Dale P. came to Nashville in 2011 with a friend, an old car and $5 in his pocket. After being laid off from two jobs in Florida and losing his home, Dale set his sights on Nashville. Once he arrived, he slept in his car at night and applied for jobs during the day. After submitting 90 applications and hearing nothing back, Dale found The Contributor. He’s been one of our highest sellers ever since.
His signature yellow shirt matches his bright smile. He always shares a friendly word when he’s in our office to buy papers and I imagine his customers in Franklin appreciate his attitude and hard work as well.
Can you tell me about your experience with homelessness?
When I was homeless, I was scared to death. I didn’t know what to do. I lost everything. In one week I lost a house, two cars, two jobs and it was like, “Oh my God, now what?” I did know some homeless people and they kept saying, “Dale, get away from here. You don’t belong in this situation." I really didn’t want to come to Nashville because I’m going to be just as broke there. I’m not one to beg for money, but we begged and borrowed money to get gas all the way up here. I felt bad about that and still do.
What happened that week to cause you to lose everything?
The economy was kind of low so they cut people back. The one was a part-time job, so they just cut me back totally. But when my main job let me go, that really hurt.I couldn’t meet my obligations and I lost everything. Then that was a panic: Where do I sleep? I was sleeping in parking garages or a Walmart parking lot, then getting up early, cleaning myself up and looking for jobs. I was always looking for work. I didn’t sit back on my tailbone and cry. I did that as I walked around. Even when I came here I tried that. I didn’t just sit down because I wasn’t raised that way.
How old were you then?
I was 61. And nobody wants to hire a 61-year-old. People say, “Oh, there’s all kinds of jobs, people are hiring, hiring.” But you’ve got to stop and realize that when you get up past 50, you turn into a liability to a lot of businesses. They want someone young. You’re overqualified or under qualified or too much experienced. And I’m the type of person if I get a job, I stick with it. Even if it doesn’t pay a lot, I will also go out and look for a part-time job to make ends meet.
When you don’t have an income coming in, anything is better than living under a tree or in a car, or a park bench. I feel sorry for the people that do that, I pray for them all the time. But sometimes I feel like they’ve given up and don’t care anymore. And that’s why the world, not just Nashville, has a lot of poverty: they’ve given up. And instead of taking that fight and trying to upgrade yourself, it broke them. I’m homeless. And that bothers me because I wasn’t born that way and a lot of them were not born that way. But they’ve been broken and given up.
Do you see how things could have gone differently for you or if you had experienced different traumas you could have fallen into that?
Yeah, because even before I became homeless, I was watching a lot of them. They went to stealing and drugs and drinking and all that. So I could have seen myself easily falling right into that trap and not getting out.
Do you think The Contributor had any help in keeping you from going that direction?
Yes, I really do. It kept me from falling into that pit of not wanting to get out. I took things I didn’t want to do, especially like early social security ... but now I’ve got it built it up and my business built up so I can live comfortably without having to worry about where my meal is coming from or if I’m going to get kicked out. And I have improved myself 100 percent.
What do you like about selling The Contributor?
Freedom. I get to work when I want to, if I want to.
Can you tell me about your regular customers?
It took me about a year to get them, but now if I don’t go out there and work or work a short day, I have a lot of them that stop and say, “Where you been?” They get worried about me. Then there’s a few that are hateful and throw me dirty looks. Sometimes they roll down their window and say, “Get a job you dirty bum.” One man even threatened to get out of his car and beat me up.
Just because you were standing there selling papers?
Standing there and selling a paper. I ignored him for the first two or three times and he kept on. And I said, “Sir, this is a job. This is my job.” Then he drove on.
What else is going on in your life? What makes you happy?
What makes me happy is getting up with my dog. And when I see customers with dogs, I go crazy. I call them my babies and the customers seem to like it. People will say, “Oh, you always look happy, standing out there smiling, waving.” And I’m like underneath, you don’t know. Standing out there on that sidewalk breaks a person down because you’re out there by yourself. That’s why I like to have that interaction with the customers because it keeps your mind occupied.
Anything you’d like to say to your customers?
Just remember that there’s a lot of us out there that have improved. Show them that you can see the difference and don’t judge nobody. And try to live a good Christian life.