the Friday, Nov. 29, edition of The Register.

For Casey Burdette, homelessness is not just an obscure societal problem, but something he has experienced personally. For about two years after his mother's passing, Burdette lived alone and mainly on the streets. Today, he is thankful for people in the Richmond community who have come alongside him to help him get more stable housing.

When Burdette's mother passed away on March 13, 2016, he needed to find a home.

"I couldn't find a place to live, so a lot of the nights I'd stay over by the Richmond First United Methodist Church," he said. Sometimes that church would be serving meals, and he'd get some nourishment.

Burdette occasionally found shelter behind the old Dollar General. He also would receive help from caring individuals who would sometimes get him set up in a motel for a night or two.

He knew he could always count on the public library for daytime shelter and warmth.

"As soon as the library opened up, I'd be there," Burdette said.

Madison County Public Library director Ruthie Maslin has long been a proponent of ensuring that all community members have equal access to the library's services, including those without homes or those in fragile housing situations.

Much of his time, Burdette said, he spent alone. He did not really forge close relationships with anyone else facing homelessness. He does have siblings, but none were able to take him in at his height of need.

"They have kids and didn't have enough room for me," Burdette said. Fortunately, he found warm places to stay and friendly people to lend a hand.

"The Presbyterian Church also had a warming station, sometimes with meals and hot showers," Burdette said. Richmond First Presbyterian Church is also where Burdette met Jennifer Brubaker. "She's the one who got me off the streets...both her and Ben Walker."

Ben Walker, Burdette said, helped him find a room to stay in and he'd "put me up there for a few nights." Walker also assisted Burdette in getting into a semi-permanent housing situation. A monitor for the Salvation Army shelter gave him a place to stay last winter during the "polar vortex," and he has stayed in that home since.

Unfortunately, Burdette's current housing situation will soon be coming to an end. The owner's children are coming to live there in February, at which time Burdette will have to find alternate housing.

One of the options available to Burdette, as he does not earn a large amount of money, is a government-funded apartment complex. Most apartments for rent require higher income than his. The government apartment would have a lower burden of rent for him, but he is on a waiting list for a place to open up.

"Jennifer's already told me that I don't need to worry about it too much," Burdette said gratefully. "She'll take care of me."

Brubaker agreed. "I have helped Casey and become his support system, or as he calls me, 'Mom'."

Homelessness caused extra difficulty for Burdette in the job market.

"Most employers require a permanent address," he said. Burdette is now working 22 hours per week at the Madison County Library in Richmond, where he performs cleaning tasks. He's appreciative, but could use more hours at a second job to help pay bills.

"It's hard," he admitted. "I have trouble with my back and with arthritis, and some jobs I can't really do."

Food stamps help Burdette with grocery costs, but the amount he's eligible for has decreased since beginning his library job. He gets basic medical care through a medical card from the food-stamp program.

He feels for those in similar circumstances as well.

"There's still people out there homeless," Burdette said. He has heard good things about the RITI (Room in the Inn) program that will be in its second year in Berea and the first year in Richmond.

Despite years of struggle and isolation, Burdette has a positive outlook on life.

"It's hard, but I know I've got two churches in my corner, and I've got the library in my corner," he said.

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