Braving the cold isn't a choiceLouie Bing and Sid Vicious are at home on the streets
As much as frigid temperatures become the talk of the town when temperatures dip into the teens, few people experience the depth of the cold as those who are homeless.
Louis Bing, known to most as "Louie," has become somewhat of a fixture in Waynesville and is often seen strolling down Main Street or wandering through Frog Level.
The only company he keeps is his dog, Sid Vicious, who always trails close behind, (and whose sweet demeanor is anything but vicious.)
Those who encounter Bing on a cold winter day, may not realize he is homeless. The quiet, friendly 65-year old appears well-kempt and merely dressed for an outdoor outing.
But for the past eight years, the streets and backroads of Waynesville have been Bing's only home.
He avoids sleeping under bridges and places frequented by the other "street homeless" as he puts it. He's a loner who prefers his own company.
When the bitter cold winds begin to whip through Waynesville, he's learned to find shelter where he can.
Though he spent some nights at the Haywood Christian Emergency Shelter when it first opened five years ago, he isn't a fan of the strict rules and regulations.
"It's all really just an arm in a police state," he said. "You go in there so you don't freeze to death and next thing you know could get arrested."
He spent five years living in a barn near Frog Level, but it burned down about two years ago.
During the past couple of months, Bing took up residence in the building on Howell Mill Road that was once the popular Maggie's Galley restaurant. The historic parts of the building were taken apart and only a portion of the building remains.
But thieves were making away with copper and metal, so Bing made an offer to the building caretaker to watch over the place if he could have permission to live there temporarily.
"Jesus was born in a stable, you know. Shelter is shelter," he said on a cold day in early January, pointing toward his makeshift home.
Inside the former restaurant, the temperature was only a couple degrees warmer than the 13-degrees outside, but the wooden slats were protection against the freezing wind. In return for the shelter, he said he did work on the building and property.
Bing had made the room as cozy as possible, with an area rug between two couches covered with blankets, books on a coffee table and places where his meager possessions were neatly stacked.He even strung some orange Christmas along the ceiling and turned on a radio sitting on a shelf. In a back room, he set up a makeshift bed on the floor with several more blankets.
Sid Vicious searched through some trash as a couple rats scurried across the floor, but Bing said the rodents never bother him.
"Live and let live," he said with a smile.
Bing hasn't always been homeless. He spent the majority of his life living normally and eventually marrying, raising two daughters and sending them off to college. But a bitter divorce followed by a series of other circumstances put him out on the streets with nowhere to go.
Walking next to the river one day following his divorce and sulking about his life, he had an enlightening experience.
He recalled thinking, "Louie, this is the first time in 30 years that you've been free," he said, laughing.
He wistful about losing touch with his two daughters — and about his grandchildren he's never met. But he's since come to terms with his new lifestyle and is almost thankful that he's seen the other side of life.
"How many people get to live two lives in one lifetime?" he said.
But being homeless is certainly not glamorous.
"It's not like I applied for the job," he said.
He's often hungry and during the bitter temperatures this winter, it's been tough staying warm.
Bing will turn 66 in March and collects about $350 each month in Social Security, and when he became eligible for Medicare, the government began deducting $100 a month from that amount. The remaining $250 doesn't cover all his expenses, but Bing said there are a number of people who help out.
He gets food when he can, and sometimes goes hungry, but said he always makes sure his dog is well-fed. In the mornings, he often goes to Burger King to wash up in the bathroom and grab breakfast, if he has money.
He's skeptical of most people and organizations, and seldom frequents the Open Door where breakfast and lunch are served daily to those without other means.
"I've been arrested 16 times in eight years and I've never committed a crime in this town," he said, adding that in most cases, they are trespassing charges.
He helps other "street homeless" when he can, allowing them to stay with him if he is able to find shelter. Bing can't put a number on how many people are living on the streets in Waynesville, but he's sure there are many, many more who don't have a home and manage to stay with friends and family.
But there are still random acts of kindness from strangers and friends that help him get by.
Many people have also helped take care of his dog's previous vet bills and one couple sometimes brings him bones to chew on.
"It's amazing how much kindness and generosity there really is out there," he said.
Though he gets offers to stay with other people, he often declines.
"People are all having hard times themselves. I'm not going to impose myself on anybody. I just don't want to bother anyone. I'm not their problem," he said.
Bing was recently told that he must vacate the building that he's been calling home, and he's not quite sure where he will go next. But he doesn't seem too worried about it. Despite his hardships, he still manages to see the positive side of life.
"It's amazing when you have nothing to find out how much you have and how blessed your life is," he said. "Basically, I'm surprised I'm not dead, really.