Most people recognize Butch Maxwell, 53, of Portsmouth, as the man who sits with his dogs and shopping cart panhandling, but few know what his life is like once he goes home. Maxwell is one of several of the City’s homeless to set up a shelter made of whatever he could salvage along the Scioto River behind Bob of Floyd’s Tires. This is where he has called home for the past two years.
“As far as I know, I’m one of the longest ones to stay down here in this area,” Maxwell stated as he stood with his dirty fingers sticking out through fingerless gloves clasping a makeshift fence that keeps his dogs in the yard. His pants and shirt were dirty and tattered, and the remainder of his laundry hung on the fence.
Maxwell’s home consists of several tents and structures made of scraps of wood and metal. Each is a separate living area, serving different functions. There is even a tent that Maxwell is specifically preparing for winter that is better insulated and provides and sturdier windbreak. He also has lights strung around the entire encampment, music that is shared with all residents, a television, several space heaters and a refrigerator. Maxwell has three to four generators, which are used to run some basic necessities. He also has another three that are being repaired, which he is still trying to pay for.
His “yard” is the first among several that wind into the woods along the running water. Maxwell explained that staying down there means preparing for the weather and flooding of the river, which has destroyed several tents. Two dogs, Rain and Shadow, play in the center of the muddy plot of land, and chickens that Maxwell uses for eggs can be seen in the distance. Along the fence, a few struggling tomato plants provide food for the community. Other food sources come from donations, items the community members gather at food pantries and what food they must buy.
At any given time up to a dozen people are living in this community segregated from the other residents of Portsmouth.
“Last winter, I had about eight people because when it becomes winter time nobody’s got nowhere to go, and I try to help people,” Maxwell commented.
He added that he had to force some to leave for stealing and using drugs.
“People want to steal so they can do drugs, so you have that,” Maxwell stated.
There are currently about half a dozen homeless at the camp. Each goes out during the day to make money through panhandling or scrapping or goes out and visits pantries for food. They then share what resources they have gathered.
“I get up everyday and take the dogs to the corner,” Maxwell explained about how he makes money. “I sit at the BMV everyday to try to make a few dollars. I try to take whatever I make and put back for tools and things I need down here. I’m lucky to make three or four dollars a day.”
Maxwell was having a particularly good day because he had just made $6. In addition to tools and repairing generators, he also has to buy fuel. It cost $15 to run a generator all day, he explained. He also added that the community is very helpful, bringing down blankets and food for him and his dogs.
“They got plenty of food,” he stated. “They never run out.”
This old man, the found of a shantytown, says he first became homeless years ago after an issue with an ex-girlfriend. With a limited understanding of the law, he explained that he lived in a house until she would show up and take over. He stressed that if she got in the house, there was nothing he could do to make her leave without evicting her. He even says she would break in and refuse to go.
“Every time I get a place, my ex-girlfriend comes there,” he said, getting a bit frazzled. “Every time, she comes and says she lives there, and the police won’t make her get out,and then I have to leave to get away from her. So, I established myself down here, and the police know it, and she ain’t welcome here, and the police won’t let her come here.”
He added that he lives in such conditions because she does not want to live with nothing down by the river. Maxwell lives in these conditions despite numerous physical and mental health issues. He endures the weather in his work and home life, a struggle he endures with blindness in one eye. Prior to being homeless, Maxwell spent much of his life working in the food service industry – a job his health problems prevent him from doing any longer. Now, all he has in the world is his two dogs and the homeless who come and go from the tent city.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.