Climbing off the Streets, Part 7: Re-entering Society Is a Marathon with Hurdles

Climbing off the Streets, Part 7: Re-entering Society Is a Marathon with Hurdles
Dale Malone (left) and Leroy Conner (right) under a freeway bridge in Sharpstown.

Dale Malone has been waiting for the hard copy of his driver’s license for nearly three months.

It’s one of the many obstacles he must clear in his journey to get off the streets, which is less of a sprint and more of a marathon with hurdles. But getting his driver’s license would also be a springboard.

Leroy Conner knows. The 64-year-old used to sleep under the same freeway bridge as Dale, recycling construction materials for a living. But after getting his Texas ID in January, Leroy has finally got the government to approve him for a retirement check and Medicaid.

I’ve seen him off and on over the past month-and-a-half—he even came to church with me once—but he stopped answering his phone, which he said has been “acting up.”

On March 28, I finally tracked him down at the Gulfton storefront where he works night security and janitorial duty in return for temporary housing. Mop in hand, he said, “I think I’m on the right path.”

He and Dale have been tossing around the idea of getting an apartment together once Dale gets the hard copy of his driver’s license, opens a bank account, and connects it to his disability check. (Dale has a temporary paper copy of his license, but banks only accept the hard copy.)

But last time they saw each other, Dale was in one of his desperate moods. “I try to inspire him, but he isn’t responsive,” said Leroy.

He’s partly right. The repeated obstacles made Dale—and me—almost give up. It was hard enough getting the DPS to approve him for a replacement license, but waiting for the hard copy to show up in the mail has been frustrating.

The delays aren’t entirely the DPS’s fault. They’ve been amplified by Dale’s complicated situation (and arguably his personal choices too).

To get a photo ID in Texas, you need an address—a Catch-22 for homeless people, who can't get a residence address without a photo ID. But every Catch-22 has a workaround—for those who know the system, persevere, and ask the right people the right questions.

Dale received permission from the owner of a location near his bridge to have his ID mailed to her address. But every time he asked if she’d received it, she said no.

When we called the Texas DPS on February 15, the agent said that Dale’s license had been mailed out and returned by the Post Office. We later learned, from a different agent, that someone had mixed up two numbers when entering Dale's address. (I don’t think it was Dale, but I could be wrong.)

The first agent requested a new hard copy for Dale to be mailed out again—to the right address.

Cue the next waiting game.

This time, Dale had a hard time finding the property owner. His sleep schedule became skewed—he often woke up in the late afternoon and stayed awake till early morning—and COPD, headaches, and joint pain kept him from leaving his sleeping spot often. At least, those were some factors. As far as I could tell, he was also just losing motivation.

When he finally found the property owner, weeks after the second hard copy had been mailed, she said she still hadn’t seen it.

“I’m never going to get off the streets,” Dale told me one Sunday after church. “Once the streets have you, they won’t let you go.”

He stopped talking to people as often—same with eating and showering. He lost his charger, so his phone ran out of battery and all my calls went straight to his voicemail. But on March 24, he came to church with me again. By now, it had been over five weeks without the second hard copy showing up.

He had worse news: at a pawn shop, he took out his wallet and thought he put it back in his pocket. By the time he realized it wasn’t there, it was too late.

He'd lost some important phone numbers, the temporary paper copy of his license, and his METRO disability card—the county-issued photo ID that had helped him get his replacement driver’s license approved. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have much luck if we had to revisit the DPS.

But we had to try something. We planned to meet during the week and call the DPS again.

On March 26, I found him sitting on the curb next to the frontage road, Styrofoam cup in hand. We sat and talked for a while, then walked to Ginn’s Café for chicken enchiladas.

I dialed the DPS on speakerphone. While we waited on hold, Dale told me more about his wild life story—ranching, hunting boars, getting hooked on intravenous drugs in his twenties, rescuing people from a burning house, and running from panthers while living in the woods. I have to wonder how much was embellished, but Dale has a track record for brutal honesty—even when it's self-incriminating.

Finally, after about forty-five minutes, a DPS agent picked up. At first, she seemed a bit irritated that they had already mailed out two licenses and Dale hadn’t received either. She said the second was mailed on February 20 and hadn’t been returned by USPS. “You get one more remake...”


“…and it has to be sent in care of a friend or family member.”


If DPS just sent a third driver’s license to the same address, the same story would probably repeat. Now, we could get Dale’s license mailed to my address, in my care, and then I could give it to him. I already check my mail every day.

Dale agreed.

Even the DPS agent’s spirits seemed to brighten, and she thanked Dale for giving her something out of the ordinary to do. I guess her typical cases might get tedious.

She said the new hard copy would arrive in two to three weeks, and she emailed me a renewed temporary copy.

But she had some bad news—Dale will need to renew his driver’s license in December, and he can’t until he pays off eight tickets that he received in 2020 and 2021 for walking in the road while panhandling.

Taken aback, Dale said he only recalled getting two tickets. She told him to visit the DPS’s Failure to Appear website to see for himself.

One more hurdle. As we walked out of the café, Dale told me he plans to start paying off the tickets now so that he’s done by December.

At least this new hurdle won’t keep him from getting the hard copy of his current license, which hasn’t expired yet.

For now—again—we just have to wait.

Subscribe for free so you don't miss the next article in this series, where I follow Dale and Leroy in their quest to climb off the streets of Sharpstown.

Miss the first article in this series? Read it here.

Conflict of Interest Statement: It should be obvious, but I take a personal interest in this story. I've known Dale and Leroy for a while, especially Dale (I've spent countless hours in conversations with him over the last four years). That's why I used their first names instead of following the standard journalistic practice of using last names. I'm taking a more personal approach for this series. Both men have also attended my church—Dale on a semi-regular basis. Finally, several Christian friends and I are involved in an unofficial homeless ministry that meets on a weekly basis, and we've often conversed with these two men.