Editor’s note: Congress is considering repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and is debating major structural changes, and perhaps significant cuts, to Medicaid, which serves almost 70 million Americans. Voices for Human Needs is reaching out and telling the stories of those who could be harmed if the ACA is repealed without a suitable replacement or if Medicaid is significantly scaled back.
Tony McDade, a few weeks short of 60 years old, has been for years one of the most respected homeless individuals in Evanston, Illinois. He has earned that recognition by his kindness and outgoing support of others he deemed more needy than himself. Tony now lives in a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 8 apartment and has taken homeless people in during storms or sub-zero weather. He is easily recognized by the oxygen canister on wheels he must push everywhere he has gone following suffering severe heart problems.
This is my interview with Tony:
“Since I was a 13-year-old boy, I have been pretty much homeless. My mother did not know how to deal with boys and kicked my three brothers and me out of the house. She let my sister stay. My brothers and I hung out in Chinatown, where we slept nights in the laundries there.
“I got off the streets and got married. But, after several years, my wife left me. I became homeless again because I was too depressed to be able to work.
“I remained homeless for eight years before I started finding off-and-on shelter. My asthma got worse during those years as my heart became affected and I developed other medical problems.
“At first, I didn’t want to live; but as things started getting better, I very much wanted to live. I wanted to be a man, be human, to somehow get my own place, pay my own bills and to be able to help others.
“I did eventually get a job. I volunteered for the Good News Soup Kitchen in Chicago and, after a month, they hired me at the minimum wage. I was able to work there for eight years until my health got worse.
“I found out how serious it could be. I was with my good friend, Jimmy, who was also homeless. I passed out on the street and started bleeding from my nose and mouth. We did not have phones then with which to call for help. He carried me over a mile on his back to a hospital emergency room.
“Jimmy, who I miss a lot, himself died of a heart attack a few years ago.
“Fortunately, I was able to get on Medicaid and could then go to a hospital here in Evanston whenever I need to do so.
“I have been in and out of it almost a dozen times over the last few years. My heart stopped twice while I was there and they were able to revive me. They are really good to me there. The nurses even call me to see how I am doing.
“I now live on the third floor in a Section 8 apartment. It’s something I’ve never had before in my life—a nice place to lay my head.
“Here I can have food on my shelves. I cannot lift anything heavy, because I have back pain and my legs are weak. Fortunately I can ring the buzzer for the man living on the second floor and he will carry my groceries up for me.
“When it is raining hard or a blizzard, homeless men will come to my apartment to get out of it briefly.
“To go anywhere or do anything, I have to wheel my oxygen tank in front of me. When it got hot in the summer, my doctors told me not to think about going outside.
“Now, if they cut us off Medicaid, I will die. It is as simple as that for me and so many of the others who I know.
“I am worried about what is going to happen. There could be a lot more robberies, purse snatching, and desperate people taking desperate measures. A lot more people, I can tell you, will die for lack of medical care.
“People on the street do what they can to survive, but I am afraid for the future.
“My life has become worth living. Why? Because things are not only better for me, but also because I’m in a situation where I can help others and that is important, very important to me.
“There is nothing to replace it.
“I have a place now where I can invite my homeless friends to come and take a shower, just hang out for a while and have someone willing to listen to them and get to eat whatever I happen to have on the shelf or in the refrigerator.
“A lot of us are doing it for one another and sometimes we click just like a family.
“Who are the homeless individuals around here? I don’t think a lot of people know the answer to that question. In my experience, they are persons who have had an incident happen sometime back in their lives. Some became sick, others spent time in jail and not a few got into drugs or alcohol. Many who are homeless have faced some kind of mental difficulties that still plague them or have left their marks.
“We are worried. We don’t have much to fight with but we believe there are ears which are willing to hear our cries.”