It was 7:30 Wednesday morning, sunny and a little cool, when homeless people started emerging from the woods at Head of Falls off Front Street in Waterville.

A man was pushing a grocery cart packed with belongings, and a woman in white pants was walking alongside him as they headed for Temple Street downtown.

A lone young man with a bike and carrying a bag of empty bottles came out, crossed the railroad tracks and started climbing the concrete steps from the parking lot to Front Street.

He told me his name is Clifford Perkins and he was on his way to Discovery House, a clinic that treats people with opioid addiction on Airport Road, to get his medication, Suboxone.

“I’ve been in Waterville one and a half weeks,” he said. “I was living in Albion and my truck broke down — the front brakes on my truck broke down — and I came out here because I have doctors out here. Today, every Wednesday, I have to be at Discovery House.”

He explained that it was impossible to live in Albion with no vehicle and make it to his doctors’ appointments in Waterville, so he had to come to the city, even if it meant sleeping on the riverbank. He had a job roofing from November until just recently and never missed a day of work, but had a toothache and wasn’t able to sleep for three nights and couldn’t get to work on time and his boss thought he was out partying all night, he said.

Actually, he was a hard worker and said he works harder than most people, but at some point he gets stressed out when he has a job and ends up leaving. He has been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, extreme anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, and he said he suffered massive head trauma in a car accident in 2005, when he also suffered broken ribs and a dislocated collarbone, he said.

“I know I need to work and make money — I know it. I can’t just live out here and scrounge. People can do that, but what the hell’s the sense of that? I see people buying beer and sitting down and drinking and not working, and I can’t do that.”

Perkins, 34, acknowledged his life is complicated. He grew up in the Portland suburbs as the youngest of 10 children. His father died of lung cancer when perkins was 10, and he suffered a lot of anxiety when he was in school but never got help for it.

“If I was in front of the class at my desk, I felt weird, like people were looking at me. I was up all night. I never saw a doctor until I actually went to prison for thefts and burglaries. Because of the car crash, I got deep into drugs because of body pain. I just couldn’t help it and got hooked on drugs. The sad thing is that it only takes a week to get it all out of your system. You toss and turn and sweat it out. With drug addiction, it’s sad to say, being locked up can help you.”

Perkins dropped out of school when he was young and started working when he was in the seventh grade, he said. His anxiety was so bad in school that he didn’t want to be there. He had in-school suspensions all the time — like, three times a week, he said.

“I never did my homework. I couldn’t concentrate. I should have stayed in school, definitely. I was hanging out with friends and started stealing cars and breaking into places and we started doing Vicodin. You know how it is when you don’t have drugs. We started doing heroin. When you’re doing that stuff, you feel like crap and you don’t care what you do. My first prison sentence was two and a half years.”

He got out and then went back to prison. He got out and went back again — serving a total of nine and a half years for the three times he was incarcerated, he said. While in prison, he got his General Educational Development diploma and studied languages, including Russian and Chinese, as well as business, marketing and other subjects, he said.

When he got out the last time, in November 2017, he went to Albion because his mother’s stepfather had heart problems and he helped do the shoveling and other work, he said.

“I have no problem getting jobs. But it’s kind of mental issues, in a way, that block me from doing it. I could go down and start working today. I’m supposed to be on different meds and I can’t afford them.”

He said he applied for MaineCare more than once but was denied. He goes to group counseling at Discovery House, eats at the Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen on Pleasant Street and Evening Sandwich Program at the Universalist Unitarian Church on Silver Street and walks everywhere. His feet got so sore from walking that he couldn’t make it to the churches to get meals, but fortunately, someone recently gave him an old bicycle.

Perkins said he doesn’t mind sleeping in the woods, but some people deserve to have a place to live.

“Like that woman pushing the shopping cart,” he said, motioning to the parking lot. “She’s mentally ill, but she’s a wicked nice person. People like that can’t work. They should have an apartment or something.”

Perkins said he wants to find a job he can keep and be able to go to his doctor and probation officer appointments and not have to skimp on his medicine. He vows he will not steal again. He used to think people who have cars also have money, but he learned that is not always the case.

“The last time I ever stole a vehicle, I remember looking in the glove box and the guy had negative $800 in his bank account. He was in a bad place himself, no insurance on the truck. When I saw that, I was like, “This guy’s having a hard time.’ I said, ‘I’m never going to steal anyone’s car anymore.'”

I asked him what he needs the most right now, to survive and get his life on track.

“Insurance, honestly,” he said. “Seriously. Insurance, so I can go to see the doctors and not worry about paying.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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