“I assumed I would probably freeze to death at some point,” Jones said this week. “I was living on the fringe of society, and I had given up on the future.”
Jones credits the caring and generosity of several persistent members of the community in helping him get his life back on track.
Sara Melnicoff, through her Solutions of Moab group, began working with Jones and many other homeless residents living along the in-town parkway system, offering them food and a small wage for helping to pick up recycling and garbage along the trail. Melnicoff said she became acquainted with many of the parkway camp residents and began a mission to help them find ways to learn how to live a different life. Jones was one of those people.
Before coming to Moab, Jones lived in Detroit, Mich. with his wife and four children. A self-proclaimed workaholic at the time, he was an engineer in the automotive industry, often working 60 hours or more a week. He said he always struggled with alcohol abuse, but the problem worsened after he and his wife divorced.
“The first time I saw Moab, there was nothing here. I thought it looked like a John Wayne movie,” Jones said. “I started coming out here year after year and just decided to stay.”
Jones has been in Moab for 26 years. He worked a number of odd jobs in town when he first arrived, including housekeeping and winterizing swamp coolers.
“There wasn’t much work in the winter. It was catch-as-catch-can as far as work,” Jones said. “I considered myself a desert dog, just camping out. I didn’t really consider myself homeless at that time. My problems with alcohol were a detriment to my keeping a job, though. So, I just joined the creek people.”
Jones said it became more difficult to find camping spots after Moab city passed a law outlawing camping within city limits, and finding places to stay was far more difficult. Winters were hard without a fire, and Jones said he often set up a tent inside a tent to fight the elements. He said the main issue was trying to stay warm and alive. Several of his friends who lived along the parkway have died from exposure to the elements.
Jones has spent the last 10 years living along the parkway, involved in a community of people who struggle with a number of addictions, including alcohol. He said his daily routine involved getting up early and getting coffee and something to eat if he had food stamps left.
“A lot of us down there are very heavy drinkers, because you basically have no life outside of that,” said Jones, who explained that many of the homeless people he knows use alcohol to cope with the loneliness that comes from feeling unwanted. “People don’t want you around because you’ve got that ‘homeless look,’” he said.
“There is a big misunderstanding that we are panhandlers or looking to steal from you, but most of us are afraid of the elements and defending ourselves. It can be dangerous out there,” said Jones. “We are very marginalized by society, but it doesn’t take much to help someone when you see them and make a difference.”
Since working with Melnicoff, Jones has begun attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has moved into a roommate living situation with another man from the parkway community. He said he continues to help with the parkway cleanup and with other endeavors, such as the Quiet Lawn Care Company, started by Melnicoff and Moab resident David Morgan, where members of the homeless community do yard work. They receive a wage for the work they do, and Jones is now able to be more self-sufficient because of that.
Jones said he hopes to be able to reconnect with his children, who live in various parts of the country. He says the help he has received has given him hope again, and he looks forward to being able to reclaim parts of his life that he lost, including making art through drawing and painting.
“I’m in recovery and I fight it every day,” Jones said. “I’m trying to get back to work, and I’m trying to get back to being a more productive member of society.”