Homeless in Frederick, One Year Later
By Sean Jester
Photos by Bill Millios
Reconnecting with Rick and Annette — the homeless couple featured on these pages in the first issue of Gorilla — was surprisingly easy. They’re on the same general patch of private property (still with the owner’s consent) where I left them after that first interview. I wondered if they would remember Bill Millios, the photographer, and me — or if they would even want to be bothered again since they made clear their preference of being left alone the last time we talked. But after breaking the ice, they welcomed us back into their campsite to discuss another year of living homeless in Frederick.
At the end of my previous visit, I said I would stop by to say hello every once in a while, but I must admit, it never happened. It wasn’t because they were homeless; people do the same thing with friends all the time — making plans and never following through with them. That excuse doesn’t make me feel any better, though.
Shortly after last year’s article on the couple went to press, I learned that the city forced roughly half a dozen people, including Annette’s daughter and her boyfriend, to vacate the area, citing safety concerns. Rick and Annette say that was not the only cause, as their former camp mates were loud and drew the attention of police for arguing, drinking excessively and even lighting tiki torches, which, according to Rick, “made it look like the whole damn woods were on fire.”
Thankfully for Rick and Annette, a short move back from the railroad tracks was enough — and it has actually worked out well for them. “We like being left alone,” Annette says, sitting in a rusty metal chair. “Sometimes people come back here to set up a camp, but we tell them no.”
It did, however, leave her daughter without a place to stay. “They [Annette’s daughter and boyfriend] sleep wherever they can lay their head,” she says, matter-of-factly. “Sometimes they sleep on the railroad tracks.”
The campsite is scattered with Natural Ice beer cans, which Rick collects and returns to Reliable Recycling. Two big trash bags full of cans can get him $15. A Christmas tree stands under their tarp, which Rick found on the side of the road for free. They adorn it accordingly to reflect the closest holiday, and it’s now covered with St. Patrick’s Day decorations, although March 17 has long come and gone.
I notice that Annette’s “baby,” the $300 propane oven she cherished, is gone. “I lent it to my son,” she says as if it was a Tupperware container. “I was gonna get it back, but we don’t have the space.”
Last year’s talk of cleaning up the area never materialized. There are still large piles of trash from people who left. From the rubbish come relentless mosquitoes, which Annette slaps off her legs as she talks to us. They’re allowed two garbage bags to be removed per week by the nearby business that allows them to camp there, so cleaning up their area proves to be difficult.
I ask them about the past year. What has changed aside from the new living arrangement?
“I’m working at Walmart,” Annette says. “They’re working me hard, pushing carts.”
And what about Rick? Last year he said his injured ankle and minority workers had been keeping him out of work.
“I’m working here and there at a Christmas tree farm down in Montgomery County,” he says before launching into another tirade about Mexican laborers stealing work from him by working for much lower wages. “I used to make $15 an hour,” Rick says. “Why am I going to bust my ass for $8 or $10 an hour? It’s not worth it.”
Despite Rick’s frustration with foreign laborers, the local government and other Frederick homeless — “It’s a joke how some of them act on the street,” he says — Rick is thankful for his living arrangement and the nearby business that gave him permission to stay. When I asked Rick if there is anything he needs, he hesitates and says, “Now that we have some work, we have most of what we need.” But then he thinks about it and says, “Well, if you want to, maybe some coffee and some creamer — and citronella candles.”
He’s not asking for a lot, like many people in his situation would. I drop off the goods, plus bug spray, and he thanks me with a firm handshake. “You are welcome here anytime,” he says.
There is a plan, according to them, to get out of the woods and live under a roof not tied to nearby trees, but not now — not until Rick can find a steady job that pays him at least $15 an hour.
On the surface, Rick and Annette seem different from a lot of homeless people in Frederick. They’ve found some work and it seems like they’re working toward something. Whether that something is a house or more self-support, I don’t know. From what I can tell, they aren’t addicts or mentally ill, like many Frederick homeless people are, according to a response I received from Mayor Randy McClement last year. When I see Rick and Annette around town, they’re usually headed somewhere, not loitering. It’s almost as if they’re ready to take the next step, but because of their (especially Rick’s) jaded view of the system, they don’t think it is worth it.
Until they believe a house to call their home is worth it, their home is here, in this wooded patch of land in east Frederick.
Editor’s Note: Rick and Annette declined to provide their last names for this story.
By Sean Jester | Photography by Bill Millios
In east Frederick there’s a wooded patch of land that’s home to Rick and Annette, a homeless couple born and raised in Frederick County, who have been together for four years—and living in a tent for three of them.
Their tent is sheltered by a tarp hung from nearby trees. An extra tent serves as storage. A loveseat—a makeshift front porch—sits in front of their tent. When Annette received her tax refund check recently, she purchased a $300 oven that runs off propane. “That there’s my baby,” she says, smiling.