On the Street | Faces of the homeless, previously homeless and those still struggling
words and interview by Lisa Kane
It’s July 25, our Akron Snow Angels Christmas in July event. I’m there with all the volunteers setting up. We expect around 300 people. There is this nice guy that hangs around and helps us all day. I don’t recognize him as one of our regular volunteers. He introduces himself as Michael. As we are talking, I ask Michael if he is homeless. He tells me that he has been on and off for a very long time. Even though Michael himself has been homeless, he still likes to help other homeless people. It’s an amazing thing! We see a lot of homeless people who go out of their way to help each other. Akron, meet Michael!
Hometown: Cleveland, OH
What brought you to Akron?
I came down here to be with a woman. We now have a 14-year-old daughter and 8-year-old twin girls.
Occupation/Previous Occupation/Source of income
I was a cook. Now I live off my Social Security.
Why don’t you have “a job”?
I’m on SSDI—Social Security Disability. It’s not much, so after I pay child support and everything else, it’s gone.
How long have you been homeless?
I’ve been homeless off and on for 20 years.
What lead you to homelessness?
Simply—bad decisions. Using drugs and alcohol led me to homelessness.
Do you have a family?
In the Akron area, I have my three daughters. I’m actually staying three streets away from them.
Where did you sleep last night?
For the last nine months I’ve been living in an attic. It has a full bathroom. Before that, I was always in a tent. This is the longest time in about 17 years that I’ve stayed in a place with a roof over my head. I’ve stayed all night in a room maybe 12 times in the last 20 years.
How did you get a place to stay?
I was at a camp with another guy. He had a friend who needed help unloading a U-Haul into a house. I went and helped. When we were finished, the owner of the house told us he had two empty rooms if we wanted to sleep there for the night. A couple days later I decided I was sick of going deep into the woods and didn’t want to do it. I called the guy up and asked him if I could crash there for the night. I told him I would pay him for the room. His wife said she didn’t want me to have to go back out in the woods, so I could stay the rest of the month. Now it’s been nine months. I pay them some rent each month with my Social Security. It’s been a blessing!
Do you usually have three meals a day?
Do you feel safe?
I love the woods. I felt safe there. No one would have even been able to find my camp! I went deep in the woods.
What is the hardest thing about being homeless?
Figuring out how you’ll get a place to stay instead of being in the streets all the time. There are so many different personalities out here. Sometimes it makes it hard. I volunteer with the street ministry Matthew 8:20. We travel out into the community to help folks. We give out tents, sleeping bags, hats, gloves, socks, stuff like that. It’s a part of the Peter Maurin Center. (Note from Lisa: The Peter Maurin Center is an inner-city drop in site for disenfranchised folks, living in the very impoverished neighborhoods of the Greater Summit Lake Region of Akron.) The tent I slept in was from them. People felt like I was favored by organizations since I also volunteered with them. I WAS homeless too though. God is the only one who gives you favors and blessings. I wasn’t favored by the organizations. I was favored by God.
What three words would you use to describe being homeless?
What do you think is the leading causes of homelessness?
I believe the leading cause of homelessness in the Akron area is drug and alcohol abuse.
How do you feel people who have never faced homelessness view the homeless?
A lot of people view the homeless as pieces of crap, instead of seeing them as the humans that they are. They are no different than anyone else. Even though I have a roof over my head at this moment, I still see myself as a homeless man. I see the homeless as “me.” They are my people.
Do most people show you kindness or treat you rudely?
I’ve been shown mostly kindness from people.
What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
I got a chance to see my two oldest sons, who are 28 and 29. I haven’t seen them in 24 years! That was just yesterday. That’s why I had the chance to be here today. I saw on Facebook that the event was taking place. I commented on the post and Erin (Victor) said, “I hope to see you.” I’ve known Erin for a while now, so I decided to stay so I could come here today.