Eau Claire is Joe's home. The sun over the city acts as his clock, the cement is his carpet, the conditions are his ceiling, and a bench in Wilson Park is his couch.
Joe H., who didn't want to use his last name, has lived without a roof over his head for 20 years. Originally from the Neillsville area, Joe first lived in Eau Claire while attending the Eau Claire Academy in the 1980s. Shortly after, at the age of 19, is when Joe was first introduced to drugs.
"I have always been a hype; I've always been on an upper. I was on methamphetamine; I kicked that addiction, I've been recovering from that. And also cocaine, cocaine was my drug of choice."
Joe, now 48, spent decades fueling his addiction. "I've been a working addict, I've been a nothing." He's worked as a CNA, an apartment manager, at one time he even traveled with a carnival. Joe has lived on the streets of Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Green Bay, Wausau, even out of state in California and Florida.
Now settled in Eau Claire, Joe lives each day pretty much the same. He wakes up between 5 and 6 in the morning at The Sojourner House. From there, he travels to Wilson Park and sits on his favorite bench.
"When people are let out from the shelter, some people go to a warm car or a home office, where I come here and sit on a park bench and I do my daily planning with my government assisted phone," Joe said.
Nevermind temperature or weather, Joe sits on that bench until businesses start to open. His favorite? Cafe 420 on Washington Street. The reason? Joe said the cafe accepts you and won't turn you away unless you're causing a disturbance. He only stays for an hour or so, saying he doesn't want to wear out his welcome.
From there, Joe walks the five blocks back to his bench. Lunch is either bought with coins from your pocket to Joe's; sometimes a stranger will buy him a meal and sometimes lunch for Joe doesn't come at all. As for the centers in Eau Claire that offer a free meal, Joe finds it best to avoid them.
"If I were to go to these other centers where everyone else goes, it would be too much of a trigger for me to be part of that group," Joe said. "It's very important for me to not use any substances. If there's any beer drinking or pot smoking going on around me, I'm going to want to partake in that."
The Wellness Shack on S. Dewey Street opens its doors at 1 p.m. to an awaiting Joe. That's where he paints, talks, games, socializes, and attends support groups until its time to go. They close their doors at 6, which is when Joe heads back to Sojourner House to line up for his chance at a bed.
"They just don't throw you out in the cold but sometimes they have to because there is no room," Joe said. "If it does [happen to me] it could be very deadly because of my health issues. I need to be inside."
Two and a half years ago Joe had a major heart operation. He is living with a heart aneurysm and is told he only has a couple years to live. Because of that, Joe is disabled through the state of Wisconsin and is able to get some help from the government. He's banking on federal disability to kick in soon and help him live the rest of his life in luxury.
"If I had about $1,800, my life would be turned around. My life would be good. I would have enough money to last and live a comfortable lifestyle," Joe said.
Despite Joe's physical health problems, he also suffers from mental health issues. He was recently diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Despite all that, Joe's optimism is catching. "I look for a better tomorrow," he said.
Joe plans to start taking classes and continue his education. He also said, when his federal disability kicks in, he plans to give 10 percent back to Catholic Charities, which he said has helped him so much.
Joe said of all the cities and states he's been homeless in, Eau Claire is his favorite. He said the city has the best resources and services and is finally able to get the mental health and substance abuse help he needs.