Eric was born in Missouri, growing up in a town of a few thousand on the Kentucky Bend of the Mississippi River in the southeastern part of the state, forty some miles from Cairo, Illinois, and just across the Big Muddy from an “exclave” of Kentucky, cut off from the rest of the state by Tennessee. It would be a hard place on the map for most of us to find.
The name of the town is New Madrid, founded by the Spanish in 1778. If you wanted to live there in those days, you had to become a Spanish citizen and adhere to the rules of the Governor. The town also sits on a fault zone that had over a thousand earthquakes a couple hundred years ago. New Madrid has a rich culture. Eric graduated high school and went on to Vo-Tech for two years to learn welding. He eventually studied architecture at Montgomery College in northern Maryland. “Until things went south.” Another rumble from the underground.
In 2006 Eric came to Loveland on a Greyhound bus, and has been here ever since – for the most part. “I drifted around for a bit. I’ve been to 37 or 38 states, mostly just passing through. I’ve had a couple of good runs here and there. Winters can be pretty tough, but I like Colorado. When I came back here I hooked up with a church and they sent me to a private seminary. It was tough, like cramming four years into one, but I sat down and read all the books. I learned a whole lot. And then I was a preacher.”
“I ran a ministry home. It was a program for guys who had problems with drugs, or alcohol, or just being homeless.” He’s still active in local ministry, particularly at the street level. “I won’t push it down your throat or up your nose or anything, but it is what I’m about.” He’s attended meals at the Disciple’s Ministry and Community Kitchen, but prefers the fellowship at Christ Church of the Rockies Front Porch Ministry. “I feel comfortable there.”
Eric also felt comfortable on the back of a horse, even a bucking bronc. His nickname is Cowboy. “I used to rodeo.” But after five years and a particularly nasty fall, he had to reconsider. “I retired down in Pueblo. Gotta hold of a bad bronc. He threw me off and I landed hard, on my hip. I pinched a nerve that ran all the way down my arm from my spine. I didn’t want to end up in a wheelchair, so I just hung up my spurs and quit it.”
When he was able to, Eric went to work in construction and helped build the Embassy Suites by Hilton on I-25. “I’m lucky I didn’t break my neck on that job.” He continued in the building trades, but the labor took its toll. “I enjoyed working construction, but it’s hard on the bones, the knees, the hands.” Eventually, he could no longer do the work, and was back on the streets of Loveland.
“When I was first homeless there wasn’t squat (for support), just one meal a day at the (Community) Kitchen and then you were hungry.” He lived in the woods near Hwy 402 and came to be friends with the animals – well, most of them. “I’d be having my coffee in the morning or at night and see foxes, fawns, elk, deer – whitetail and muleys. They were my family. It was beautiful down there.” Not all visitors were welcome, however, and everyone gets hungry. “I even ate a couple snakes. Caught ‘em by hand!” When asked if they tasted like chicken, Eric just laughs and shakes his head. “No sir. They tasted like bull snakes.”
Eventually Eric’s bones and joints forced him to find a place closer to downtown, where the support network was growing. But so were problems. “I’ve noticed the homeless community has increased. A lot. There’s always that one bad apple that makes everything tough for the rest of us. When I first got here it was good, and there’s still a lot of good people in Loveland. Over the years, though, it’s changed, and there’s a lot of new hobos coming in. A lot, a lot of drugs. That really bothers me. You get offered drugs every day. I’ve even had people ask me where to buy drugs. I guess they must think I’m an addict. I won’t touch any of that stuff.” He mentions vodka, “That stuff smells like gasoline,” and heroin in particular. “I saw a friend of mine lose his entire family over that crap.” And, of course, there’s meth.
So, Eric keeps to himself for the most part. “I don’t get close to anyone right away. I need to see if they’re into drugs, or a chronic alcoholic, or a person who thinks they’re some kind of gangster. I don’t just jump in to get to know somebody. That’ll get you into trouble.” He gets by on toughness that helped him in the rodeo and working construction. “And by the grace of the Lord.”
When asked what he’d like to see change in Loveland regarding the homeless, Eric says, “I wish people would just cut us some slack. We’re homeless, but we’re still human,” referring to the way he’s often treated. “Even the cops sometimes harass people a little too much; but there’s good and bad in every job, and there are a lot of good police officers here.” He’s still concerned by the bad apples moving in, and the drugs. “I’ve noticed in the last six months or so that there are a lot more cops out there. So maybe they can get that crap off the street.”
In the meantime, Eric has his dog, Miss Lucky, an eight-year-old medium sized mix who is his constant companion. “We’re like two peas in a pod.” He’s not afraid of what lies ahead. “I’ve got plenty of gear. When I’m not using my cane, I pack it in my wheelchair. Just have to suck it up.”