"My main problem," Dan Schooley told me when I met him for the second time in October, "is that I need a job."
Simple enough, but not simple.
Approaching his 31st birthday, Schooley looks to be, if not older, at least someone for whom none of the years have been easy. Soon after graduating from high school in New Jersey, he says, he left home and lived in his car for six months or a year.
"My mom ..." he said, his voice trailing off. He mumbled something about his parents fighting.
He's been homeless, on and off, since, he says. At one point, he had a full-time job, but he lost it after he didn't show up to work one day when it was pouring rain. Not long after, he was badly injured, suffering multiple fractures, when a car ran into him on his bicycle.
He's developing a hearing problem and needs glasses for near-sightedness (he lost his last pair two years ago, he says). At 140 pounds, Schooley is 20 pounds underweight, likely the result of eating just two meals a day—lunch at a church soup kitchen, dinner at the Salvation Army.
Four years in Raleigh, and he's never found full-time work. Many days, he panhandles downtown or tries to sell his drawings, except when he runs out of money, as was the case that day, to buy art supplies.
On the good side, he has worked a string of day-labor jobs, mainly for a landscaper and as a clean-up man on construction crews. He's also washed dishes in restaurants. Before coming to Raleigh, he lived in Florida, where he had steady work, including on a horse farm, before hurricanes slammed the economy.
Schooley gave up drinking five years ago, he says. "Not necessarily a problem, but I didn't want it to be a problem."
His goal now is to secure a full-time landscaping job or restaurant work. "I need to find a job," he says again. "Get a place, get a car, and get my life back together."
Since we first talked several months ago, Schooley has been assigned a case manager at Cornerstone, Wake County's non-residential center for homeless services and referrals located between downtown Raleigh and N.C. State University. His case manager wants him to fill out the paperwork for a possible housing placement, he says.
But Schooley doesn't automatically qualify for a bed at the South Wilmington Street Center, the county's residential facility. Most beds there—about 150 of the 250 total—are reserved for men in several programs (one for veterans like his friends Joe Donovan and Gary Smith) that require participants to get a job, save money and—after a fixed amount of time—move out.
Schooley has been in the programs, but never was able to find a job. He says that he didn't get much help looking for one. On top of that, he claims, he has enemies in the center who pick fights with him. Then he gets kicked out, which, he acknowledges, happens frequently.
Schooley could try to enroll in a program again, but as a past participant, the rules mandate he would have just five weeks to get work—with one extension—before he'd be required to leave again.
The only way it would make sense for him to re-enroll, he adds without irony, is if he can find a job first.
So when Schooley wants to stay the night at the center, he must enter a lottery drawing for the non-designated beds. Some nights, demand is heavy; some nights it isn't. (On cold nights, the center opens its cafeteria and takes all comers.)
When we talked, Schooley was sleeping outdoors instead, in a place he described only in general terms as a 20-minute walk from downtown and in the woods. He'd paired up with a woman who needed him to protect her, he said. Along with his own sack of belongings, he was carrying her clothes in a second sack.
He wasn't sleeping well, however. He hasn't for the last year, he told me. "I toss and turn. Can't get comfortable."