An Uphill Struggle to "Get Off These Streets"

Apr 1, 2015

Joseph Culver is 30. He's been homeless on and off since he was 21, and on the streets for almost three years.
Credit Kara Lofton

WMRA’s Kara Lofton met Joseph Culver in a common room at a day shelter in Charlottesville called The Haven.

Joseph is 30 years old and has been homeless on and off since he was 21, and on the streets for almost three years.  Joseph’s story is Part 4 of our series on homelessness.

Like many homeless folks, Joseph’s story is complicated.  It involves a variety of factors, including a congenital disability, abuse, lifelong housing instability and delinquency.

JOSEPH CULVER:  The day I was born, I was born with a piece of my brain missing. It’s called the Corpus Callosum. It connects your left and your right brain together. Well I can only use the right side of my brain and the left side, the left side is what helps me control my anger. Well I can’t control my anger—I blow up too quick. That’s why I’m on medication.  Medication doesn’t help all the time either. So when I get mad, there are coping skills I’ve learned to do. Listen to music, walk off, don’t let nobody talk to me when I’m pissed because it’s going to agitate me even more. And if it does, then eventually I’m going to snap, and I’m going to hurt somebody. I know I’m capable of hurting somebody—I just don’t want to do it.

Culver’s father was abusive and as a child he was put in child services. He said that most of his adolescence was spent in and out of group homes, foster care and juvenile detention centers.

CULVER:. It’s not easy to live on the streets or ask somebody for money so you can get something to eat, something to drink or try to make enough money to get you a hotel to stay out of the cold. I’ve done that. It’s not fun.  I need to try to get off these streets, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Other things have been holding me back. Every time I take five steps forward, I take ten steps back.

Culver said he recently found an apartment in Charlottesville, but that he can’t move in because he doesn’t have an identity card, which is required by many landlords for occupancy. He said police confiscated the card during a run-in in Richmond. He’s not exactly sure why they took it, only that it wasn’t returned.

He’s now having trouble getting another identity card because Virginia requires a host of documents to prove your identity, including proof of physical residency and two documents proving identity, such as a passport, which Culver does not have. The result is that he is having more difficulty than he normally would finding an apartment and job.

CULVER:  I can only work part-time. I get disability. I’ve had it all my life. But I don’t depend on the disability, every month to wait for a check cause I’m letting that add up so I can get this apartment. I like to work. If I don’t work I get in trouble—I know myself. If I’m not busy doing something, or fixing something or having a job, I get into trouble quick and I get thrown into jail, and going in and out of jail is not fun for me or anybody. 

Culver’s main goals right now are to stay out of jail, get his ID back, and get off the streets by saving enough of his disability check to be able to pay for an apartment.

CULVER:  Sometimes it’s hard for a lot of people that want to get off these streets, but know the streets a lot better than doing they need to do to get off the streets. And a part of that is in me. But that’s not what I want. I want to get off these streets and do better in my life and eventually have a family. Until I can do that for myself, I can’t do anything. And that’s what I learned from being on these streets. That’s why I’m trying to do bigger and better things for myself and nobody else.