SPECIAL REPORT PART 1 - 'Vicious cycle' plagues homeless man

DeWayne Bartels
Brian Graham, seated, is questioned by Morgan Fulton during a census of Peoria's homeless.

Walking up to complete strangers to ask if they are homeless was a bit nerve-wracking for Morgan Fulton. But, the Bradley University student volunteering to help with a homeless census had a job to do and walked up to the large man reading a book at the Main Branch of the Peoria Public Library.

Fulton squeezed her clipboard just a bit harder and asked.

Brian Graham looked up at her and said, “Yes, I’m homeless.”

Graham said later he was not embarrassed to answer the question because “homeless” describes what he is, not who he is.

“I see myself,” Graham said, “as a working man trying hard to make a better life for himself.”

Graham, 34, now calls the Salvation Army’s Safety Net Shelter home.

He has been homeless since late October after losing his job as a cab driver.

Graham said he lost the job because he did not have a permanent address. He was living with friends. The sudden loss of his job meant no money and no more temporary address because he could not contribute to the overhead.

Graham said he went to Safety Net because, as a cab driver, he had taken others there.

This is Graham’s first time being homeless, but he has experience being on the economic fringe.

Graham, a Peoria native, said after graduating from Peoria High School in 1994, he got a good job and held it for six years before being laid off.

After that job, with just a high school diploma Graham said he could not land another job with a living wage.

“It’s been pretty rocky for me since that job,” Graham said.

“I’ve been taking it day-by-day.”

Graham said he has found job training opportunities for the homeless limited, and with no permanent address, many jobs are unattainable.

“It’s just a vicious cycle,” he said.

“It’s been hard trying to get back on my feet. Not even McDonald’s is hiring.”

Graham said he wishes more employers would consider the homeless for employment.

Employers are turning their backs, he said, on what could prove to be some of the most motivated employees they could have.

“I’d like to find a job, save some money for a few months and get out of here,” he said.

But, Graham said he expects an uphill struggle.

Graham said he refuses to give up.

He said his hopes lie with the new president. Graham said the hope the president has been talking about is within him.

“I hope to get a job this month or next. I am not without hope,” Graham said.

“I keep my head up and try to move forward every day.”