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Positively Milwaukee: Out of the shadows of homelessness

Posted at 12:51 PM, Apr 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-11 13:51:21-04

MILWAUKEE — It's a story of love, survival, homelessness, and hope.

Laura Marsh and John Hines met 15 years ago when both were homeless.

Marsh recalls, "We go to St. Ben's to eat dinner and I was with my best friend. I was telling all these guys to leave me alone. John came in he looked at me and it was like BAM!"

Both remember leaving toxic homes when they were young.

"I was a teenaged runaway. I ran away in Los Angeles we were living in California I ran away over ten times," admits Marsh.

"It was a lot of violence, my dad was beating my mom ..and beating me because I was trying to save her...they were drinking and doing a lot of drugs, it was just a real negative environment."
Hines admits, "I stayed outside all my life. I'm about the only one trying to get it together and make things happen and do it myself."

It was a daily fight for survival. Hines was shot in the head while the two tried to score drugs.

"He thought we had money. We were homeless," said Marsh."They had to dig it out right here from behind his ear. He's got a big scar and a plate right here and a shunt to drain fluid out of his brain. They had three brain surgeries."

John's survival was a warning shot. It was time to put an end to drugs and living outside.

"That's what changed our lives for the better. It's been a blessing in disguise. We've been off the streets ever since." Marsh admits, "We would still be out there doing the same thing, sleeping outside smoking crack. We would still be out there so it's a blessing."

Hines says of his new life, "I just talk to God , we need as much of God as we can have."

Today the couple is drug-free and does not steal.

Marsh laughs, " I'm too scared now; I'm old. Jail is alright when you're young, I'm too tired for that.

Hines states adamantly, "I will not steal!"

Marsh exclaims, "He's working at Goodwill, He don't miss no days!"

Both say it's rewarding having a place to stay.

"Ever since we've been off the street our rent has been early or on time. We always pay our rent. Our electricity went out, and it was raining but we were like, yeah, but we're in a house. We can still make something to eat."

Before COVID, the couple helped others they knew who were still homeless.

"It feels good, but a lot of people get off the streets and they want to take everybody with them. We had about 20 to 30 people sleeping in our house. We had to slow down because we're not financially able to take care of everybody like that."

Marsh adds," But some people would steal stuff from us. We were missing a whole Christmas tree; I mean the whole tree is gone...she laughs.

But she remembers, "We used to steal everything in the world. So, when it happened to us we just had to take it with a grain of salt."

The couple admits the pandemic poses a few challenges.

Marsh laughs as she shares, "We're at the point where we're staying together for the cat now, just the cat!" They both giggle.

"We break up with each other every day, but we never leave the house. We just ignore each other." They laugh together.

The couple wrote two books hoping to give insight on the plight of the homeless, "Living in the Shadows of Milwaukee," and "On the Trail."

Marsh explains, "We wrote the first book "Living in the Shadows of Milwaukee" when we were on the streets. The second book I wrote when we were taking people in our house. I followed a couple of people's stories in that book.

She says, "I get more help from homeless people than I ever did from my family."

"If you're sleeping outside, you can't just walk to the bathroom. Do you know hard it is to go to the bathroom? No one will let you use the bathroom unless you buy something. What if you don't have no money? The jail turned me away at 1 o clock in the morning and told me to find somewhere else to go. I told them, 'I don't want to live in your bathroom, I just want to use the bathroom.'"

Laura and John give speeches to groups raising awareness on homelessness.

"I love talking to everybody if I can," shares John.

Marsh points out, "A lot of people don't know if they should give a dollar to somebody. They always ask me should I give a dollar to the panhandlers. I say you give it out of the kindness of your heart. It's a blessing. It might be a copay for their medicine or something to eat. You never know what you're giving them. "

Marsh dreams of opening a shelter for people living outside. She knows mental issues play a big role.

"I really want to deal with the mentally disabled and have someone on-site to deal with their issues. Counselors and nurses to deal with long-term issues. They need to be retrained on how to live in a house, how to cook, clean. They have to have someone with them, otherwise, they will just go back into the shelter."

The couple knows what it's like to feel invisible.

"I was sitting there crying one day, and they just kept walking right past me. Everybody deserves a chance. We used to sit out there, and people wouldn't even look at us. If you would just sit down and talk to a person and get to know their situation, you might think differently. You really can't judge a person just be looking at them."

Today with a new home, children and grandchildren, the couple has a new purpose of pride and hope for tomorrow. Despite minor clashes, their love is strong.

"I love him. We've been together through a lot," Marsh chuckles. "He still gives me lightning...boom!" They both laugh heartily.

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