By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Ricky Peed sorts clothing inside a former school building that serves as a warehouse on the campus of Humility Homes & Services, Inc., a nonprofit agency committed to ending homelessness. The carefully selected clothing and other household items will go to the Fresh Start Center across the street, which provides HHSI participants with basic home essentials as they start their lives over.
Hearing a knock on the door, Peed sets down the garment he had been inspecting to respond to the visitor, a woman who announces she has a car full of clothing that a local shop donated. Peed and John Hanes, both employed through AARP, head out the door and down the ramp with a large laundry cart on wheels. After loading the items, which teeter over the top of the cart, Peed, a wiry-framed man, takes a running start to push the cart up the ramp and into the warehouse.
“This job is very physically demanding,” says Peed, who takes a brief pause from his work after pushing the cart into a corner. “I love it,” he declares. “I’m helping other people. I’m changing the quality of their lives, getting stuff (ready) that’s useful” for them.
In Iowa, 2,419 people were experiencing homelessness in 2022 – 7.6 for every 10,000 people, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress. Of that total, 1,666 were individuals and 753 were people in families with children (https://tinyurl.com/2p8rc9pd).
HHSI, which provides services in the Quad-Cities area, served 1,339 individuals throughout all of its programing, according to its 2022 Gratitude Report. “We’re seeing newer homelessness,” said HHSI Executive Director Ashley Velez, referring to people experiencing homelessness for the first time, due to the pandemic and inflation among other challenges.
Peed feels a strong connection with people who are homeless because for many years he was among them until HHSI provided him with a life-saving opportunity — supportive housing and his job processing donated items for quality assurance. He has worked in the warehouse for five and a half years, longer than anyone else, he says. Next month, he will celebrate his 60th birthday.
“I’m lucky to have made it this long. The average homeless male lives to 50.” His estimate is close. The National Institutes for Health estimates the average age at death of a homeless male is 56.27 years and 52 years for a homeless female. Nearly 50% of those deaths are attributable to smoking. Peed readily acknowledges his addiction, stepping outside for a smoke on the cold March afternoon of an interview with The Catholic Messenger.
However, what nearly ended his life is his addiction to alcohol. He previously worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and a Certified Medication Aide (CMA) among other careers until alcoholism consumed his life. He received treatment, went through the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and was sober for nearly 25 years, he said.
Peed was living and working in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but “I was in a relationship that went into the wrong direction.” He moved back to Davenport and ended up on the streets after running out of
money. “I had to learn where the meal sites were, where I needed to get clothing, where I could shower and where I could sleep.” McAnthony Window at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport was among the meal sites Peed frequented and where he met John Cooper, the parish’s pastoral associate and business manager.
“I was giving a retreat for homeless persons in 2018 when a participant (Ricky) impatiently asked, ‘What do you know about homelessness?’ He was right, I don’t have firsthand experience,” Cooper recalled. “Ricky has lots of it. He can be the wounded healer for people facing chronic homelessness. Add to that, he’s super smart, full of wisdom and is very empathetic. His faith gives him the conviction to know that the right to shelter is a God-given right.”
Cooper describes their relationship as real. “I asked him one day, how many prayers will it take to get you to stop drinking and get off the street? With his permission, I wrote three stories asking the parishioners to pray for him to stop drinking and get off the street. He came up to the parish center knocking on the door to talk one night. He had been drinking. I told him I was setting up for a funeral the next day. I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘If you don’t get off the street and take better care of yourself, it’ll be your funeral I’m arranging.’”
Peed ended up in the hospital after falling against a metal table on Davenport’s riverfront and fracturing his ribs. He also had pneumonia. It was time to come in from the cold. A friend of his lived in an HHSI apartment, which inspired Peed to apply for an apartment. The vetting process took time, but HHSI accepted him into its supportive housing program. “If it weren’t for Humility, chances are I could be dead,” he said.
Work in progress
Now Peed serves as advocate for people whose shoes he has walked in, serving on HHSI’s Lived Experience Advisory Board Committee. “I’m a mouthpiece for homeless people. I advocate for their rights. Everyone has a right to a place to live,” he said. HHSI’s Gratitude Report speaks to the importance of the committee. “We are living our mission honoring the legacy of the Sisters of Humility of Mary and (the) lived experiences of those we serve.”
Cooper said that since Peed has been off the streets, “we’ve teamed up to give presentations on homelessness. “I even had him talk to our parishioners and the youth group. Right now, he sort of appears at my office window when I least expect it with that classic Ricky grin on his face. I tell him to get a haircut and let me get him an appointment with a dentist. He just continues to grin.”
Last year, Peed spent a night in jail on a public intoxication charge. “I’m an alcoholic,” he admits, but “I don’t drink before work or during work … It hasn’t affected my ability to perform.” HHSI is aware of his situation. “We all have our ups and downs, whether we are homeless or not,” said Velez. “It’s how you get back up and realign yourself. When he tells his story he is so open about it.” The supportive housing program in which Peed participates focuses on identifying the reason for homelessness, addressing it, building up coping skills and providing support around the individual, Velez added.
Back at the warehouse, Peed answers the phone. A customer at the Fresh Start Center needs help getting a lamp that is beyond her reach. Peed sends Hanes over to assist. Their shift for the day is nearly complete and Peed says, with conviction, “I tell people I’m an instrument from God. We’re all sent here to help, to help promote change and to make progress in (our own) life and in the lives of others.”
HHSI event to raise awareness and encourage involvement
Humility Homes & Services, Inc. is hosting a social hour March 30 from 4-7 p.m. at Me & Billy, 200 W. 3rd St., Davenport.
This free event provides an opportunity for people to learn more about Humility Homes & Services, its mission and its interest in getting people involved with HHSI.
Register at humilityhomes.org\events.
Help for those dealing with eviction or homelessness
Community Action of Southeast Iowa works toward helping people out of poverty, assisting them in obtaining decent and affordable housing, adequate nutrition, employment, affordable and quality childcare, education and training so they may become self-sufficient and improve their quality of life. Visit the website (caofseia.org).
The Quad Cities Housing Council Facebook page suggests these resources for persons facing eviction or homelessness:
Humility Homes and Services Coordinated Entry: (563) 499-3081
Scott County Community Services: (563) 326-8723
Salvation Army: (563) 324-4808
Open Door: (563) 265-5500
QC Open Network: (309) 736-6766
Shelters in Southeast Iowa
Burlington Area Homeless Shelter, 123 North Marshall St., Burlington (319) 754-6791.
Transitions DMC, 515 South Main St., Burlington (319) 209-2217.
Emma Cornelius Hospitality House, 2733 Avenue N., Fort Madison (319) 372-3983.
Domestic Violence Intervention Program (800) 373-1043.