We arrived at 30th Street Station on October 28, 2017 and met Constance about five minutes away from the station. She was sitting on a bench that was built into the foundation of a building. With her she had a few personal belongings and a sign that read, “Help the Homeless With Food or Money. God Bless.” She also had with her a Chick Fil A soft drink cup that she would rattle every few moments as passerbys walked along the sidewalk.
Her hometown is in North Philadelphia and she even remembers her original address to this day. Constance did not complete high school but she has attempted to get her GED. Unfortunately, she did not pass the test because she cannot read that well due to a learning disability. She was taking classes in the area but she eventually stopped going, saying, “It was alright, I just stopped because it was difficult.”
When she was 19 years old she went to a job course center and requested to work with culinary arts, she now says, “I miss cooking.” The job center set her up with a dish washing job is Pittsburgh, PA. Constance later ended up back in the City of Philadelphia because her mother had gotten sick.
Constance has been homeless for two years now and is waiting to hear back about her request for SSI. She previously depended on SSI for 18 years due to her learning disability but was cut off for missing appointments, which led her to becoming homeless. She was locked up at the time of her appeal so they dismissed her case because she couldn’t make it to the appointment, this resulted in them promptly cutting her off from her benefits. Constance has since reapplied for SSI and is waiting to do the whole process all over again, which she believes could potentially take years. When she applied the first time around it only took her six months to get accepted.
She was in jail because she had violated her probation by missing her court date, Constance’s previous offense was for drinking on a highway. She revealed that she would, “feel better being in [jail], but you can’t stay in there.”
She has reapplied and signed the papers off using the address of her lawyer who has allowed her to barrow theirs. Once she gets a letter back they will come deliver it to her and they will then correspond on what to do next. In the meantime she is remaining hopeful that she will be off the streets soon.
Sometimes Constance gets depressed while sitting out on the streets, “I get tired of sitting out here shaking this cup, sometimes I just want to throw it away.” Sometimes she is disappointed by others, usually on days when she doesn’t make anything or when someone digs in their pockets for her but it turns out that they don’t have anything to offer her.
Her mother has since passed and she never met her father. Constance left Pittsburgh because her mom had gotten sick, so she moved in with her to take care of her. Her mother had a blood clot in her heart and died when Constance was 25. Once she was back in Philadelphia she relied on her SSI as her main mode of income.
Constance does not have any children. She does have a sister and brothers although she does not communicate with them often, “I don’t know why, I just don’t.” They don’t reach out to her but she will call them once in a while to see how they’re doing. They don’t offer to assist her in anyway and if she does end up spending the night at one of their places they expect her to pay them. When this happens she leaves, saying, “I’ll go back to living on the streets where it’s free.”
Constance believes that she is treated fairly by the public but wants them to know that, “[We] don’t put ourselves in this situation, [we] just can’t find anywhere to live, or if they got a check it might have gotten cut off, and some people just can’t get jobs.”
In the eyes of Constance the current economy takes the blame for why people typically become homeless, “They cut their checks off and then they don’t have an address.” She says people are forced into this lifestyle when they can’t find any jobs and also when they don’t receive any help, whether from a government institution or from family and friends.
Plenty of foot traffic passes through where Constance sits on a daily basis and she says, “A lot of people stop and give me stuff.” Most of the people who stop to offer her money, food, or items are strangers and she confirmed that she does not have any regulars who stop to talk to her and check up on how she is doing, but a lot of the people who stop for Constance do stay to share a conversation with her as well.
Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to be the most popular times that people feel the need to reach out to and assist Constance. During the winter she receives blankets, coats, clothes, etc. However, in the spring and summer the clothing donations stop although she is not sure why.
Constance has made plenty of other homeless friends while out on the streets and they help each other out sometimes. Sometimes she will offer them a cigarette or a dollar when she has one to spare. She feels that it’s important to make friends while she is out here and that her situation may or not be worse without them. She confined that, “Some of them can be nasty. They’ll cuss you out.” If another homeless person sits out in the same area as her and notices that she is making more money than them they often times get mad. She does not have any friends from when she was still housed.
Constance believes that the hardest part about being homeless is that it’s difficult for homeless individuals to get a job and, if the money isn’t there, you can’t eat. She shared that often times she’ll, “Sit out here for four hours before I even make a dime.”
Constance retreats under the shelter of a parking garage at night and typically gets about six hours of sleep a night. She has a “stash” of blankets and pillows that she keeps in near the area that she sleeps. She has never had anything stolen from her stash and clarified that no one typically steals from the homeless, they will usually leave their stuff out and there is a common understanding to leave it alone, “They know that we are out here and that we need them.”
Sometimes another homeless person may steal from her stash, or anyone’s stash for that matter, and then she’ll have to go get new pillows and blankets all over again. Constance has reached out to a hospital before and requested bedding and they provided her with a sheet, four sandwiches, juices, and a few other things. Constance herself has only had something stolen from her one other time and it was by another homeless individual. It was the first and only other time that she had received a care package with a lot of useful things in it. She says that some homeless individuals will even take the things that people give them and sell them to get drug money, she stated that they are the ones that make it worse for the rest of them.
Usually no one bothers Constance while she is out panhandling. Sometimes the police will be out on their patrols and stop homeless individuals and ask them for ID. If they have an ID they’ll run their name through to check to see if the individual has a warrant for their arrest, if they do they are taken in immediately. Constance has been told by the police that she can not pan handle in Center City because it is illegal and was asked to leave on these occasions. She is generally safe while out on the streets, Constance says, “I just do what I got to do.”
Constance does not have any health problems and is not receiving any type of health insurance at this time, although she does receive food stamps and Keystone First allows her to see her doctor yearly. When talking about her food stamps she said, “But I eat them up. I’ve got to eat. Sometimes I don’t make nothing, and when I make nothing I go out to the store and use my food stamps.” Food is usually the only thing that Constance will spend her earnings on, besides cigarettes.
Despite her current position Constance is able to eat pretty regularly thanks to the people who donate to her. She will usually have pizza or a sandwich and if she makes enough money during the day she may treat herself and buy something off one of the food stands that populate the street corners of Philadelphia.
“I shake this cup and put this sign out here,” was Constance’s response when asked to break down her day for us.
She used to try to join the shelter House of Passion but says, “I had to sit up in a chair all night and wait for a bed.” She only made it into the actual shelter once and stayed there for 30 days. However, she has grown tired of waiting for the next available bed and left her spot in line which has resulted in penalties. They have taken her name down and she now has to wait six months before she can continue waiting for the next available bed. This happened two weeks ago.
Constance does not know of any other shelters in the area, she believes that her only other option would be the Recovery House but they require you to pay $400 up front and they take any your food stamps.
It is because of rules and penalties like this that Constance believes a lot of homeless people do not like shelters. Although, “Other people get high and they like to stay out here to get high,” she says. Constance herself doesn’t get high so she doesn’t worry about that.
Constance wants the city of Philadelphia to, “Help us more,” maybe with more job centers. She also stated that there is a lack of information, she is unaware of where other shelters are and does not know where to go to find out where they are located. She doesn’t know where any local soup kitchens are.
At one point Constance began rooting through her care package and said, “This is nice, this is so nice.” When she noticed the hat, scarf, and gloves she exclaimed, “Oh, yes, I’m going to be warmmm.”
As we were wrapping up our interview Constance spotted her long term boyfriend of 11 years, Raymond, walking up the street. She got so excited that she stood up and started yelling his name as she waved to him. After she spotted him she couldn’t stop smiling. He was homeless himself for 14 years but he now has a room of his own, unfortunately Constance is not allowed to stay with him. Despite this, they still see each other everyday.
We enjoyed our time with Constance and look forward to checking up on her the next time that we are in the area. I have high hopes that Constance’s SSI will pull through and she will be off the streets sooner rather than later.
We told Constance that we appreciate her giving us her time and she assured us that she, “doesn’t have anything but time.” We asked her if she ever planned on leaving the city again and she replied, “I ain’t ever going no where else.”