DESTIN — Off and on since the start of this year, Brad Roberson has slept in a tent pitched on sand that’s as white as the famous Gulf-front beaches a mere half-mile away.
“It’s temporary,” Brad, a 45-year-old native of Birmingham, Alabama, said of his campsite.
It’s next to more than a dozen other makeshift homes for numerous other homeless people in Destin. The woods containing the camps have many dunes and winding trails and tons of debris.
If all of the trash was removed, the area would be a pleasant place to visit, like the beach scene that’s painted on a nearby water tower.
After lighting a cigarette and pulling on a shirt, Brad shared how he ended up in the woods.
“My roommates stomped me to death,” he said of a handful of former friends he used to live with in a house in Destin.
The beating he received last New Year’s Eve, he said, left him with seven broken ribs and other injuries. Brad said they also stole his clothes and some other belongings.
“I couldn’t move my left arm for six weeks” after being attacked, he said. “I haven’t been able to work until recently. I refuse to be around piece-of-(expletive) people anymore, and there’s a lot of them in Destin.”
Brad once was married and worked for a major cable company. He said he’s single now because of his heavy workload, and then was unable to work for a while after suffering an aneurysm.
While he has mostly lived in his tent since being beaten by his roommates, Brad occasionally has been able to stay with friends in the area. He said he doesn’t like to impose on other people, however.
“This isn’t ideal” he said of his place in the woods. “But I’m blessed. I have people to talk to. Many of the other people out here have no one.”
Brad, who lately has been working at a fast-food restaurant, said he has talked with Homelessness and Housing Alliance officials about getting permanent housing.
He rides his bicycle to his job and to get food from the Blue Door Ministry at St. Andrew’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church. The ministry is supported in part by the nonprofit group Others of Destin.
Eventually, Brad wants to work for DirecTV. He said the biggest challenge of being homeless is “the mental aspect of it,” like when he compares his tent to the real homes he has lived in.
Brad said people should try to get to know homeless individuals on a case-by-case basis and give them money if they can. He understands why some people are wary, though.
Just the day before, he said, other homeless people asked him to buy them alcohol.