William Austin thought he was living the dream.
He grew up in a middle-class family, took college courses in high school and signed with Universal Records as a rock artist after graduating. Williams got his degree in applied human sciences from the University of
Pittsburgh and did a paid internship with the Pennsylvania Brewing Co.
But then he became homeless for the second time in November of 2009.
The 31-year-old Fort Collins resident was in Laramie, Wyo. when his wife divorced him and kicked him out of the house because of what he said was a low-point in his long battle with alcoholism. The town was less than welcoming of his newfound poverty.
â€œTheir food bank might as well be as big as a Ben and Jerryâ€™s cart,â€ he said. â€œThey have no resources, no shelter â€“â€“Â the only thing they do is give you a bus ticket to Fort Collins.â€
Austin was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio until he was 25 years old, balancing studies with his love of music. After high school graduation, Universal Records approached his rock band, Osyrus, with a contract that would fund cross-country tours and schedule venues like
the Hard Rock CafÃ© â€“â€“Â a place, Austin said, that sold-out upon news his band was playing there.
â€œI loved it, I loved my band mates,â€ he said. â€œBut that lifestyle, it really takes a toll on the soul. You sit at the bar, have some drinks, come 6 p.m. youâ€™re starting to fall asleep. Then you take a nap, and you wake up tired and snort cocaine â€¦ So I decided to go over to Pittsburgh to get my culinary arts degree.â€
A mix-up with the universityâ€™s paperwork in 2007 caused him to get evicted from student housing.
â€œA security guard came pounding on my door two hours before class telling me I was supposed to be out three days ago,â€ he said. â€œAnd since I had no family there, thatâ€™s when I really knew I was out on my own.â€
Every so often, friends wouldnâ€™t be able to take him in.
Austin recalls going to class and completing a paid internship with the Pennsylvania Brewing Co. after spending nights under park benches. He completed the four-year applied human sciences program in two years because of the college courses he took in high school.
While at school, his family in Cleveland moved to Laramie, Wyo. After graduating with his degree, he followed them to the southern Wyoming city where he again was put out on the streets and given little support from the local government other than a bus ticket to Fort Collins.
Austin said the people in Colorado â€œare very charitable, very nice,â€ but city ordinances in the northern part of the state frustrate efforts on behalf of the homeless community to get jobs.
â€œItâ€™s illegal to camp in city limits, but with shelters filling up or closing down, where am I gonna go?â€ he said.
The tickets he receives as a result prevent him from getting hired.
â€œI was doing a moving job, and we got pulled over for a busted taillight,â€ he said. â€œBut the cop saw I had all these camping tickets that I hadnâ€™t paid yet because I had no money, and so I had to go to jail for three days.â€
But even when shelters are able to take him in, Austin said their hours of operation make it impossible to get a job. For example, a facility will allow him to stay the night, but not allow him to leave after 5 p.m. â€“â€“Â precisely when restaurant chefs are preparing their kitchens for the rush of folks hungry for dinner and precisely when he can put his applied human sciences degree to work.
Efforts, he said, shouldnâ€™t be focused on the older generations of homeless, however. Theyâ€™re â€œlost causes,â€ broken down mentally after years of malnourishment, unhealthy living conditions and being ostracized and berated by the general public. The city of Fort Collins should really be concerned of the youth on the streets â€“â€“ the ones Austin thinks can â€œstill be saved.â€
â€œI know of at least 30 to 40 kids out here who are homeless. Theyâ€™re 18 and 19 years old,â€ he said.
â€œTheyâ€™re the ones that need help. They still have a chance.â€
Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. _