Vendor Moose: 'God told me to be a homeless advocate'

Jun 26 2017
Posted by: Staff
Vendor Moose: 'God told me to be a homeless advocate'

By: Layla Shahmohammadi

Over 20 years ago, Gary E., more commonly known as "Moose," moved to Nashville from East Tennessee to write songs on Music Row and live out his country music dreams. Before the age of 30, Moose had chased a wide range of careers, ranging from working for the United Parcel Service to professional boxing to wrestling bears. He found that music stuck. Since moving to Nashville, Moose has endured several severe health threats while being on and off the streets, but has managed to continue singing, even through the setbacks. 

While Moose has been selling and writing for The Contributor for several years now, this was his first time being interviewed for a Vendor Spotlight. Moose typically submits his own writing to the paper, where he has shared his experiences of homelessness through prose and poetry.

Moose tells me about the piece he submitted this week to The Contributor called “My Opinion Matters." (See bottom of post.)

What is your piece “My Opinion Matters” about?
It’s about surviving homelessness and learning by the seat of your pants. Every person couldn’t survive being homeless. I’d never been homeless before I came to Nashville and all of a sudden, after all of these good jobs I had, there I was. I had a million dollars before the time I was 35. I came to Nashville, turned 40 and then got put in jail for not having a driver’s license. I still don’t have a license. I ran out of money. The cost of child support, bills, bankruptcy and three women takes a toll on a man. When you run out of money, all the women get pissed.

What is experiencing homelessness in Nashville like?
The good part about Nashville is that there is a lot of hope for the homeless here. They have a lot of different programs. But at a certain point, it’s not about helping people, it becomes a business. There’s a business in putting people in the hospital and mental institution. There’s a business dealing with people on the street, and there’s a business putting people in jail and it’s wrong. The help? Where’d the help go? It ain’t about food in Nashville. There’s plenty of food here.

So, if it’s not about the food, what do you think it’s about?
Homelessness needs to be dealt with one on one, case by case. Get people off the street. 

For me, I knew I always wanted to be a writer. When I moved to Nashville, I met all the good songwriters and realized I’d only been practicing for 20 years. I’ve done benefit concerts here in Nashville for The Contributor. I’m ready to do anything for The Contributor. It’s all about getting up and speaking. I spoke at The Divinity School over at Vanderbilt. They used to invite me every year, except the last couple of years they haven’t invited me, but I’ve been sick.

You’ve recently had some major health problems. 
I’ve had four major operations in the past six years. They cut my leg off and another piece of my leg off, and straightened my toes. They just took my prostate out in March. Cancer free now! But every time they’ve done a surgery, I’ve got an infection and it took me longer to recover. Every six months on all three of the leg operations, and I’m still recovering three and a half months in from prostate surgery. Cancer surgery was tough. It took a lot out of me. This was cancer I had no idea about. They detected it through the blood tests. I had no symptoms except being tired.

While you were sick, were you still selling the paper?
Well the first month I wasn’t. This past March, when they did the operation, I came and got papers. That lasted the first five days, and then I was out. I kept feeling worse and worse, having pain. I called and asked if I was supposed to be having this much pain and they couldn’t get me in. Finally, I went to the emergency room. They found out I had an infection that was pushing on my bladder, pushing on my back and just causing total pain. They gave me antibiotics and another thing of pain pill and I was good to go. 

It had me worried but I’ve survived a lot. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is survived the street. For 20 years, I’ve been off and on the street. 

How did you get involved with The Contributor?
After the Nashville flood, my cousin Bill joined The Contributor. I’d heard about it and I’d seen people on the street. There were 400 vendors then led by a good core of people who really believed in the cause.

I lost my leg in 2011, and at that point, I’d already signed up and sold a few papers. I didn’t have anything but The Contributor. That allowed me to apply for temporary housing and it gave me a source of income to pay my $50 temporary rent. The Contributor was something reliable, physical and you could tack your name on it, too, and say it was something you were doing.

Where do you sell the paper?
I sell around 21st Avenue, Vanderbilt and Gallatin Road. It’s really wherever the Lord leads me. Sometimes usually around Hillsboro Village people recognize me and know who I am.

How did you get the name "Moose"?
I used to box and wrestle professionally. It was a nickname I gained in Atlanta. I went to an electronic school and was working for the United Parcel Service and my supervisor, who was the top supervisor, looked up and called me Moose. It just kind of stuck.

What else would you like people to know about your work?
In 1996, when I first became homeless, somebody directed me to the Old Mission to eat. Without that mission, I would’ve starved to death. One night, I was leaving the mission and it started raining. I was penniless sitting there and a $20 bill rolled in front of me and stopped. A bolt of lightning came down and a voice in the thunder told me that I was going to be a homeless advocate. I went to the library and looked up advocate and it said one who speaks for another.

It was a God thing in that parking lot. Fifteen years later I’m writing for The Contributor about homeless issues. Who would know better about homeless issues than someone who is homeless? I’ve been there. I know the tricks. I know how to get better. I’ve got the experience to know all about homeless issues and add to the conversation in some intelligible manner and that’s what I’m here for. God told me to be a homeless advocate.

I’ve been given a new lease on life now that I’m cancer free. I advocate by writing about what I know. When I hit 40, I didn’t bum around and plan to be homeless. 

Sometimes I’d like to take someone who thinks they know what homelessness is about and show them differently. Leave your wallet at home and follow me.

I’ve had jobs and no jobs. The only thing that slowed my roll was losing my leg. I could still be homeless but The Contributor helped me establish myself.  

My Opinion Matters
by Gary "Moose" E. 

My opinion matters and I’ll tell you why: when it comes to being homeless, there is not a lot that I haven’t seen or done in some way, shape, form or fashion.

If there was a degree to be had on homelessness, I would be well qualified. The street is a very hard, fast and cruel place to be. Where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, what I’ve done and what I’ve been through has been a personal hell for me. I just survived out of perserverence, a belief in God and an attitude that things would have to get better. Without some sort of hope to pin the future on, I would have given up at some point.

A lot of people do give up because the burden of life on the street is too much to bare. They see relief in drugs or alcohol. They devolve in their own crisis that becomes their own personal mental illness. I likened it to a bad dream, day-to-day, that you never awake from. Some people lose their mind completely. I lost a good part of “me” that I will forever miss. I only came to terms with it because I know a part of me no longer exists. 

The only thing that slowed my roll from a full-blown total decline was when I lost my leg. It was if my life hit the reset button. Only now from that day forward I had to live life on life’s terms. Only going forward without my leg. It was a whole new ball game – except I was still struggling with homelessness and unemployment. The Contributor was there for me to turn to for employment. That also meant that I could show an income for temporary housing until I could get disability. 

The Contributor was and still is a lifeline for me to hold onto until things get better. I guess you could say God had me right where he wanted me (and still does)!

I believe there is a reason for everything I’ve been through. I believe I still have a hope and a future like the Bible teaches. God told me long ago that I would be a homeless “advocate.” Advocate means “one who speaks for another.”

First-hand knowledge is the best information there is. Coming from a survivor of the streets, my opinion matters more than most. I’ve been down there in the “trenches” just trying to survive. Survival on the street is no small feat in and of itself. The average person would not survive. I feel like I’m now qualified to begin to help other through what I’ve already been through. I now share my stories in the hope that I’m able to help others by sharing. 

Since 2011, I’ve been sharing my past in The Contributor. I’ve made personal speaking appearances. I’ve sung and played benefits. I’ve volunteered at charities when time allows. I now try to be a productive member of society. I can’t help anyone until I take care of me first. 

I can converse and understand the issues surrounding homelessness. I am now a part of a bigger picture. I’m willing to add my opinion to any discussion. For once in my life I think “my opinion matters.” 


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