Howard spent a lot of effort building and adding onto his home. He kept his yard mowed in the summer where he liked to neatly place various adornments.
In the middle of the photo, there is a second story room with double doors and green trim that he called his “sound room.” He once told me that
he liked to sit up there and listen to a battery powered stereo system.
With the rousting of homeless people from under the bridges and overpasses of Birmingham, Alabama this week, I thought it a good time to note the passing of Huntsville homeless icon “Howard.”
What was believed to be Howard’s remains were found by Huntsville police about two weeks ago at his residence off of Cleveland Avenue in downtown Huntsville. At the time, media reports indicated that a positive ID was still pending because he had apparently been dead for two to four weeks prior to being found. I was told a few days later by a media representative that there was uncertainty as to whether or not foul play had been a factor, also owing to the condition of the remains.
You might notice that I refer to him as a Homeless Icon and then refer to his “residence.” In fact, if you view the photo above, you will see where this remarkable black man had built his home for the last thirty or so years. The rules of such matters escape me, but as best as my common knowledge serves me, given the improvements he made on the land, and the length of time he had been living there continuously, I believe he would have been considered the rightful owner of the property — and he was therefore a resident. Who the land belonged to in the beginning is unknown.
Unlike Marvin, who passed a few years ago, and who was seen roving all the major motorways and thoroughfares of Huntsville while pushing his own iconic grocery cart for many years, Howard was more known in the inner city where he was often seen early in the morning collecting cans and scrap for recycling. Howard was less likely to venture about much during the middle of the day, and during the last five years or so I noticed that he had slowed down his efforts. Old age was obviously beginning to take its toll. He was around 70 years old.
There’s a lot about Howard that I don’t know. How or why he was “homeless” in the first place, weather he had family, what kind of work he might have previously done. I did talk with him on occasion, and to the best of my knowledge he survived on his own efforts, and sometimes through the kindness of Church visitors. The Huntsville Times has done stories about him in the past, and maybe they will eventually be able to answer some more of those questions.
At any rate, Howard’s home is certainly a testament to what “homeless” people who have fallen through the cracks for whatever reason can accomplish when left to their own abilities — if they have the resources like the land where he built his shanty. Admittedly, I don’t believe he had running water, or eclectic, but I do know that he sometimes cooked for himself, and that he had a wood stove for heat in the winter. It hasn’t been that many years since that arrangement was the norm for most of the folks living in this country.
Some of the homeless people living under the bridges and overpasses who are being evicted by the City of Birmingham seem to have the same spirit of Independence and the American dream as Howard did. Sadly, if they are made to move every year or two, most will never be able to make as much progress or improvements for having to tear down and start all over again.
There is no doubt that homeless people who are even as fortunate as Howard live a difficult life. Even still, in a way, they actually seem to come closer to the American dream of freedom and Independence than other so called “responsible” people do. It isn’t my intention to start a debate over what is responsible and what isn’t in this story — suffice it to say, however, that there are many homeless people who are quite responsible, and go about there life in a manner that is as socially prudent as they are allowed.
But I have to ask, in this great country of freedom and liberty, where big brother now reigns supreme, privacy is non-existent, public surveillance is incessant, tracking devices follow you in your car and on your cell phone, background checks reveal virtually everything about you, without a chance for refute, etc. ad nauseam — are we really being responsible to the idea of the American dream for ourselves and the legacy we leave for the generations to come?