Dennis, an unemployed Vietnam War veteran, lives in an efficiency apartment he calls “the slaughterhouse”. 

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Out of work after an on-the-job accident in August 2016 injured a finger, Dennis struggles to make ends meet. Dennis had no way of being compensated for his injury so he tries to survive on about $200 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  Turned away from most social service organizations low on resources, especially during the Illinois budget impasse, Dennis panhandles, dumpster dives, and does whatever else he can to find relief. He had his finger amputated so he can return to work in construction. Then he learned he has inoperable lung cancer.

October/November 2016  :  Since his injury in August, Dennis is working 30 hours a month for Township of Quincy General Assistance picking up trash to obtain $250 a month in rental assistance. Then he is suspended from receiving assistance because he didn’t turn in work applications on time.  “I was on their program, and I was given a list, a paper.  It’s a sign-off sheet for different companies, businesses, it’s an employment sign-off sheet. It was really cold on Thursday, I remember.  I didn’t feel like running around filling out the applications.  So I knew my appointment was on Monday morning at 8:30 to turn in my sign-off sheets.  Well, I collected all my applications, like 12 of them filled them all out Thursday night.  Friday morning, I got up to put it all together and get all my paperwork, and I couldn’t find my sign-off sheet.  I called General Assistance. They were closed. It was Veterans Day.  “Monday morning I go in…to hand in my sign-off sheet, and I explained … I think I left it at one of the restaurants where I was filling out applications.  The lady there (at General Assistance) told me because I hadn’t turned in the sign-off sheet, that I was gonna be suspended from the program for 90 days, which they did.  I told her if she could just give me another sign-off sheet I could have it back to her by 12 o’clock noon because most of the companies were right there at the mall and on the east side of Quincy, out in the industrial parks and stuff. … If they’d been at work on a Friday, Veterans Day, I could have gotten a sign-off sheet and I would’ve been all right for Monday. But they suspended me for three months, and that’s what started the snowball escalating into an avalanche.’’

October/November 2016: Since his injury in August, Dennis is working 30 hours a month for Township of Quincy General Assistance picking up trash to obtain $250 a month in rental assistance. Then he is suspended from receiving assistance because he didn’t turn in work applications on time.

“I was on their program, and I was given a list, a paper.  It’s a sign-off sheet for different companies, businesses, it’s an employment sign-off sheet. It was really cold on Thursday, I remember.  I didn’t feel like running around filling out the applications.  So I knew my appointment was on Monday morning at 8:30 to turn in my sign-off sheets.  Well, I collected all my applications, like 12 of them filled them all out Thursday night.  Friday morning, I got up to put it all together and get all my paperwork, and I couldn’t find my sign-off sheet.  I called General Assistance. They were closed. It was Veterans Day.

“Monday morning I go in…to hand in my sign-off sheet, and I explained … I think I left it at one of the restaurants where I was filling out applications.  The lady there (at General Assistance) told me because I hadn’t turned in the sign-off sheet, that I was gonna be suspended from the program for 90 days, which they did.  I told her if she could just give me another sign-off sheet I could have it back to her by 12 o’clock noon because most of the companies were right there at the mall and on the east side of Quincy, out in the industrial parks and stuff. … If they’d been at work on a Friday, Veterans Day, I could have gotten a sign-off sheet and I would’ve been all right for Monday. But they suspended me for three months, and that’s what started the snowball escalating into an avalanche.’’

November 2016:  Dennis speaks with Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore, who explains he has no authority to get Dennis reinstated in the General Assistance program. The mayor suggests Dennis try seeking help from veteran’s organizations and churches.  But churches do not generally offer rental assistance. After calling three churches that said they couldn’t help, Dennis gave up.  “You know, we can swing a hammer.  We can read a tape measure.  We just need a chance to work and get off the street.  We’re not bums. If we were we never would have put on the uniform. But Quincy doesn’t do enough for the veterans.  They do their song and parade and they march up and down the street and shake your hand and say, ‘Thank you for serving,’ but that’s as far as it goes. Words. Words don’t put food on a table, and words don’t put a roof over their heads, and it doesn’t help them with psychological issues, you know.”

November 2016: Dennis speaks with Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore, who explains he has no authority to get Dennis reinstated in the General Assistance program. The mayor suggests Dennis try seeking help from veteran’s organizations and churches.  But churches do not generally offer rental assistance. After calling three churches that said they couldn’t help, Dennis gave up.

“You know, we can swing a hammer.  We can read a tape measure.  We just need a chance to work and get off the street.  We’re not bums. If we were we never would have put on the uniform. But Quincy doesn’t do enough for the veterans.  They do their song and parade and they march up and down the street and shake your hand and say, ‘Thank you for serving,’ but that’s as far as it goes. Words. Words don’t put food on a table, and words don’t put a roof over their heads, and it doesn’t help them with psychological issues, you know.”

December 2016:  Dennis collects his bag as he heads out of his tiny apartment to panhandle. Dennis served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and says he’s worked all over the country in various jobs, including house painter, bridge builder, home builder, pipe layer, and general construction. “As far as how I survive after my injury — it’s like the Beatles, I get by with a little help from my friends. It’s the truth. Everybody needs a friend. Something to fall back on, but not to become a burden.”

December 2016: Dennis collects his bag as he heads out of his tiny apartment to panhandle. Dennis served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and says he’s worked all over the country in various jobs, including house painter, bridge builder, home builder, pipe layer, and general construction. “As far as how I survive after my injury — it’s like the Beatles, I get by with a little help from my friends. It’s the truth. Everybody needs a friend. Something to fall back on, but not to become a burden.”

“You know, we can swing a hammer.  We can read a tape measure.  We just need a chance to work and get off the street.  We’re not bums. “
— Dennis
December 2016:  For months, only one of two community bathrooms was in working order in Dennis’ apartment house, shared by seven units. Dennis said in one 10-day period, both bathrooms were unusable after water pipes in the building froze. Human excrement and urine were left in the toilet bowls, attracting cockroaches.

December 2016: For months, only one of two community bathrooms was in working order in Dennis’ apartment house, shared by seven units. Dennis said in one 10-day period, both bathrooms were unusable after water pipes in the building froze. Human excrement and urine were left in the toilet bowls, attracting cockroaches.

January 2017:  After a long day of running errands, gathering discarded cigarettes and panhandling, Dennis shares his day with a friend living a couple of doors down the hall in his apartment complex

January 2017: After a long day of running errands, gathering discarded cigarettes and panhandling, Dennis shares his day with a friend living a couple of doors down the hall in his apartment complex

February 2017:  Wearing nearly new shoes, pants, and parka, Dennis exits a dumpster behind a Maine Street faith-based thrift store where he retrieved the clothes he is wearing a few days earlier. The dumpster is a well-known place to find nearly new name brand clothing and sometimes brand new clothing with the store price tags still on them. Hundreds of perfectly good items like clothing, warm coats, children books, luggage, and other household goods are tossed into the dumpster headed for a landfill on a regular basis. As he was leaving, a thrift store employee steps out to tell him to stay out of the dumpster.  “At first when I started (dumpster diving), I felt like when somebody comes out to tell me, ‘Hey, you can’t do that,’ that’s like telling a possum ‘get out of my trash.’ I’m homeless but I’m not helpless … I’m only poor because of the injury I suffered back in August. Before then, I didn’t go into dumpsters. But you have to do what you have to do to make ends meet.” Dennis questions why a faith-based thrift store throws away clean, usable things people in need could use.

February 2017: Wearing nearly new shoes, pants, and parka, Dennis exits a dumpster behind a Maine Street faith-based thrift store where he retrieved the clothes he is wearing a few days earlier. The dumpster is a well-known place to find nearly new name brand clothing and sometimes brand new clothing with the store price tags still on them. Hundreds of perfectly good items like clothing, warm coats, children books, luggage, and other household goods are tossed into the dumpster headed for a landfill on a regular basis. As he was leaving, a thrift store employee steps out to tell him to stay out of the dumpster.  “At first when I started (dumpster diving), I felt like when somebody comes out to tell me, ‘Hey, you can’t do that,’ that’s like telling a possum ‘get out of my trash.’ I’m homeless but I’m not helpless … I’m only poor because of the injury I suffered back in August. Before then, I didn’t go into dumpsters. But you have to do what you have to do to make ends meet.” Dennis questions why a faith-based thrift store throws away clean, usable things people in need could use.

February 2017:   Dennis fishes out this bag of men's suits from the dumpster behind a faith-based thrift store on Maine Street in Quincy. While Dennis and many others can't afford to buy clothes, or even afford to do laundry, it's common to find hundreds of items like brand-name, clean, new, and nearly new clothing and other items like luggage, shoes, and children's books in very good to excellent condition in the store's dumpsters on a regular basis.

February 2017:  Dennis fishes out this bag of men's suits from the dumpster behind a faith-based thrift store on Maine Street in Quincy. While Dennis and many others can't afford to buy clothes, or even afford to do laundry, it's common to find hundreds of items like brand-name, clean, new, and nearly new clothing and other items like luggage, shoes, and children's books in very good to excellent condition in the store's dumpsters on a regular basis.

February 2017:  Dennis tries to calm his dog, Levi, after Levi chewed on a razor and cut his paw. A friend took Levi to a veterinarian at Four Paws in Quincy who treated Levi and provided his needed shots for free. “I acquired Levi when he was a month old from an Amish family.  They gave him to me as a present.  He’s my companion, he’s my guard dog, he’s my best friend I don’t know what I would do without him.  If I have to make a choice between me or my dog eating, my dog’s gonna eat."  “There’s been times when I was wanting to go ahead and check out. Nobody’s gonna miss me. But Levi seems to bring me back to my senses, because I don’t know what’ll happen with him after I’m gone. He’s so loyal that if I was to walk out on a bridge and jump, he’d hit the water first to make sure he caught me.  If I had a good friend like Levi, I would never have to question their trust, their friendship, to me.  That’s one thing about Levi, I don’t never have to worry about turning my back, because he’s got me 360 degrees.”

February 2017: Dennis tries to calm his dog, Levi, after Levi chewed on a razor and cut his paw. A friend took Levi to a veterinarian at Four Paws in Quincy who treated Levi and provided his needed shots for free. “I acquired Levi when he was a month old from an Amish family.  They gave him to me as a present.  He’s my companion, he’s my guard dog, he’s my best friend I don’t know what I would do without him.  If I have to make a choice between me or my dog eating, my dog’s gonna eat."

“There’s been times when I was wanting to go ahead and check out. Nobody’s gonna miss me. But Levi seems to bring me back to my senses, because I don’t know what’ll happen with him after I’m gone. He’s so loyal that if I was to walk out on a bridge and jump, he’d hit the water first to make sure he caught me.  If I had a good friend like Levi, I would never have to question their trust, their friendship, to me.  That’s one thing about Levi, I don’t never have to worry about turning my back, because he’s got me 360 degrees.”

February 2017:  Dennis takes notes during a “life skills” class offered by a local social services program. He is promised help with finding housing and other services. However, Dennis says he didn't receive the promised help. The person conducting the classes was later arrested for drug possession and theft. 

February 2017: Dennis takes notes during a “life skills” class offered by a local social services program. He is promised help with finding housing and other services. However, Dennis says he didn't receive the promised help. The person conducting the classes was later arrested for drug possession and theft. 

February 2017:  “The rain killed all the snipes.”  Dennis picks up a discarded partially smoked cigarette, referred to as a snipe.  He and many others in poverty collect the unsmoked portion of cigarettes that they then extract and roll into their own cigarettes. Addiction to nicotine transcends social and economic circumstances. Those living in poverty often simply find creative ways to collect free discarded tobacco.

February 2017: “The rain killed all the snipes.”  Dennis picks up a discarded partially smoked cigarette, referred to as a snipe.  He and many others in poverty collect the unsmoked portion of cigarettes that they then extract and roll into their own cigarettes. Addiction to nicotine transcends social and economic circumstances. Those living in poverty often simply find creative ways to collect free discarded tobacco.

February 2017:  With the bag of discarded unsmoked cigarette butts he collected from ash-tray receptacles around town, Dennis rolls a day’s supply of smokes. 

February 2017: With the bag of discarded unsmoked cigarette butts he collected from ash-tray receptacles around town, Dennis rolls a day’s supply of smokes. 

March 2017:  Dennis had doctors at the VA hospital in Iowa amputate his injured finger so he could find work. “Through therapy I could have saved my finger, but at this point with it being paralyzed like it is, I’m having an issue with being able to go back to work.  God said if your right eye offends you, pluck it out.  Well, it didn’t offend me, but it was keeping me from being what I wanted to be — employed. I have to work until the day I die  I’ll even help dig my own gave as long as y’all fill it in afterwards.”

March 2017: Dennis had doctors at the VA hospital in Iowa amputate his injured finger so he could find work. “Through therapy I could have saved my finger, but at this point with it being paralyzed like it is, I’m having an issue with being able to go back to work.  God said if your right eye offends you, pluck it out.  Well, it didn’t offend me, but it was keeping me from being what I wanted to be — employed. I have to work until the day I die  I’ll even help dig my own gave as long as y’all fill it in afterwards.”

June 2017  Within weeks of having his finger amputated so he could find work, Dennis lands a demolition job paying $9 an hour. “I had to go back to work.  I gotta pay my bills. If not, I’m homeless and I sleep on the street and I wake up with a blanket, people staring down at me with a blanket over me. I don’t want that. If I can work — that’s all I ever knew. You’ve got to work for your keep.”  Even after being promoted to job superintendent three weeks later, Dennis says his boss is two weeks behind paying him. Within a few more weeks, after spitting up blood, Dennis learns he has inoperable lung cancer. Dennis doesn’t tell his boss about the caner, fearing he will lose his job, and keeps on working, even on days he has chemo treatments.

June 2017 Within weeks of having his finger amputated so he could find work, Dennis lands a demolition job paying $9 an hour. “I had to go back to work.  I gotta pay my bills. If not, I’m homeless and I sleep on the street and I wake up with a blanket, people staring down at me with a blanket over me. I don’t want that. If I can work — that’s all I ever knew. You’ve got to work for your keep.”

Even after being promoted to job superintendent three weeks later, Dennis says his boss is two weeks behind paying him. Within a few more weeks, after spitting up blood, Dennis learns he has inoperable lung cancer. Dennis doesn’t tell his boss about the caner, fearing he will lose his job, and keeps on working, even on days he has chemo treatments.

August 2017:  Dennis rents an efficiency apartment for $250 a month. “It’s an old, old building. I mean, as long as the roof’s still standing, I got a place to sleep. Well, plaster’s falling off the walls, floor’s sinking, the ceiling’s sinking in.  My refrigerator probably has been there for the last 50 years. It’s got rats, which I don’t mind.  They don’t bother me. Cockroaches are often seen in the hallway in the daylight. Some residents refer to the place as “the slaughterhouse” because it’s rumored the building once housed a meat-processing business. The floor’s had a dip ever since I moved in. I told the manager the floor needed to be fixed.  He assured me it would be fixed, but it never got fixed. Over two years it’s just gotten worse and worse.”Although Dennis points out issues with the building, he is grateful the manager has worked with him while he was in arrears on his rent. 

August 2017: Dennis rents an efficiency apartment for $250 a month. “It’s an old, old building. I mean, as long as the roof’s still standing, I got a place to sleep. Well, plaster’s falling off the walls, floor’s sinking, the ceiling’s sinking in.  My refrigerator probably has been there for the last 50 years. It’s got rats, which I don’t mind.  They don’t bother me. Cockroaches are often seen in the hallway in the daylight. Some residents refer to the place as “the slaughterhouse” because it’s rumored the building once housed a meat-processing business. The floor’s had a dip ever since I moved in. I told the manager the floor needed to be fixed.  He assured me it would be fixed, but it never got fixed. Over two years it’s just gotten worse and worse.”Although Dennis points out issues with the building, he is grateful the manager has worked with him while he was in arrears on his rent. 

August 2017:  Late one night, Dennis tries to repair the door to his apartment, but the frame isn’t square, which makes it difficult. Dennis is concerned about the possibility of someone breaking into his apartment, so he keeps his guitar in a local pawn shop, where it will be safely stored.  “The traffic has slowed down. Before it was like they were all standing in line waiting to use the bathroom to shoot up. We’ll always have a dope dealer, dope people and cops chasing people through one door and out the other. That’s why I got a dog, to keep people away from my door.”

August 2017: Late one night, Dennis tries to repair the door to his apartment, but the frame isn’t square, which makes it difficult. Dennis is concerned about the possibility of someone breaking into his apartment, so he keeps his guitar in a local pawn shop, where it will be safely stored.  “The traffic has slowed down. Before it was like they were all standing in line waiting to use the bathroom to shoot up. We’ll always have a dope dealer, dope people and cops chasing people through one door and out the other. That’s why I got a dog, to keep people away from my door.”

September 2017: " My doctor said don’t go to work the day they put my medication port in” (he receives morphine by IV to reduce pain).  Dennis went to work anyway, saying “Nobody is going to come to my apartment with the rent money.  Now that I have cancer, I don’t think I can go back to panhandling.”  Dennis talks about his childhood and how his father would beat him across the back with barbed wire until he would urinate in his pants.

September 2017: "My doctor said don’t go to work the day they put my medication port in” (he receives morphine by IV to reduce pain).  Dennis went to work anyway, saying “Nobody is going to come to my apartment with the rent money.  Now that I have cancer, I don’t think I can go back to panhandling.”  Dennis talks about his childhood and how his father would beat him across the back with barbed wire until he would urinate in his pants.

November 2017:  Visibly thinner two months after his diagnosis of lung cancer, Dennis walks home from a doctor’s appointment. He weighed 145 pounds in September and now weighs 110 pounds. Dennis says the demolition work he’s done for years probably contributed to the cancer. “They do things illegal all the time.” Now Dennis has stopped working his demolition job, and says he’s too weak to walk Levi. “I’ve had no food for two days. I’m in pain. I can’t deal with this pain anymore today.”

November 2017: Visibly thinner two months after his diagnosis of lung cancer, Dennis walks home from a doctor’s appointment. He weighed 145 pounds in September and now weighs 110 pounds. Dennis says the demolition work he’s done for years probably contributed to the cancer. “They do things illegal all the time.” Now Dennis has stopped working his demolition job, and says he’s too weak to walk Levi. “I’ve had no food for two days. I’m in pain. I can’t deal with this pain anymore today.”

November 2017:  After the annual free Thanksgiving meal at the Kroc Center, Dennis shows the burns on his back from radiation therapy.  With nobody to take care of him at home, he does his best to keep the burn areas from getting infected. And he is coughing up blood again. Dennis says he's grateful Blessing Hospital paid the $189 for medicated ointment he needs to heal the wound.

November 2017: After the annual free Thanksgiving meal at the Kroc Center, Dennis shows the burns on his back from radiation therapy.  With nobody to take care of him at home, he does his best to keep the burn areas from getting infected. And he is coughing up blood again. Dennis says he's grateful Blessing Hospital paid the $189 for medicated ointment he needs to heal the wound.

January 2018:  While standing outside the Horizons Food Pantry, Dennis tucks his shirt in.  Dennis is awarded Social Security disability benefits of $500 a month, because of the cancer consuming his body. He used some of money from his first paycheck to buy a new pair of pants and shirt, for the first time after more than a year of living in hardship.

January 2018: While standing outside the Horizons Food Pantry, Dennis tucks his shirt in.  Dennis is awarded Social Security disability benefits of $500 a month, because of the cancer consuming his body. He used some of money from his first paycheck to buy a new pair of pants and shirt, for the first time after more than a year of living in hardship.

June 2018:  Dennis displays a rat he said he caught in his Quincy, apartment. Other tenants shared similar stories. "I was sitting on my bed watching TV when I saw one come out, and then another. When I turned on the lights, I counted at least seven of them." Dennis says he keeps dry foods in his refrigerator to keep the rats out of it, but they found a way to get in there too. "I'm afraid to report this to the health department, because they might condemn the apartment and I'll have no place to go," Dennis said. Using the disability income he began receiving earlier this year, within a few weeks, Dennis manages to find a different place to live. 

June 2018: Dennis displays a rat he said he caught in his Quincy, apartment. Other tenants shared similar stories. "I was sitting on my bed watching TV when I saw one come out, and then another. When I turned on the lights, I counted at least seven of them." Dennis says he keeps dry foods in his refrigerator to keep the rats out of it, but they found a way to get in there too. "I'm afraid to report this to the health department, because they might condemn the apartment and I'll have no place to go," Dennis said. Using the disability income he began receiving earlier this year, within a few weeks, Dennis manages to find a different place to live. 

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