Shantytown good, but not the real deal

Jay Lively

While hundreds of Western students slept outside Wednesday night during an annual fund raiser for homelessness, Marvin Potocki was grateful he had a warm place inside.

But on Friday, the New York native found himself on the streets once again when the friend he was living with was evicted from Carriage Hill apartments.

Potocki’s faded baseball cap and full gray beard protected him from the chilly night air last Friday as he sat outside Baker Boy’s on College Street. A tan coat and long pants hid his gaunt 6-foot, 1-inch frame.

He tore the filter off a Menthol USA Gold cigarette and wondered where he would be sleeping that night.

Around midnight Potocki found an abandoned camper off College Street.

He decided to crash there.

“It was cold and sort of short,” he said.

One night in a box

About 350 students gathered at DUC North Lawn during Shantytown, an event that heightens awareness for homelessness and raises money for Habitat For Humanity. They laughed, lingered and listened to the Muckrakers.

As the cold, night air teased wintertime, they warmed their hands at the fire and snuggled in their makeshift cardboard shelters.

Heather Crawford, coordinator for Housing and Residence Life, organized Shantytown. She was elated with the outcome.

“We raised over $700,” Crawford said. “We’re very pleased with how everything went.”

Louisville senior Amy Nichter said events like Shantytown are positive for college students.

“So many of us in college don’t realize that there are people who really do live in the streets,” Nichter said.

Potocki’s reality

“A couple of months ago, I was paying $200 a month for an apartment,” Potocki said in his clippy northern accent. “But then it burned down with all my stuff inside. I lost a lot.”

Originally from Utica, N.Y., Potocki, 56, said he has no family in Kentucky. Most of his friends aren’t around anymore.

In the past, he has slept in odd places – a friend’s couch, the woods, a vacant lot, an old camper.

At the beginning of the month, Potocki’s friend, Bill Johnson of Bowling Green, let him move into his one-bedroom apartment in exchange for some rent and a little work.

On Friday night, Johnson and Potocki found themselves out on the streets once again.

“I’m very distraught now,” Potocki said. “I had my rent paid and the food stamps were in the apartment. The friends I’ve stayed with before aren’t around, so I don’t I have a place to stay. I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do.”

Downward spiral

Potocki said his problems started while driving taxis in New York City for eight years. During that time, he said he wrote music and played in rock ‘n’ roll bands.

“I played with Steven Tyler a couple of times,” Potocki said. “I became a casual user of drugs when I played in rock bands like that. You try to relive those moments of the past and then you’re disappointed. You just get depressed. You say, ‘the next time it’ll make me happy.’ It’s a never ending cycle. They always let you down.”

While in New York City, Potocki was diagnosed with depressed schizophrenia. He blamed the breakdown on the stress of driving cabs.

Potocki went into a mental hospital for four months and then moved to Rochester, N.Y., where he lived in a group home for seven years.

“I felt like I had gotten things back together, so I moved back to New York in 1991 and tried to drive cabs, but everything had changed,” Potocki said. “So I migrated to Nashville and thought I’d play some music.”

When the music business didn’t work out, Potocki found himself in a mission home and ready to head back to New York.

“I hitched a ride here and got a job at McDonald’s on my way North,” he said. “I ended up in the fast food industry for a while and learned to cook real good. I got seven raises while I was working. Then I got cancer.”

Potocki said he’s been on disability since January 2001, but it took six months before he was able to receive benefits after not being able to work.

“You can see how circumstances can cause you to be homeless all of the sudden,” he said. “Everything fell apart just by inordinate circumstances. It just ended up in a big mess. Not because of anything I did.”

Potocki acknowledges that his mental condition and drug usage have caused him hardships.

“Sometimes (depression) leads me to make the wrong decisions,” he said. “You tend to make decisions to get you out of your depressed mood.”

He said drugs have made it difficult for him to function in society at times.

Hope for the problem

Although he said Shantytown isn’t an accurate representation of homelessness, he said it is a step in the right direction.

“It’s a problem that needs to be addressed,” he said. “There should be a place, a way and a means to get people back on their feet, no matter what the cause is. They mentally fall apart because of all the strife. They can’t keep it together in this fast-paced world. Society just beats them down. It’s all based on competition.”

After the World Series game ended Saturday night, Potocki broke another filter off his cigarette and lit it before leaving the bar.

He wasn’t sure where he would sleep that night.