Usually when Kathy and I travel to the city in search of an interviewee our outings turn into an all day adventure. So, this time around we decided to make it a family affair and bring my nine year old sister Jasmine along with us since she has been asking to come along on an interview for weeks. She even prepared her own questions and helped us assemble sandwiches to pass out as we made our way to City Hall, which she carried in her bag the whole time.
Since it was the holiday season we also planned on going to Christmas Village at City Hall after we completed our interview, we even bumped into Andy again as we were there.
We first saw Andy lounging on a ledge that was built into the side of a building. He had a suitcase open in front of him which was laying halfway into the sidewalk and had a few items hanging out of it, causing passersby to either set over or walk around his belongings.
As we approached he regarded us a bit cautiously but after I sat with him, explained who we are, and asked if I could interview him for my blog some of his easy going nature began to shine through and replied, “Sure,” and chuckled. Throughout our interview the smile on his face hardly ever faltered. Occasionally throughout our time together Jasmine would intervene with a sassy comment or two and Andy would joke around with her as an old family friend might. At one point he called her, “Little Miss Attitude,” while laughing wholeheartedly.
Andy became homeless fairly recently, when we spoke to him he had been on the streets somewhere between six to eight weeks. He had previously been residing at his mother’s house after being released from jail but Andy’s drinking habits became too noisy and she felt she had no other choice but to put him out on the streets. Andy has a 16 year old sister and his partying became a little overwhelming. At the age of 46, this is his first time being homeless.
Kathy shared that we have a family member who is in a rough spot himself and Andy replied, “Yeah, I’m the only one who’s been in a rough spot in my family.”
Andy has actually owned his own home for around two decades now but is not able to access it because of the Protection from Abuse (PFA) that his ex-girlfriend has against him, she is currently residing in his home. He was incarcerated for violating the PFA, although he added, “My girlfriend lied.” She is now his ex-girlfriend. The 64 year old is currently residing in Andy’s home. He was also charged for making marijuana concentrates. He was incarcerated for six weeks before being released and returning to his mother’s house.
Before putting him out on the streets Andy’s mother took every measure to make sure that he was as set up as possible before sending him off on his own. The suitcase that Andy had with him was actually prepared by his mother and was filled with winter outer wear, blankets, and a sleeping bag. Just by how much she provided him with it is easy to see that putting him out was not any easy decision for her to make.
Andy doesn’t get much sleep, maybe a few hours at a time. It’s difficult for him to get a decent amount of sleep because since the weather has been rough he tries to sleep in transportation stations. However, staff will not let the homeless sleep in their facilities so he bounces around a lot and is pretty much always shuffling to the next spot.
In the time that he has been homeless he has chosen not to reach out to a shelter. His reason for why was, “I don’t know, we have different philosophies. They only let you in at certain times, don’t let you out at other times.” Nor has he reached out to any housing organizations, he revealed that he had missed his parole officer twice. He was called her since then to set up a new appointment.
When asked what types of reactions Andy has received from passersby he replied, “The people are generally alright, actually,” he went on to add that, “Philly is a nice city.”I told him that Chaz stated that he is ignored by the public around 90% of the time, Andy said that’s not the case for him. He says that if you’re friendly and approach the right people, they are generally accepting. He later added, “Oh, you’ll see the stares. But I’ll stare right back at them.” He joked around about that for a little while.
Andy assured us that he has enough to eat on a daily basis, he laughed and added, “More than in jail, for sure.” Andy took note of the winter hat that Jasmine had on and thought that it had the Philadelphia Police Department’s logo (it’s actually the Philadelphia Soccer Union), he made a face and then laughed before saying, “I’m not dissing your hat, I just don’t like the police. Well, they don’t like me.” Since has been homeless Andy says he has had no new altercations with the police.
During the last six to eight weeks Andy has made plenty of friends in Philadelphia. He’s made a lot, actually. He has met people at different markets and transportation centers, while together they often try to help each other in any way they can. “You’ve got to,” says Andy, growing serious. He has bought papers from homeless vendors that work for the newspaper company One Step Away and jewelry from another homeless woman.
The night prior to our interview Andy actually met a new friend that welcomed him into his home. He had plans to meet with him again the next day and possibly go back to North Philly with him. The man offered to let him stay with him and his family for free and even said he could get him a job at the office he works for. I expect that Andy will not stay on the streets for very long then, he replied, “I hope not. Not tonight at least.”
He also said that during his walk over there he would be giving some things from the care package away to other people in need as he sees them. He says that he won’t be able to carry all of the things that he has with him at once, it also provides some insight to his giving nature.
Andy receives benefits from Social Security for a disability, he also receives food stamps but the $190 that he is entitled to does not last him very long. “I can go through $150 in a week, easily.” That would leave him with $40 to spare for the rest of the month. He has not received any donation items prior to our meeting, he’s had to buy whatever else he needs. Andy does not panhandle for money. As an additional source of income Andy will pick up cigarette butts, clean out the tobacco, and roll new cigarettes to sell. “I won’t beg for change. I’ll pick it up off the ground.”
The hardest thing about being homeless for Andy has been the disconnection he has from people that he knows. Andy grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and that is where most every one he knows resides as well. Andy has tried reaching out to his friends for help but says, “They don’t understand what I’m going through.”
Andy has been keeping in contact with parents, who are divorced and both have since remarried. His mother does not understand why he is living on the streets (as opposed to a shelter). His father now lives in Florida and had talked to him over the phone the night prior to our interview, they regularly keep in touch. Andy’s father has not offered to have Andy come stay with him because he wants him to complete a rehab program. Andy does not plan contacting a rehab facility because he does not feel like he needs their services. He was once addicted to both morphine and fentanyl and stopped abusing both drugs without the help of a rehab. “I haven’t used it on the streets, but a lot of people out here do,” he says.
“My doctor was weening me off for two years and then cut me off cold turkey. My girlfriend actually picked up my prescriptions and never gave them to me.” Some years ago Andy was the victim of two major car accidents which landed him in surgery. This is why he qualifies for disability, prior to the accidents Andy worked for 15 years at local flower shops for long hours. To deal with the pain from the severity of his injuries and having to be on his feet all the time his doctors prescribed him the two powerful narcotics and he quickly became addicted. He also has a medical marijuana card for pain management.
Andy now describes his ex-girlfriend as “psychotic.” She is currently living in Andy’s home and will continue to do so for six months because of the Protection from Abuse (PFA) that she has filed against Andy. He is still responsible for paying for all of the bills. Andy violated the PFA by entering his home to pick up clothes, which led to his arrest. Andy tried to fight his and took it to court. “I ended up agreeing to pay for her expenses so that she would leave my life.”
Their relationship lasted 18 years. Gauging our reactions, Andy added, “Yeah, it was a long time. She has no family, so, she didn’t want to start over. She’s only 64.” Despite his anger towards her Andy tells us that she is, a great artist. However, he also says, “I suffered with her through getting off of heroin, she was a heroin user.” Andy never bothered with the drug himself. He has experimented with other drugs but only suffered addiction from morphine and fentanyl.
The couple had been living in Andy’s home together prior to the PFA, the house was in Andy’s name and she would pay him rent. He actually owned the house before he met her. He says, “Well that’s what I worked for, I invested into it.”
In May Andy will be legally allowed to enter his own home again. In the mean time, if he would like to gather any of his belongings from his home he must go through his ex-girlfriend’s social worker. The pair have never been married do not have any children together. Although, they do have a dog. She wants to keep him too. She was a gift from Andy’s mom and he’s had him for 13 years, it was easy to see that the fact that he hasn’t seen his companion since before he was incarcerated is unsettling for him, he added, “I miss her [the dog] more,” and laughed.
Andy began to tell us about how all of his forms of identification had been stolen from him the night before, but his optimistic demeanor did not skip a beat. He lost his license, access card, and disability card all at once. He would not surcum to this setback he instead goes, “Well, that’s okay, I have more stuff now,” with a smile.
At the end of our interview Jasmine had the opportunity to ask Andy one of her own questions. As soon as we put her on the spot Andy immediately grew excited and asked, “What is it!” She ended up asking, “Have you ever been interviewed before?” We were Andy’s first interview ever and I feel very honored to have been given the opportunity to be able to share his story with you. We caught up with Andy later that afternoon to deliver a portrait that Jasmine had drawn for him.