David Wyatt, formerly homeless, now lives at Garden Terrace Apartments.
He is seen sitting on his bed, smiling, and giving the peace sign.
Dave Wyatt is eager to talk about cooking now that he is settled into his new apartment at Garden Terrace. For the residents there, plentiful food donations come in from local restaurants and community organizations.
“It’s basically like spaghetti sauce,” he explains about a frozen bag of sauce donated by The Soup Peddler. “And this is the chicken breast I got on Saturday. So, I cut up onions, garlic, I got peppers here—jalapenos and serrano—anyways I cut ‘em up and cook ‘em in my little skillet. Then put the Valentina’s hot sauce on it. It’s pretty good. You know they try to help here.”
After five years of homelessness, he moved into Garden Terrace on December 31, 2019 with the help of Best Single Source Plus to pay the move-in costs. Dylan Lowery, case manager at Family Eldercare, sat with him to discuss how it all happened. This is their abridged conversation:
You were a homeowner and then the Great Recession hit?
Just when I started my own business.
And you wound up in Austin with only a car.
And then it was stolen with everything in it. I had money in the bank, but I couldn’t access it because I didn’t have an ID. It was in the car. I went to Wells Fargo, they asked me like ten questions—what’s your mother’s maiden name and so on—I nailed them. Well, we can’t help you, but we’ll give you a $20 courtesy or something. It took me five month’s, man. You can’t get your ID card without a Social Security card. You can’t get your Social Security card without an ID. It’s a catch-22. Thanks to the Trinity Center, I got my birth certificate from California—took like a month. Finally, I got it all together—voter registration card, everything. As soon as I got it all together, somebody stole my backpack. I was using it as a pillow. It took me five months—five months—just to get the ID, so maybe I could go get a job. But how can you get a job when you show up with just a backpack.
Do you remember your first night homeless?
Yes. It was beyond horrible. I parked my car at Walmart—went in, came back out. Gone. I didn’t know where it was. So, I wandered down the street and all I’m wearing is t-shirt and sweatpants. That’s it. It’s wintertime, freezing cold. It’s February, oh I can remember. I found the tennis courts on Airport Blvd. That’s where I slept the first couple of months—under a bush on pizza boxes. I’m eating out of garbage cans. I never thought I would be that low. I met some people here and there and ended up at Oak Springs and Airport. I lived there [in the park] for years. It’s hour by hour. There was a daily fight. I got my jaw broken. Everything gets stolen. It makes you tougher, it makes you sleep with one eye open; it is never peaceful.
You went from the penthouse to the doghouse.
Yes. I was living in Silicon Valley—it was the beginning of Silicon Valley. All of the sudden, here comes Intel, AMD, National Semiconducter. I was making six figures. I was maxing out my 401K. Then at some point, my wife left me after 26 years. It puts your life into a blender. We had such a stable life. Anyway, luckily for me, she did it fairly. I went to Nevada, started a business selling hot tubs, and then the recession hit. I couldn’t have timed it worse. If you can’t pay your mortgage who is going to spend five grand on a hot tub. I put all my things in storage and headed to Austin. It’s been a crazy ride. I’m thankful to meet people like you [Family Eldercare], Caritas, AmeriCorps, The Other Ones, even here at Foundation Communities.
What does your future hold?
What I am going to do, at my age it makes it difficult for employment, and I just want to get by. Be happy. Meet a woman. In my genes, my grandmother made it to 95—had all her teeth. My mother made it to 82 and smoked two packs a day.
You got some good odds.
Yes. You know, I’m farm people. Always worked hard. And you know the homeless encampment thing wasn’t easy brother, I did that for nine months.* It keeps you in shape. I’m living proof because of folks like Family Eldercare and The Other Ones Foundation, that got me from sleeping in the grass to here. All of the sudden you start getting revitalized. When you are living in the woods, you try to pretend you are happy, but you’re just miserable.
What do you want people to know about homelessness and there help that is out there?
What I can say from experience—five years approximately—is don’t give up. You will meet some good people along the way like Family Eldercare, AmeriCorps, The Other Ones Foundation. They have people who actually care. You folks make a difference. I spun my wheels for four years, and then I found you.
* Dave Wyatt was a day laborer with The Other Ones Foundation cleaning parks, waterways, and homeless encampments. The Other Ones Foundation provides day labor to people experiencing homelessness and connects them to other services for employment and housing.