Tucked into the hallow space of a subway entrance across from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station sat a homeless man with his back against the wall. His body was hunched over and his left arm was wrapped around his knees, pulling them into his chest.
A baseball cap fit snugly on his head, my eyes followed its downward tilt to a cardboard sign that was propped up by his feet.
Thank you & God bless you
As I approached him, our eyes met, his first instinct was to lift the corners of his mouth into a smile. He introduced himself as Turhan.
Up until last year, Turhan had spent most of his life working. He says it’s all he knows.
“I was in special education classes all my life,” said Turhan. “Even though I completed high school, they tell me that I have a 7th grade education.”
Since the age of 18, Turhan has been cycling through “jobs.” He uses the word very deliberately, in his mind he thinks that he will never be able to say that he has a genuine career.
“I never made it to college, I do what I can to make ends meet,” he explained.
Now 49, Turhan’s most recent employment had been at a restaurant, where he took care of a lot of the bulk work by bringing in and putting away shipments of supplies.
Well, over time Turhan began to develop an inguinal hernia. This means that part of his small intestine was pushing through a weak area of his abdominal wall, causing him intense pain to the point that he could no longer work.
“Labor is my only skill,” said Turhan, “if I can’t lift anything, I can’t work.”
Surgery is the only way to fix an inguinal hernia, he was told by his doctor’s that he would need more than one to be able to go back to work.
Desperate to get back to work, Turhan agreed to the first surgery, which his doctors told him would only be a temporary fix.
“In the operation room, the doctor told me to count backwards from 10. I didn’t even make it past 10 before everything went back, I was traumatized,” said Turhan, explaining that he doesn’t have a high tolerance for pain. “I live in constant fear–I don’t want to have to go through surgery ever again.”
In order to fix his condition, Turhan would need another round of surgery, which he says he doesn’t have the mental nor the financial capacity for.
It wasn’t long before he found him self out on the streets, he was evicted from his apartment once he was unable to keep up with bills due to his lack of income.
Now, he spends most of his days hanging out on a corner across from 30th Street Station with all of his worldly belongings scattered around him: a child sized suit case filled with his wardrobe, a small canvas bag for overflow, a plastic bag filled with personal items, and a cardboard sign that begs everyone that passes by to please help him.
By now you might be wondering, “What about workers’ compensation?”
Turhan was told that he was denied workers’ compensation because technically he did not sustain the injury while on the job.
“That really hurt my feelings,” his eyes dropped as he said this and his voice thickened, “I’m a loyal employee, I put everything into my work because it’s all I have… I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t help me.”
He is unable to apply for state aid because he owes an ex partner a large sum of child support payments.
Turhan quickly evicted from his apartment and took refuge on the streets of Central Philadelphia, not know where to start with putting his life back together.
The transition to living on the streets was hard for Turhan, he was consumed by depression and his days began to blur together, he says he felt helpless.
“I never knew how to deal with or cope with life–I just knew medication,” he said.
Turhan was given a duel diagnoses of depression and schizophrenia in his late 20’s. Although he was diagnosed earlier in his life, he remembers that he didn’t begin to take his mental health seriously until 2011, which is when he began taking numerous prescriptions daily to combat the symptoms of his mental illnesses.
Living on the streets has made it increasingly harder for Turhan to stabilize his mental health. He constantly worries about where his next meal will come from and what will be his bed that night.
“It definitely plays a part, but I’m addressing it,” says Turhan, he knows from experience that ignoring his symptoms will only make them worse. “My level of depression fluctuates from day-to-day, talking to people helps,” his light brown eyes snapped up to catch mine and a he flashed me a smile that lit up his whole face.
Since he started living on the streets, Turhan lost access to his medications. Thankfully, he has involved himself with services offered by Pathways to Housing, a homeless prevention program that specializes in chronic homelessness and those with disabilities. With their help, Turhan has been assigned a counselor and peer specialist.
“I don’t want to hurt myself–I want to recover,” Turhan said in a soft voice and I felt a shiver run down my spine as my pen stilled on the page.
I put my notebook down and gave him my full, undivided attention. Within my few minutes of knowing him, Turhan showed me what true resilience is, he made me feel proud of him, and his easy-going nature was contagious. He deserved to know the kind of impact he’s capable of because, no matter how fleeting our encounter, his positivity influenced me.
I reminded him of how much he’s gone through and how strong he must be, there’s a reason he’s a survivor. I could tell that he’s a good person and that, even during his worst days, he’s an inspiration to others. I reminded him that even though he may feel like he’s hit the bottom, that just means his only option is to keep rising up.
“What you know now, I wish I knew when I was younger,” he told me, I offered him a kind smile in return.
Every night, Turhan finds somewhere to sleep on the streets, he says that he has too much pride to stay in a shelter. He says he doesn’t worry about his safety, the friends that he’s made since he’s been homeless keep an eye on each other and offer help when they can.
“But my patience is wearing thin,” he told me, “I don’t want to be angry with the world.”
When he is feeling low, he calls his mom and says that her words of encouragement keep him going.
“That’s all I’m trying to do, stay encouraged,” said Turhan.