Formerly homeless man adjusts to apartment living in Ogden

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Doug Harding is conducting a tour of his tiny apartment.

“I found this in a dumpster,” he said, pointing to a coffee table in the center of the living room/dining room/kitchen. “I found that in a dumpster, too.” he said, pointing to the wall. “Can you believe somebody threw out a Grateful Dead flag?”

Benjamin Zack
Doug Harding prepares chicken in his kitchen in March in Ogden. Harding was waiting for a trip to the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank to restock his kitchen. (Associated Press)

As he works his way around the three-room apartment, it quickly becomes apparent virtually everything he owns is something somebody didn’t want, the Standard-Examiner reported.

“Most of it comes from either a dumpster or (Deseret Industries),” he said.

Harding is proudest of his armoire, which holds his television and DVD player.

“I have an armoire,” he said with a grin. “I can’t even spell armoire, but I have one.”

When last we saw Doug Harding, he had just gone from long-term homeless person to apartment-dweller. Harding was so unaccustomed to housing that at first he pitched his tent in the bedroom and dragged the mattress in there.

The tent is now packed away in a closet.

“I kept it up for about a week and a half,” he said.

Benjamin Zack
Doug Harding heads to Marshall White Park in January in Ogden. Harding said he enjoyed the hobo life for decades, but began thinking of settling down when a fellow train rider asked him if he was still going to be riding the rails at 75. (Associated Press)

Harding, 57, spent nearly three decades as a hobo nicknamed “Boy Scout,” hopping freight trains and living in a tent. But in January, the Weber Housing Authority — working with the Cooperative Agreement to Benefit Homeless Individuals — helped get Harding into an apartment using something called Shelter Plus Care, a state program for the chronically homeless with disabilities. Harding’s disability relates to a substance abuse problem.

Now nearly two months later, Harding is still successfully housed in the Highland Apartments. He admits it’s taken some time getting used to.

“It don’t feel quite like home yet,” he said. “I’m scared to get comfortable, because then you get hit.”

Hit with an eviction notice, for breaking one of the many rules in assisted housing. One lapse in judgment, and Harding could find himself back out on the streets. It’s already happened to a number of his hobo friends.

Laura Peters, Harding’s case manager with Weber Housing Authority, said the formerly homeless man is doing “great” in his new surroundings.

Benjamin Zack
On Jan. 15, 2016, Doug Harding smokes a cigarette in downtown Ogden as he waits to hear about a possible apartment that he could move into. (Associated Press)

“He’s told me, ‘If I’m going to do “housed” right, I’m going to do it up good,'” Peters said. “He’s so compliant. I really appreciate it.”

Unlike many others trying to get off the streets, Harding hasn’t allowed others in the homeless community to take advantage of him.

“Doug knows the routine,” she said. “We have a lot of folks who come on the program and tend to be swayed by those on the outside. Doug sees them coming.”

He’s placed a hand-lettered cardboard sign in the front window that reads, simply: “If you’re high, good-bye.” Another cardboard sign on the front door reads, “If u can’t help — then stay out of my way. Fair warning.”

Harding said he’s trying to avoid getting sucked down again.

“I don’t want to go back to being homeless,” he said.

Harding’s compliance has come at a cost. He said he’s been slowly weeding out the “plastic people,” so-called friends who only want to “glomp” onto you and drag you down.

Benjamin Zack
Doug Harding smokes a cigarette on the balcony in front of his apartment two days after moving in January in Ogden. Harding compares the experience of looking for an apartment to a donkey chasing a carrot on a string and finally catching it. (Associated Press)

“I lost all my friends,” Harding said. “People are stealing my stuff. I lost my bathrobe, I’ve had my silverware stolen, they’ve taken my Tupperware bowls.”

They’ll ask if they can stay, if they can bring their troubles into his apartment. And when he refuses, they accuse him, saying “Boy Scout sure changed when he got his place.”

Harding reckons that’s partly true.

“I’m starting to get more cold to people,” he said. “I was happy-go-lucky when I was homeless, ’cause I had nothing to lose. But now … ”

Harding spends a lot of time alone. He goes to the library and rents videos, or better yet, finds them in dumpsters. He’s spending a lot more time alone.

“I’m starting to re-find solitude as a friend.”

Harding admits he’s lonely in his new life, but he’s also a bit angry.

“I thought this (being housed) would open me up to a new class of friends, but it’s done nothing but shut doors,” he said.

Benjamin Zack
Doug Harding watches the movie “Young Guns” at his apartment in Ogden in March. After decades of homelessness, Harding moved into his apartment in January. He regularly picks up stacks of DVDs from the library as he waits for the weather to warm up and landscaping work to begin. (Associated Press)

And yet, ironically, Harding said the one thing he misses most about homelessness is the privacy.

“I don’t like the noisiness of living too close to other people,” he said of apartment living. “I can hear voices through the vent. That’s the only thing I miss about being in (a) camp — I’m too close to people here.”

Eventually, Harding hopes his transition to upstanding member of the community includes finding an old GMC pickup truck — with a trailer — and running his own lawn-care business. But first? He’s looking to exercise his civic duty for the first time in a very long time.

“I need to register to vote,” Harding said. “I really like what Donald Trump is saying.”

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