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This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County.

A few nights ago I decided to walk around Austin late in the evening. In doing so I met a man named Pherron who is of Irish and Japanese descent and has been homeless for three months.

Pherron approached me to ask if he could bum a cigarette, and I told him that I didn’t have one but if he walked around the city with me I’d help him find one. I liked Pherron immediately. Dressed in dirty extra-large Iceberg sportswear that he appeared to be drowning in, Pherron was very down to earth and was eager to show me around Austin. This was going to be an adventure for sure I thought.

We hoofed it over to Nueces Street and then to Rio Grande Street so that I could see “how real Austin people get down.” By getting down Pherron meant meeting up with his friends, who were also homeless, and basically just hanging out on the sidewalk talking about how they spent their day. I was introduced to some of Pherron’s friends, many who were not from Texas at all.

I met John, a former construction foreman from Montana, LaTasha and her boyfriend Reggie who traveled from Washington, and Lupita who was from Corpus Christi. I wasn’t wearing my SXSW badge and based on how these individuals interacted with me I got the impression that they thought that I was homeless as well. No matter, I thought, I want to hang out with these cool peeps and see the city in a different light.

As the others decided to chill out on the sidewalk, Pherron and I walked throughout areas of downtown away from the festival and into areas that seemed less inhabited. Okay, I know that this sounds extremely unsafe or an unwise decision to just venture off with a complete stranger but trust me this was a SXSW highlight for me.

As we walked around, Pherron and I spoke about what brought him to Austin. He was very open about his mental health diagnosis and told me that at some point in his life he just sort of “snapped.” Pherron expanded on what this meant and basically after living a life of ever-changing prescription medications that did more harm than help, he quit taking them altogether. As a result of going cold turkey, Pherron experienced some life changing situations such as being unable to work, difficulty coping with stress, and unfortunately unable to parent and be a supportive, loving husband.

Pherron lost everything and now spends his days traveling around the states, chronicling his adventures in his mind, and never getting too close to others for long periods of time. He told me that he’s comfortable meeting random people and telling them about his life, no matter how personal, because he knows that he’ll never see them again. Pherron also told me that his life isn’t so tragic because although he’s homeless, “home is everywhere you go.”

I’ve worked closely with people who were chronically homeless so before our journey came to an end I wanted to see if there were any resources in Austin that Pherron could tap into. Pherron mentioned a homeless shelter called the ARCH (Austin Resource Center for the Homeless) that houses almost 200 a night.

The only drawbacks according to him was the 6:30 p.m. curfew and the noise. Pherron said that he prefers sleeping outside, not necessarily in the city, but near the trees and running trail.

When asked how Pherron gets his daily nourishment, he informed me that a local food kitchen called Caritas of Austin serves meals regularly.

When Pherron gets $90 by panhandling he uses the money towards getting a room in a hostel. Then Pherron mentioned an organization called Work Force Development and said this program would help him get an apartment voucher, live there rent free for a few months, and assist with getting a job and/or developing job skills. I thought this sounded awesome and asked why he hadn’t pursued looking into this resource but Pherron wouldn’t answer.

Before we parted I typed my cell phone number into Pherron’s TracFone so that he could call or text me the next day. I was determined to go to the Work Force Development with him.

The next day and day after I didn’t hear back from Pherron. I wasn’t surprised, but I was very disappointed because I really wanted to fulfill my promise. Instead of focusing on it I went to Caritas of Austin to hopefully locate Pherron.

While there I was invited to eat lunch with a group of people. The lunch was a serving of chili and salad. After the meal I went to the ARCH to get more information about how one gets services there.

I had to provide my driver’s license and was asked to show proof of having a TB test. It was a sigh of relief when they informed me that they still let people stay there if they’re unable to provide those documents. I toured the space and I really had to master the art of breathing out of my mouth and not my nose due to the pungent urine smell.

I now understood why Pherron and his friends refused to stay there. It’s safe to say that probably 90 percent of the people staying at the ARCH struggle with mental health issues based on their behaviors. It was just very sad. Most people there can stay up to three or four months.

After leaving the ARCH I sat down on East 7th Street and took in the bizarre funhouse scene; swarms of jovial Hipsters and other tourists scrambling to the next hot spot while in the center of the festival so many people suffering from mental health, disease, and hunger lay on sidewalks or wander aimlessly. Mansfield has it’s share of individuals who live similarly to the people I’ve met so when we begin to Re-Imagine Mansfield we also need to take in consideration the needs of those who are often and openly disregarded or given up on.

Whether it’s a matter of mental health, someone suddenly being down and out, or other factors, people who don’t have stable homes will permanently live a life of hardship and never have opportunities to live the life they’ve always imagine. I can’t imagine a progressive Mansfield if it doesn’t include the community helping everyone. Soup lines and free going back to school supply handouts are nice but this is not a long-term solution. We can’t just expect a few known organizations who specialize in assisting people with mental health issues or homelessness to be the only ones to do all the work.

Pherron’s words, “Home is everywhere you go” will forever ring loudly in my ears. I really don’t think that our paths will cross again, but they won’t need to because we met for many reasons.

One reason, I feel, was to help redirect me to humanity when I get caught up in wanting go out and have a few drinks or when I spend money frivolously.

Another reason is obvious: To remind me to help people who are hurting and people who have no direction to follow. Those people may be temporarily lost but with supports and altruism, they can thrive once again and rediscover their purpose in life. I think that’s the most beautiful gift that anyone can receive. Re-Imagine Mansfield resuscitating those on the verge of complete hopelessness. I want that badly.

Stay tuned and follow the progress via #SXSW419. And watch for more blogs at richlandsource.com/rising_from_rust/sxsw.

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Case manager at Catalyst Life Services, dance instructor for Richland Newhope Industries, Inc. and a musician known as Chico’s Brother. He's passionate about music, art and mentorship and aims to incorporate those elements at his building called La LUNA.