A homeless man sat perched on an empty crate, the afternoon sun cast a shadow across his eyes from the winter hat that was pulled tightly around the frame of his face. His shoulders slumped as he leaned his back against the wall behind him as people on the sidewalk arched around him.
As he opened his mouth to tell me his name, an empty Styrofoam cup came skidding in our direction, rolling to stop after it bounced off the laces of my shoes.
“Now, that wasn’t cool, that wasn’t cool,” his jaw snapped shut tightly before he shook his head in disappointment.
Unfortunately, he has become used to this type of treatment since becoming homeless about a year ago, although he says that it never gets any easier.
After introducing himself as Michael, he explained that after he made “some really bad decisions,” his life began to spiral out of control, he soon found himself calling the hard streets of Philadelphia “home.”
A year ago, Michael was living a completely different life. He had a job, and quite a bit of experience, really, having worked at Smash Burger, Five Guys, Applebee’s, various other restaurants, and for a concrete company. Since becoming homeless, he has been applying to various restaurants around the city without any luck.
“Well, being on the streets, your stuff getting stolen, your ID, Social Security card, you gotta get all that back. And they give you the run around so, its just a bunch of obstacles after another,” he said, highlighting some of the setbacks he faces when applying to jobs while experiencing homelessness. “It’s always something,” he said with a shake of his head, his shoulders shrugging with sad acceptance.
Now, Michael repeats the same routines every day, doing everything that he can just to get by.
“Sometimes I sit here and ask people for money. I find work, some people that are working moving stuff, (I) get some help there,” he said. “And there’s really not much else to do accept to look for jobs.
“It’s the same old stuff. Trying to survive, trying to eat, trying to make sure that I have meals for the day, that’s the main thing,” he stressed.
A new Jersey native, Michael has family all over, including in Philadelphia. With a roll of his eyes, he divulged that he only “sometimes” speaks to them.
“With my family, it’s a whole big thing,” he explained. “They probably just had all mean reactions (to my becoming homeless),” he scowled, and shook it off before continuing, “Ignorant, not caring. It’s always been like that, so it doesn’t matter.”
Without the support of his family, Michael has been trying to pick up the pieces of his life on his own, forming new relationships since he’s been on the streets. In fact, he attributes meeting new people as being one of the only good things to come out of his experience of homelessness.
“All kinds. I’ve met crazy people, I’ve met not crazy people. I’ve met great people, I’ve met mean people who were trying to be good,” he said with great emphasis, “I’ve met all kinds, I’ve met all kinds.”
Homelessness has taken it’s toll on Michael, changing his out look on life.
“This whole experience, this whole thing (affects me). It’s still a whole new thing, and it’s not easy but, you can definitely survive,” he said after a long pause.
The hardships that Michael has faced during the last year have taught him one thing if not anything else: never take anything for granted.
He told me with a knowing smile that, if he could change anything, it would be all of those bad decisions that he had made last year. Like anyone else, Michael has his own reasons for becoming homeless, although it’s not always a personal choice.
“Yeah, I’ve noticed people who are homeless for their own reasons. People have other reasons (like mental illness), and some people definitely don’t choose it,” he agreed, “But, everyone else still treats them the same way.”
Despite how quickly some passersby are to pass judgement onto Michael, he himself has reservations when it comes to sharing how he digests this behavior.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t even get into words with that because, it just wouldn’t be right,” he said. “The words I’ve got for it are just mean words, because I hate that, I hate the way that they treat people.
“But not just ‘they,’ just (the way) people treat people,” he said, shaking the thought out of his head. “It’s not right.”
Despite the resentment that Michael holds for the way that the homeless are treated, he admits that he has also had plenty of people go out of their ways to treat him with kindness.
“I actually had some dude sit out here in the rain with me,” he said, disbelief still shone brightly in his wide brown eyes. “Right next to me, talking to me–I was like, ‘Are you serious?'”
Unfortunately, the bad exchanges greatly outweigh the acts of kindness that he briefly encounters, and there are a few things that Michael wants the public to know:
“Help one person at a time,” he said sincerely. “Anything helps, it doesn’t even matter. Food, anything, that helps. It helps a lot.
“And you can’t help everybody, he said. “But you can help someone.”