As spring gives way to summer, the homeless camp beneath the Queen City Bridge in Gainesville becomes more crowded, a desolate place to rest for some and a trashed playpen for others along the so-called “tramp trail.”
The new faces stand out among the old in the seasonal turnover.
The young woman who might otherwise be a student if not caught on the lure of street drugs.
The Marine Corps veteran whose failed heart, labored breaths and swollen legs recently sent him to the intensive care unit for the second time in nearly as many weeks.
His family is missing. Wife gone. Brother’s bond broken. No money. No visitors in the hospital.
Then came the young, but grizzled, dude with his own car docked at the camp for who-knows-how-long.
“He just showed up last night,” Hines said. “It’s like that this time of year.”
Hines should know. He has something akin to seniority here.
Now in his early 60s, Hines has lived under the bridge longer than anyone can remember, including himself.
Things twisted and turned after his mother died, the pain fresh in his watering, blinking eyes whenever he speaks of her. Alcohol abuse began as a disguise for this loss. Then it became an escape from the voices in his head that had been echoing all his life but now, at times, expand into a wall of sound.
“Some days are worse than others,” Hines said, shaking his head at the thought.
He’ll often just lie down in his tent, wishing the day away, and close his eyes until the noise recedes from his mind.
When it does, Hines is the first to help clean up around the camp. He’s the first to greet strangers and the first to make sure everyone gets a bite of the apple, so to speak.
He was there when an old face became new again.
Demetric moved back to the Gainesville camp recently after a brief stint in Florida.
He said he hoped to reunite with his children.
The increased foot traffic in the camp lately has turned the attention of some longtime residents to the thought of a better life.
New York, a middle-aged man who knows just about every hidden homeless camp in Gainesville, began work at a local grocery last week. He said he hopes to pool his earnings with a homeless woman to put a roof over their head that’s not an overpass.
T-Bone just got a new job, too. He said he hopes work at a local manufacturing plant will allow him to move on from the camp for good and support a baby on the way.
The camp can seem like a forgotten place when the rains come, or the sun beats