Photo by Cindy Miller of Gary Waterbeck
Photo Grad and Union Carpenter
Gary Waterbeck passed away this morning. For long time readers of the Homeless Grapevine or this blog, you will remember Gary from the 2007 Grapevine photo project. Gary was a strong, quiet and reserved gentleman who had struggled with health issues. Gary came to NEOCH asking for help from people who were harassing him at his campsite. He did not want to live in the shelters in Cleveland for many different reasons, and felt that he could get off the streets on his own. He met a friend of ours, Cindy Miller, who was helping us work on improving the shelters in Cleveland . I talked to Cindy about how we remember Gary, and she wanted to make sure that he was remembered for more than just the stereotypical issues facing a homeless guy in Cleveland. There is no such thing as a typical homeless person, but Gary was not even a typical man.
Gary was a union carpenter who wasn't working due to the cutbacks in construction work in Cleveland. Some of the large construction projects he worked on included schools, assisted living facilities and the Lerner Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. He did independent contracting work but lost that income due to someone stealing his van and all his tools. He had cut his insurance down to liability coverage. The day after he arrived at the men's shelter he got a job selling hot dogs at the corner of Ontario and Superior. He often worked through temp agencies on assembly lines and even power washing at Jacobs Field. He and a group of other men chose to sleep in a camp rather than at the shelter because by the time they finished work and got back to be transported to the overflow shelter at Aviation High School they missed meals or there was not enough food or they missed the shuttle bus. Often they did not feel safe at the overflow site at Aviation. Gary then traveled down to New Orleans in 2005 to help with the recovery efforts.
Cindy felt safer with Gary than she did in the shelters and they started hanging out together. Gary became disabled as the result of an injury he sustained while in New Orleans helping with the clean up after Hurricane Katrina. A group of men from the shelters and men who were no longer in the shelter went to aid in the cleanup. In 2006, they found a place together in East Cleveland and then a house in Toronto , Ohio . Both joined the photography project taught by Steve Cagan at NEOCH, and both successfully graduated the program. My favorite images captured by Gary are below.
In the past few months he was feeling well enough to be independent again and was active in the newly formed Toronto (Ohio) Coalition for Revitalization. He had helped in negotiating a donation of paint and supplies for a newly started project of the coalition. Gary and Cindy fought the crushing federal bureaucracy, crazy state government rules, and small town politics over the last two years. They also had to struggle with the bizarre American health care system. Gary was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2009. His death was the result of pneumonia. He had received months of chemotherapy that drastically reduced the tumor in his throat. Gary waged a valiant battle to conquer this latest challenge in his life. Gary Waterbeck passed away early this morning, and our heart goes out to his family and to Cindy. Please keep him in your thoughts.
Brian with help from Cindy
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Photos by Gary Waterbeck 2007