First, the good news: Gypsy has a place to live. The bad news: Many of his friends still do not.
Gary "Gypsy" Susich became an advocate for the homeless after losing his job of 30 years to an Iowa plant closing. He sold his home in Wapello and moved to Davenport about two years ago. But hard times got harder, and Gypsy found himself with no place to go. For the first time in his life — at almost 60 — he spent his days on the streets and his nights in shelters.
His advocacy came slowly, beginning with reality-laced poems he wrote and read at open mic sessions.
Encouraged by the way his words were received, Gypsy began doing his homework. As his life experiences tipped toward darker and colder days, he searched out ways to help the new friends who were living as he was — with nothing. He knocked on doors, sent emails, researched homeless bills of rights in other states and organized roundtable discussions in a meeting room at a Davenport church.
At the first meeting, mostly other homeless people showed up.
On Tuesday, The Center at St. John's United Methodist Church filled with several dozen people, including members of the Iowa House of Representatives, the Davenport Diocese, a member of the Scott County Board of Supervisors and Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba.
"I, myself, just eight days ago, got an apartment," Gypsy told the crowd, which erupted into applause. "For two years, I was homeless, and I still feel I am one of them."
He then vowed to continue to push for federal and state funding to help educate, train and find work for the unemployed or underemployed and to direct more resources to the mentally ill, including many homeless veterans.
"Judge us for who we are, not what we are," he urged. "There are too many harsh generalities. I ask you in any way that can be done: Help the homeless. I'm not asking for new buildings. There are plenty of vacant buildings. Let's research that. Let's take care of our citizens."
Gypsy's words fell on sympathetic ears.
"This issue, homelessness, can happen to anyone," said Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf. "We need to take care of each other. That's our charge. We lose nothing by lifting each other up."
She said her job in the Statehouse is all about service, adding the best way to serve is to continue to fund education and housing and elderly-assistance programs. She also predicted homelessness will worsen.
Gluba agreed, garnering several rounds of applause for his plain-spoken assessments.
"Let's cut to the chase: People are homeless because they don't have enough money," the mayor said. "The solution, in many cases, is jobs. The biggest challenge is jobs, so put people to work."
He said the federal government should consider a jobless program similar to President Franklin Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. The WPA hired several million unemployed citizens to complete public works and other projects throughout the country, beginning in 1935.
"Congress should appropriate money ... for programs like the WPA," Gluba said. "I could find thousands of jobs for people in Davenport. Just think of the streets work we could do."
He said the tax code also would have to be rewritten, so the nation's top earners pay more in taxes, which then could be redistributed.
"There's such a gap between the people at the top and the bottom, it's immoral and wrong," he said. "What this country needs is a more even distribution of income, power and wealth."
Anne Wachal, executive director of Churches United of the Quad-City Area, added that money would be one motivator for an expanded federal jobs program, but on-the-job training would be a considerable benefit, too.
"Churches United has 25 food pantries," she said. "Imagine if we could hire 25 pantry coordinators who could learn organizational skills."
Barry Gallagher, an outreach coordinator with Vera French Community Mental Health Center, pointed out the annual budget for the Project to Assist in Transition from Homelessness, PATH, has been locked at $300,000 since he started with the program 19 years ago. While jobs would help many homeless people, he said, the disabled and mentally ill also need help.
Gypsy said he regarded the meeting as the next step in keeping open a conversation about homelessness.
"We're more productive as a team," he said at the close of Tuesday's meeting. "Contact your legislators. Unless you talk to them, they don't know what's going on."