At the Brown County Public Library Tuesday, Timothy Watt sat at a computer with bags of his belongings by his side.
He was scrolling through his Timothy B. Watt Facebook page when he took a break to talk about his journey that began more than two years ago.
Since November 2014, he has been traveling to all 92 counties in Indiana raising awareness about homelessness and hunger.
Watt, a Marine Corps veteran who has been homeless since 2013, has one goal: to be seen.
A divorce in 2007 after two decades of marriage sent him spiraling into depression. Eventually, he was homeless.
Watt lost and then rediscovered his faith, inspiring him to embark on a journey to each of Indiana’s counties to raise awareness for those going through circumstances similar to his own.
“So many people are totally unaware of the homeless problems and the hunger problems in this state. There is homeless and hungry in every single county in this state, even the smaller counties, even the smaller populated counties like Brown County,” he said.
“There are just so many more who are just one missed paycheck or one missed payment away from it. That’s what I am raising awareness for. I am a veteran and I definitely use my veteran status for my PR, but a lot of people get the misconception I’m doing this just for veterans. No, I’m doing this for all American citizens.”
Brown County is the 57th county he has visited. His next stop is Monroe County. He stays for one week in each county. If the county has one of Indiana’s largest cities or Watt has lived there before, he will spend two weeks there.
The first day in Brown County, Watt was offered a free room at a local hotel and a woman bought him a gift card to a local restaurant.
A welcome reception isn’t guaranteed. Watt said he was once arrested on a charge of trespassing after visiting a library in Fort Wayne, though charges were dropped several months later, he said. But without transportation, he had to remain in that area until the court proceedings were finished.
Other times, it was made clear to him that he wasn’t welcome on whatever bench he had chosen to sit on.
“Sometimes I go into town completely anonymous, nobody has a clue who I am and sometimes I go into town and other people try to spread awareness about what I’m doing,” he said.
Tuesday is his travel day. For the rest of the week, Watt and his cart Dolly will spend their time at the library and on a bench in front of the Brown County Courthouse.
According to his Facebook itinerary, Watt plans to attend church at Nashville Christian Church Sunday.
He uses library computers to research local charities, because he donates a percentage of the cash donations he receives to local charities before moving on to the next county, he said.
If Watt doesn’t have a place to stay for the night, he said he doesn’t worry because he has everything he needs is in his cart — blankets, sleeping bags and tarps.
“I really don’t need anything. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and God just keeps blessing me the entire way,” Watt said.
Starting his journey
Watt began his journey in Marion County in 2014. With 35 more counties to go, he plans to complete his trek in October.
Born in Gary, Watt lived in several communities, including St. Paul and Shelbyville, prior to graduating from Valparaiso High School in June of 1977. Eight days later, he was in boot camp, training to become a Marine.
Watt described himself as having been a troublemaker in his youth, with several run-ins with police. He figured a fresh start in the military was just what he needed and applied to each branch of the military during the first semester of his senior year. Watt joined the first one to respond: the U.S. Marine Corps.
With high scores on entrance tests, Watt had free rein to choose what position he wanted to serve in, he said. He spent his three years in the Marines doing paralegal work for judge advocates before being honorably discharged in 1980. While he had considered potentially studying law after his enlistment ended, those plans never came to fruition.
After leaving the military, finding work was initially difficult for Watt. He worked for a couple of carnivals and did odd jobs and contracting. He eventually settled into more stable work, with positions at several factories.
In 1985, Watt married and adopted his wife’s son, had one son with her, and then the couple adopted two girls after being foster parents to them for five years. He quit smoking and drinking and described himself and his wife as devout Christians. They eventually settled into a home in St. Paul.
His world fell apart in 2007 when Watt’s wife told him she was no longer in love with him, he said. Their divorce caused Watt to doubt the beliefs that had shaped his life over the past 20 years.
“I cursed God,” Watt said.
Watt was later diagnosed with depression and had a difficult time keeping jobs, he said.
Six years later, he found himself homeless and jobless in Marion County.
Getting help was frustrating, due to the hurdles in the process, he said. Assistance for homeless veterans is poor, and assistance for anyone else who is homeless is even worse, Watt said.
He turned to panhandling to earn money, and returned to his former habits of drinking and smoking.
Sitting in a park at 3 a.m. one day, Watt wished he had a gun so that he could kill himself. It was in that moment that he said he rediscovered his faith. He had given up on God, but God had not given up on him, Watt said.
This time, his beliefs are simpler, and his God is bigger, he said. He is less judgemental and more understanding. Watt strives to live by what Jesus taught as the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor.
That faith has brought Watt to his new calling.
The first step to addressing the problem of homelessness is changing how society views it, Watt said.
“They treat us like lepers and outcasts,” he said.
Whether it is the loss of a job, a fire, or some other hardship, many people find themselves without a place to live as the result of circumstances that were beyond their control, Watt said.
Watt’s route is now taking him to the southern half of the state, and then back up to Marion County so that he can end where he started.
He isn’t sure what he will be doing once his journey is complete. He wants to write a book about his experiences and continue to advocate for both the homeless and for foster care.
Watt said he would accept aid, like transportation to Monroe County, and cash donations. People can reach him on his Facebook page.
A man from Columbus gave Watt a ride to Brown County.
“God always provides,” he said.
The Daily Journal reporter Jacob Tellers contributed to this story. The Daily Journal (Johnson County) is a sister newspaper to the Brown County Democrat.