By RALPH A. LEWIS III
Jimmy Ceballos usually starts his day by putting out a flaming barrel of newspaper and clothes. The same barrel that the night before kept him from freezing while he slept.
About a month ago, while sleeping on the first floor of an abandoned home in Campbell, the heating barrel burned through the bottom and eventually burned down the house. He barely made it out alive.
“I just remember waking up and thinking I must be dreaming — the flames were so bright,” Ceballos said. “The heat was unbearable. I wrapped myself in the only blanket I had and ran out of the house through the back door.”
It’s an odd form of luck.
“Some people play the lottery hoping to win millions, thinking how much their life would be better if they had hundreds and thousands of dollars. My life is a lottery, too, and I am pretty close to crapping out,” Ceballos added.
Ceballos, 55, was born and reared on the Youngstown’s East Side. Twenty years ago, he was a neighborhood handyman, specializing in helping others with car troubles, which is the only kind of work he has ever known.
With no college degree and no high school diploma, finding a job was challenging.
“It’s just been hard, man, real hard to find work around here. I look at my town, and it makes me sad that things around here used to be so much different,” Ceballos said. “I can’t blame it all on the city. I’m no angel. I’ve played a part in my own misery.”
Ceballos said he lost his job as a handyman because he experimented with drugs and became an alcoholic. Since that time, Ceballos’ life has felt the sting of those mistakes.
Since escaping the burning house, Ceballos has been relying on friends for places stay and a means to earn extra money.
“I do everything for him. I clean his clothes if he needs it. I feed him if he’s hungry. And, if I need help around the store, I give him some money,” said Valerie Tucker, a cashier at the Speed Check on Wilson Avenue in Campbell. “He’s in here at least five days a week helping me out, and he is always so positive no matter what his situation is.”
When asked why she helps Ceballos, Tucker said he is such a good person and she knows he needs the help.
Each month, Ceballos walks or catches a ride to Mahoning County Department of Jobs and Family Services to get his Social Security check ($600) and food stamps ($150).
Ceballos keeps his money with him but keeps his other belongings in whatever house he is squatting in at the time. This varies weekly.
Amy Shotts of Youngstown Auto Wrecking is also familiar with Ceballos who performs odd jobs for her.
“One thing I can say about him is that he always looks presentable given the situation he’s in,” said Shotts. “He’s been coming around here for at least two years, helping me out, cleaning up, taking out trash, and I never mind paying him because he’s helpful.”
Shotts hopes Ceballos will find more stable housing in the future. When it comes to his future, however, Ceballos says he has no worries.
“I have a strong faith in God, and it’s through his wisdom and power I am able to live on and be happy,” Ceballos said. “I just know that he is going to look out for me, so I have no reason to be sad. I am alive and have great friends. I don’t need anything else.”
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