Sitting on a black crate, David Bass, who goes by “Homeless Dave,” plays percussion on drums made from upside-down plastic helmet hats, empty cans and glass bottles to earn some dollars. He says he wants to create a foundation.
Bass plays to the music of the Wynwood Tribe Store, as he does every afternoon in the colorful scene of the corner of NW Second Avenue and 23rd Street.
The 58-year-old Brooklyn-born man has suffered from homelessness for the last 25 years due to struggles with divorce, child support and addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Bass was born on Aug. 24, 1962 to Jewish parents, Bruce and Sheila Bass. After moving from Brooklyn, they became owners of a jewelry store in Davie.
“I had a good life growing up,” he said. “Nobody grows up and says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be homeless!’”
He got married in the late eighties to a woman who, after having an affair in 1991, threw him out of his house — a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Davie.
He started planning something he called the I.AM Foundation, in Broward County in a friend’s warehouse, after attending a homeless awareness event at the Hallelujah Worship Center in Hollywood.
During 2009 and 2010, after the warehouse closed, he lived on a boat in Hallandale Beach, with no electric power nor bathroom.
Bass suffered two heart attacks, but had problems qualifying for medical insurance.
Despite the health and financial issues, Bass said he felt the need to make things better for homeless people.
“If you show people unconditional love, you may receive it back, and that’s what I needed.”
Under a homeless waiver, Bass studied business and entrepreneurship courses at Miami Dade College, alongside social and additional studies.
His idea for the I.AM Foundation is a “refurbished referral service” that would connect existing programs in South Florida that help the homeless by filling one application through all participating programs. This way, people living in homelessness could start planning their recovery more effectively, without the emotional stress these processes usually causes them.
“Sometimes when filling out paperwork, homeless people are asked for documents that they do not have with them,” he said. “So, the process to help them gets delayed most of the time.”
And because of that delay, people who require medical or psychological assistance often start to self-medicate.
The foundation’s aim, he says, is to avoid “going through so many individual programs, filling out huge applications… only to be told you don’t qualify.”
Bass spent two years running the front desk of the Miami Rescue Mission, working 40 to 60 hours a week in exchange for a bed, food, showers and other necessities.
“Non-profit organizations have a mission statement that is great,” he said. “But you must give people back the desire, the motivation, the purpose in life and hope that they will succeed.”
The Miami Rescue Mission is a Christian-based charitable foundation that has been active for more than 18 years. Its recovery programs include substance abuse treatment, computer literacy, healthcare, spiritual counseling and transitional housing, among others.
Daisy Diaz, gifts and marketing senior manager at the Miami Rescue Mission, said in a statement that the organization helps homeless people with what they need.
“We make sure they get housing, their medical needs met,” said Diaz.
Bass has medical insurance through Jackson Memorial Hospital System’s financial assistance program, which gives healthcare to people without the means to pay it.
It took Bass 16 months after suffering four herniated disks in his back to get surgery.
Then his doctors denied him strong medications for his pain in fear that he would become addicted to opioids.
After the surgery, he spent 18 months recovering on the streets of Wynwood.
“I spent four to five months without a tent, until a friend gave me one, which I later gave to someone else,” he said. “If a homeless can help another homeless, imagine what mainstream people could do if they collectively understood that the money they contribute is for their recovery.”
Elisa Roque, Bass’s caseworker since May, said he is a proactive man who does not like sitting around.
Roque said that Bass, who has been drug-free since 2016, goes to Sabbat because it makes him feel closer to his identity, and also to Christian reading class because he wants to learn to be able to help more people.
“I am a homeless [person] in recovery,” Bass comments. “I say this because I want to put a positive affirmation in my mind and remind myself that I am not in active addiction anymore.”
He wants “Homeless Dave” to become a household name.
“I believe homeless people should have meetings where they could talk about how they’re feeling,” he said. “Are their children OK? Where do they go eat?”
Bass has two sons, Justin, 31, and Ryan, 30, whom he has not seen in 20 years.
“That’s my motivation to why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he said. “Because, if daddy ends up being successful at doing something — even if it’s not a monetarily successful thing, but a Christian successful thing — they’ll know that helping others is what we’re supposed to do.”