During David Schumaker’s second bout with homelessness, he chose a regular spot to solicit donations at Rundberg Lane and North Lamar Boulevard.
Schumaker usually asked for a quarter — he still keeps the hand-made sign: “25¢ … God bless.”
An elderly Hispanic couple always gave him some money.
“On Sunday mornings, they started handing me food,” says Schumaker, who now supervises the sexton crew at St. David’s Episcopal Church downtown. “Then they took me home to feed me. I still keep in contact with them today. They used to always tell me, ‘Why are you out there? You don’t belong out there.’”
It’s not as if those who encountered him on the streets didn’t reach out to Schumaker, 53, during the years he lived out of his car. It took the right combination of attention from individuals and groups, however, to usher him to the point where he now works as a custodial supervisor at his church; lives up the street in Capitol Studios, a complex built and operated by the nonprofit Foundation Communities; and serves on the board of directors for the Trinity Center, which serves the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of people experiencing homelessness and is one of the groups that stood by Schumaker’s side for so long.
He’ll be there when the center holds its annual benefit, the Barbara Jordan Celebration, on April 24 in Bethel Hall at St. David’s church.
“The Trinity Center was like the planter for a plant,” says Schumaker, who grew up in Cedar Park. “I got seeded and started to grow. I grew strong, and after all the things we've done together, I've bloomed. Everything before was God's work to prepare me for here.”
Back during his Cedar Park youth, Schumaker was something of a free spirit. That made him a boon companion to some but a feckless associate to others.
He grew up the youngest of seven children in the family of Joseph Schumaker, a now-deceased contractor, and Elsie Stiles Schumaker, a now-deceased homemaker. One of his brothers also died.
Still lithe and quick, he remembers being an outdoorsy kid who played football through sophomore year in high school in the Leander school district.
“I didn’t get to play very much,” he recalls. “I was way small. One coach, Eric Miller, believed in me. He’d let me play.”
He enjoyed school up to a point, but he skipped out of it a lot.
“We’d go steal liquor or beer, then go down to the San Gabriel River,” Schumaker says. “Back then we didn't have electronics. We had to make our own fun. I'm still relieved when I leave my phone at home. There's so much freedom without it.”
Searching for direction, he signed up for the Navy on a delayed entry program three months before he graduated from high school.
“My mother always said, ‘Do something good with your life,” Schumaker recalls with a visible cringe. “She was at the VFW Hall playing bingo, and I said, ‘Mom, you’ll never guess: I joined the Navy.’ She said, ‘Why did you go do something stupid like that?’”
Schumaker found himself in trouble in the service.
“By the time I was discharged from the active military in 1987, I was busted all the way down to E1 boatswain’s mate,” he admits. “I lost my way mentally. I self-medicated.”
Back in Cedar Park in his 20s, Schumaker delivered furniture and held down other jobs but was still adrift.
“A lot of it is a blur,” he says. “I remember meeting up with an old childhood sweetheart at Kmart. We moved in together. She’s the mother of my three children — Crystal, Russell and Sarah. They are all doing fairly well. They are still my kids even though we are not together.”
By 2000, the responsibilities of adulthood and fatherhood were too much for the periodically undependable Schumaker.
“This was my first time on the streets,” he says. “It seemed life was too hard — job, bills, kids. I was tired of listening to all the directions about what I should or should not be doing.”
He camped in his car and stayed away from far North Austin and, in his words, “ran the streets.” A friend placed him into Alcoholics Anonymous, and he moved back in with his parents.
Things looked up for a time, and he began to take charge of his life and give back.
“It was good,” he says. “I started framing houses. Money was rolling in again. I felt good about myself. Both of my parents had dementia, and I was taking care of them. We promised them we wouldn’t put them in a nursing home, and I was the primary caretaker. Thank God for the hospice people.”
Several months after both his parents died in 2013, he was forced to vacate his parents' house. So Schumaker was back to living in his Lincoln Town Car.
This time, a firm sequence of help reached him.
A social worker with Veterans Affairs secured him a place in a veterans shelter off East Riverside Drive. He landed a job working at a University of Texas dormitory. Even there, he wore his favorite Texas A&M University gear.
“I’m a self-proclaimed Aggie,” he says. “When I was a Cub Scout, I’d show people to their seats at games. I saw just one A&M game at age 10 and it made me an Aggie fan.”
His luck continued to improve.
“My caseworker said, ‘Get your stuff together. We got you an apartment,’” Schumaker says of the midrise Capitol Studios on East 11th and Trinity streets. Always interested in art, he was invited into Art From the Streets, a nonprofit group that uses the Trinity Center three afternoons a week for studio work.
At the center, those experiencing homelessness are called neighbors. Schumaker became one of the few neighbors to volunteer at the same place where he had received services. He worked the kitchen on Fridays.
“I started out as the popcorn man,” he says, “and I moved up. It’s funny how the Trinity staff gets to you. No matter how good you are at something, they tell you, you are very good.”
Schumaker was getting better at art, too, and his pieces sold well during Art From the Streets’ sales. Irit Umani, the charismatic director of Trinity Center, saw even more possibilities in him.
“She asked, ‘Could you work a couple more days a week?’” Schumaker recalls. “She took me to the St. David’s maintenance supervisor. After a very short interview, I walked out with a ring of keys.”
Being around St. David’s often as sexton supervisor also meant the opportunity to join the church’s spiritual community.
“I was thinking about coming to church,” he says. “I wanted to be nondenominational about it. I never read the Bible forward to back. I started going to church here, became a member and found in-house sponsors here. I was baptized last year. I slept through two confirmations, though. Never made it.”
Schumaker is also the first of the Trinity Center’s neighbors to join its board of directors.
“They asked if would be interested. At first I said, ‘No, I have too much already,'” he says. “Then I thought, to be an advocate for the neighbors, that appealed to me. They wanted a lot more input from me. Not just sit there. I’ve had good times and bad times with the neighbors, but I always look for the good.”
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