Most people would do anything to be able to escape their everyday life and see the world outside of the four walls of their cubical. Most people don’t think about how lonely giving up everything can be.
Edwardo has been exploring the country for over a decade. He’s traveled through more than 20 states at the age of 45, more than most can hope to see in a whole lifetime.
He’s been traveling for half of his life, but he’s been doing it while homeless, trying to find the right state that can help him get back up on his feet. He would give it all up to have stability, he says, all the travelling in the word means nothing if you don’t have anyone to share it with.
“I was trying to take care of myself,” said Edwardo, he’s most recently been homeless for the past few months. “I was going to programs, staying sober. I used to drink, but I don’t drink anymore. I don’t smoke.”
Edwardo has struggled with having a drinking problem for years and regrets the damage that it has caused to his mind, body, and relationships.
Edwardo is chronically homeless, which means that he is prone to becoming homeless, because even though there have been times that he’s gotten back on his feet, he’s still ended up back on the streets on more than one occasion.
Life of the road has been hard for Edwardo, mentally and physically. He describes it as, each time he leaves a different place, he leaves a piece of himself behind.
“I scattered myself by moving all over the country,” he said. “Tried to get married in one area, then got separated somewhere. Went somewhere else and got started in a program. Went and got stabbed in the head somewhere else.”
That’s a story for another time, check back in later.
“Then I moved again, lived there for a minute before I got hooked on drugs and had problems and had to go somewhere else,” he said.
On one of the occasions that Edwardo was stable, he met his wife, and they started a family together and had a baby boy. He says that he wouldn’t get along with her family because of the times that he would “fall out” and give in to his vices.
Edwardo began to feel like a burden, so he began to revert back into himself. He stopped communicating with people and went off the grid, gathered all of his technology and got rid of it, feeling like everyone else was better off not hearing from him while he did what he had to do to get back on his feet.
Homelessness, especially chronic homelessness, can cause mental health issues, commonly caused by a feeling of helplessness. Edwardo’s choice to self isolate is a coping mechanism to deal with his inner turmoil.
As a way to deal with his situation, Edwardo has decided to go off the grid. He hasn’t been in contact with anyone in months.
“I’ve been in and out of contact from everybody,” he said. “I gathered all of my technology and got rid of everything.”
During his hiatus from technology, Edwardo has been travelling from state to state to find help and has actually found that homeless services have been more helpful in the West. He says that there’s not many places to stay, but the warmer weather makes the living conditions outside less harsh.
Edwardo found himself in Philadelphia after he tried to aimlessly leave Delaware, passing through New Jersey on the way. Feeling defeated and like to had no where to turn, he planned on hopping on a bus later that night and moving on.
“I’m trying to find a way out of here, so that I can make the right choice,” he said.
Edwardo says that he’s noticed that some states are more helpful than others when it comes to resources, more specifically western regions, which is where he plans to end up next. He said that even if he didn’t have a place to stay, at least it was warmer outside.
Like many others experiencing, Edwardo resents staying at shelters. He says that he has spent days waiting in lines for open beds only to be accepted late at night and woken up by 4 am to pack his things and go. He says he feels restricted and striped of some of his basic rights and describes inhumane living conditions like bed bugs.
“Being homeless ain’t easy,” said Edwardo, who’s been homeless for half of his life. “There’s too many people that are homeless. You’ve got to jump through hoops to get anything done, and if you’ve got a little addiction then that stops everything.”
Many shelters and programs will not accept clients if they are addicts, which Edwards feels holds a lot of people back who genuinely want the help and to get clean, but can’t do it on their own.
“I tried to stop the drugs and move to alcohol, I’m thinking, ‘Everybody’s drinking alcohol!’ But it’s horrible. I get more drunk, or I get into drunk fights, or it gets me lost, or it puts me in areas that I don’t need to be in, or it gets me more into drugs…,” said Edwardo.
Edwardo decided to get sober for himself and hasn’t touched hard drugs or alcohol in months, but it hasn’t made his experience with homelessness any easier.
He says that the only type of work environment where he fits in is panhandling on the streets.
“I can’t hang around with people that do things right, because they look cleaner than I am, they don’t want to be around me,” said Edwardo. They look at me and they don’t want to touch me.”
Being homeless for so long has started to distort Edwardo’s self image. He is beginning to feel like he isn’t good enough for a better life and that’s why nothing works for him.
He blames his homelessness on ignorance and carelessness, tracing it back to his childhood and how he was raised. Edwardo describes himself as a quiet child. He says he didn’t have anybody and he that he didn’t have any friends, so he was forced to grow up fast.
At one point he almost had it all together, he was participating in a program to obtain housing in New Jersey but ultimately became discouraged.
“Everything would have went well, if I hadn’t fallen off,” said Edwardo. “When you’re missing your kid, and you just lost your wife… I have to sign the divorce papers, and I was hurting.”
After experiencing homelessness for so many years, Edwardo is tired of the programs.
The homeless account for some of America’s most vulnerable and overlooked citizens. This is especially true during the COVID-19.
The homeless have little to no access to precautions like staying inside, regularly washing their hands, and wearing masks and gloves. Many of the public places that they would normally take refugee in, like the Philadelphia Convention Center, have closed their doors and encampments are being broken up despite CDC guidelines not to.
Many of Philadelphia’s homeless satisfy their hunger through handouts by passersby and money made from panhandling. With less people venturing outside, and more people losing employment, many of the homeless are going empty handed.
With the closure of Churches, the homeless have lost access to valuable resources, like regular feedings. Although other nonprofit organizations like Doing Our Part Eclectically are renewing their feeding permits weekly to “feed and serve their homeless friends,” which is where Edwardo ate on the night of our interview.
Edwardo is particularly high risk because of his travelling in search of work, exposing him to the elements. If he were to contract the virus, he would have no where to safely self isolate. If he were to seek refuge in a shelter, he runs the risk of infecting all of the other clients. Shelters simply don’t have the space to protect the homeless, 23 shelter residents have died in New York, where many shared rooms, leaving others to worry about their health and safety, as reported by the New York Times.
Edwardo feels that he is left with no choice but to continue his pursuit for his own happiness, with everything that he has on his back. At one point Edward had a decent set up, with a phone, bike, tent, clean clothes and other gadgets. One day he woke up and it was all gone, stolen from him.
As a defense mechanism, Edwardo has started to strip himself from his basic human rights. He limits his communication to others, lets go of his belongings, and wears soiled clothes so that he fits in and does’t look like a target. He is making himself small and stripping himself of little luxuries so that he can survive another night on the streets.