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This is Joseph…

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This is Joseph, we met on a subway train yesterday evening. I heard him before seeing him though. I was standing at the far end of a crowded car when he got on at the other end announcing himself, “Hello good people of New York, my name is Joseph.” I’ve sort of given up on giving money to street people for a few reasons, one is that I myself have very little of it these days but also I’ve become overwhelmed, especially in a city like NY. But Joseph was different, he wasn’t asking for a lot, just pennies or whatever change we could spare. He held a small plastic baggie with some coins in it as he swayed through the car telling his story. He hears voices, he bellowed, this is why it is difficult for him to keep a job. At first he thought they were real—that everyone could hear them—but then people told him they were not.  Imagine, he suggested to us, the sound of all these voices you hear in this car right now were in your head but you were in a room alone, and they were talking to you directly. As he swayed through the moving car a few people put money in his plastic baggie, but no one seemed to look at him. I thought my stop would arrive before he would get to me but it didn’t. When he approached I reached into my pocket and found a quarter and a penny, 26 cents, and felt a little foolish as I offered it to him and apologized, saying that was all that I had. “No worries,” he relied, “74 more cents and I’ll have a dollar.” I told him my name was Joseph as well, and asked if I could take his photo, that I like to document people I meet. He got a big grin on his face and struck a pose. After the shutter clicked he told me to put his face on CNN. We fist bumped and as he parted I said, “Good luck, Joseph.” And as he exited the car he turned and replied, “I’ll be alright, every day is a gift from God. If you believe that, which I do, how bad can things be.” With that he exited into a sea of humanity. Thank you Joseph, I needed to hear that. I often forget and you reminded me. This photo cost me 26 cents, but it is worth so much more. Everyone has a story, today I heard a small part of Joseph’s and my life is better because of it.

This is Denarius.

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Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks.”
~1 Thessanolians 5:17-18

If you’ve been to this blog prior then you know that on occasion I profile someone who is living on the street. I used to do this more often but haven’t in recent months simply because I myself have been broke and I usually give them some money—even if it is just a couple bucks—after speaking with them.

This said, I’m in NYC for the weekend and on my way back to my room last night met Denarius. I wasn’t going to stop but her sign caught my attention. It quoted a portion of one of my favorite Bible passages (which is above). So as I was walking I glanced at her sign then at her and as she looked up from a book she was reading our eyes met. Her eyes told me that she was a kind person so I stopped. After introducing myself I commented on her sign and she too agreed it was one of her favorites as well.

Denarius has only been in the city a short while, she took the Greyhound bus here from the west coast to escape a bad situation. That’s all that I know. After chatting for a few minutes I asked if I could take her photo, to which she agreed. She was also patient with me as I fumbled with the camera as I had forgotten I had it set for timed long exposure settings for photos I had just previously taken. We laugh a bit, then I snapped her photo. After chatting a bit more I parted.

The room I stay in in NY is a meager one…a room with a bed, table, and TV that rarely works, and a shared toilet and shower down the hall, but still it is grand compared to Delnarius’ accommodations. And on the way back to my room I kept thinking of the quote she chose for her sign, and the fact that she herself seemed as cheerful and thankful as it suggested. If I were o find myself in her situation I don’t know if I could maintain such positivity. My life is better because of meeting her, I pray she is well.

To read more in this series, Click Here.

This is Mark.

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We’re all just walking each other home.”

~ Ram Dass

This is Mark. I saw him drawing in the street this evening as I was walking out to my favorite tavern. And when I say in the street I mean it quite literally as he was in the middle of the street. As I love free art I stopped to chat with him. He was drawing a mermaid, he told me. When I asked if I could take his photo he laid next to his drawing. He also told me he loved all sorts of artistic expression and that he wanted to help make Allentown (in Buffalo, NY) artistic again. As we were talking I couldn’t help but notice the hospital band he was wearing on his wrist, as if he were just released. I asked him about it and he told me but I won’t air his personal issues here. Then it occurred to me that I had met him before and had actually posted about him on this blog (read his story here). We had a nice chat. He told me he was homeless but never asked me for money, though when I offered some he readily accepted. I have to say it was really nice to chat with Mark this evening. We parted and I went and had a couple beers. When I came out his mermaid was complete but Mark was down the street being interrogated by police officers (his drawing below is actually illuminated by the headlights of a police car). I don’t know what the police were questioning him about, nor do I know his real story, but what I do know is that chatting with him tonight brightened my evening. I home he finds his way. Read the previous post about him here.

This is Micheal (and me, too).

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Okay, first let me say that it is rare that I post photos of myself. Like many people I really do not like it. But anyhow, that aside, let me tell you about this photo. I had gone out for a couple beers this evening at my favorite watering hole, and when I came out Micheal was standing there. He timidly asked me for money while he looked away. I gave him a dollar and asked him his deal…how he found himself out here on a cold New Years Day eve asking for money.

He has mental illness, he told me, has had it all his life (schizophrenia, but he’s on medication) . And because of it is unable to work. He has not received his disability check and was hungry. He was trying to get enough money to buy a sandwich. He sleeps at a friend’s house who charges him ten dollars a night, which he paid for the night, so now he had nothing left to eat with.

I asked him if he would like me to buy him a sandwich and he looked surprised but said yes. Now you may be saying to yourself, Okay here is Joe getting duped again. But I don’t think so. Micheal was sober, if not timid. And I ask you, can you imagine standing outside a bar asking for money for food? What would that take?

So it’s New Years Day evening and one of my resolutions for 2017 is to live authentically, intentionally, and with conviction. I am usually (always) worried about money. But I also always seem to have it. And yes, to the people reading this thinking, “Why doesn’t he just get a damn job,” I understand. I have worked hard–really hard–my entire life, since I’ve been 16. But I don’t think it’s that easy. I don’t have mental illness (at least I don’t think I do). I have never been reduced to asking for money on the street on a cold January night. And even though I worry about money all the time I had some in my pocket when Micheal approached me. So if I truly want to live to my convictions, to be the person that I say I am, how could I possibly not buy this guy a sandwich? He is a human and I am a human. I have more than I need and he doesn’t.

I left Micheal at the restaurant to eat his sandwich and he thanked me and said Merry Christmas. That’s all I have to say.

This is Sly…

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“Hey Allentown!” That’s what I hear frequently while on my bike in the Elmwood Village. That’s what Sly (pictured above) knows me as. He used to panhandle in Allentown but as he put it, “I’m not allowed in Allentown anymore.” But that’s an entire neighborhood, I’d think to myself. He does have a rather gruff appearance (and that’s putting it mildly). Some are afraid of him, some–with closed minds and hearts–get angry with him. Once I saw a couple collage boys threaten him physically when he asked them for money. This, I’ve heard is also the reason he’s “not allowed” in Allentown any longer. I was told he was beat up by someone there a couple years ago and told it will happen again if he returns. But nonetheless, he is a fellow human on this rock we call earth, and at times–when he is lucid–a very friendly and coherent one at that. Such was the other night when I ran into him while exiting a bar on Elmwood. I was walking to my bike when I hear his familiar beckon, “Hey Allentown,”  and I turn to see him with his distinctive hobble coming over to me. I gave him a couple bucks and asked how he was doing. “Oh you know you know.” Where you staying I asked. “Right here, man, right here on the street.” How about winter, like last winter, I questioned. “Oh you know, hospitals, churches, and other places.” He has a mental disability, and I’ve heard he spends winter nights at the psychiatric hospital, but I don’t know if that is true. I’ve also heard that he is a Vietnam vet and had an emotional break during the war. I don’t know if that is true either. But what I do know is that he is a nice guy and interesting to talk to at times. And it’s interesting, I am finding out that when I ask people if I can take their photo most people say yes right away. This was the case with Sly the other night. He commented on my bike, “Hey man, that’s a nice bike, you didn’t tell me you got a new bike.” Would you stand in front of it while I take your picture, I asked him. He immediately stood in front the bike, flashed a grin from ear-to-ear and held out the peace sign with his right hand (and, FYI, for those who may make the sweeping rash judgment of street people, that’s a soda in his left hand, not a beer). Personally, I feel the world needs more Slys and less “Donalds” (sorry, there’s my judgment). When we shook hands I noticed, as I have in the past, how calloused his hand was; likely from the hard life of living on the street. And as I pedaled away on a really lovely summer night I saw him make a b-line towards a group young college girls and could hear his familiar mumble, “Hey can you help me out with a little something, I’m trying to get something to eat.” When they turned him down, or more specifically ignored him and kept a large distance from him as they passed, he moved onto the next group of people coming down the street. Thankfully I do not know this personally, and contrary to what a lot of people think about the homeless (another judgment, sorry), is that one can not be lazy or stupid to survive on the street. As the summer ends and the cold months loom closer each day, I pray that Sly makes it through, because he makes this world just a little bit more interesting. And that’s what I was thinking about as I pedaled and coasted home on a warm summer’s night with a few beers in my belly.

Urban Simplicity

David and his two dogs…

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If you’ve been to this blog more than once then you know that I sporadically post about the homeless. For my entire life I have had a weakness for them…how they got there or what led them to their current situation. No little kid thinks to themselves they want to grow up to be homeless and no mother hopes their little baby to grow up and live on the street. But I’m jumping ahead as I often do (or actually jumping behind). Anyhow, I was in the beautiful and vibrant city of Toronto this past weekend with my three sisters, and like any big metropolis there are a large number of people living on the street. Often I will stop to talk and on this weekend I did with only two of the people I saw. David is one of them. I walked passed him on Queen Street West and he caught my eye because he was sitting between his two friendly dogs, but mostly because of his sign (one can be homeless and still have a sense of humor, and despite his predicament I could see right away that he was a rather jovial guy). After dropping a couple dollars in hi pail I asked if I could take his photo, to which he readily agreed. After introductions, I asked if his sign was true…if that’s really why he was begging for money. He laughed a little and told me that while he does smoke weed he was really trying to get money to eat, but he’s found that–even though it pisses some people off–a sign like that makes people see him. After shaking hands and petting his dogs I wished him luck and walked on my way on a beautiful if not balmy summer evening. Peace David, I hope you got some food (and weed).

Urban Simplicity.

A few photos, a couple (nonsensical) thoughts, and an inspiring conversation

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I have a long story (regarding the bottom photo) which I’ll make shorter, and I originally posted this–or at least a portion of it–on Facebook so if you’ve read this already I apologize for the redundancy. This is a fire alarm call box on the corner of Allen and Elmwood in Buffalo (it’s also visble in the top photo on the right-hand corner). Relics from a bygone time, I suppose…here’s images of others and they are even available on ebay as collectables). At one time there were many of these around the city, I remember them from my youth. Now there are only a half-dozen (I know this because I saw a city-worker inspecting it one day and he told me so…and yes, this still works). Anyhow, I was talking with a couple youngish co-workers the other day regarding an incident that happened on this corner and they used this as a point of reference but were unsure of what to call it…they didn’t know what it was (“It’s not really a fire hydrant but it has something to do the the fire department,” one said). I mentioned to them that it was a fire alarm…that in the event of an emergency one would break the glass and pull the lever and help would arrive. And then after a somewhat long and uncomfortable silence and perplexed looks I also mentioned that there were not always cell phones available. 

Anyhow, that story aside, I was out taking photos in my neighborhood a couple evenings ago as it was such a nice summer night. And after taking the above photo I began to walk down the street when I was stopped by the couple in the above photo; they asked me for spare change. After giving them what was in my pocket I asked if I could take their photo. “You’re not with the mafia or police, are you,” the woman questioned? I’m still not sure what she meant by this, but after assuring her I was not with either organization they both readily agreed. The woman rummaged in her bag for some lipstick and then quickly fixed her hair before throwing her arm around her friend. They wanted to know why I was taking pictures. I told them I just enjoy it and that I enjoy meeting people. After introducing myself and shaking hands all around, I learned the woman’s name was Rosemarie but goes by Rhianna. Her friend simply told me, “They call me D.O.D.” At any rate, we chatted for a few minutes and they actually thanked me for taking their photo. This sort of surprised me but I thanked them in return for allowing it. By stopping to talk to people, I find, that the invisible barrier is broken…instead of two street people and a guy with money in his pocket, it became just three people. Simple as that. But why am I sharing this? Honestly, I am not sure, but I felt I should.

Urban Simplicity.

This is Harry…

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“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

Matthew 25:35

If you’ve been to this blog before then you know that I have a soft spot for the homeless. My view is that it can happen to any of us. I really believe this. I don’t think that a homeless person ever aspired to or thought they would be in the predicament they may find themselves. But they are. As for myself, if I were unable to earn a paycheck it would only be a couple weeks before I would be in financial trouble.

Anyhow, this is Harry. I saw him on 14th Street just off Union Square. I’m in NYC for the weekend and was on my way out for dinner and then a few beers before walking around and taking photos. And as I passed him on my way to a favorite Thai restaurant I saw him eating his dinner on the street.

After dropping a couple bucks in his hat and introducing myself I asked if I could take his photo. Surprisingly he said “sure.” Not all the people I ask agree to have their photo taken, later this day two other guys declined. Anyhow, I told him that I like to hear people’s stories, and that I do this to bring an awareness to the homeless or semi-homeless.

Harry told me e was from Kansas City, then had to leave (he declined to tell me why). He first landed in New Orleans, where he squatted with a few other people in an abandoned building. New Orleans attracts a lot of homeless these days, he told me, because ever since Katrina there are a lot of empty buildings. I told him how I lived in NOLA quite a few years ago for a short period (mid-1980’s) and that I was actually very near being without a place to call home at the time, and that it was the first and only time I was truly hungry (and somewhat scared).

He then headed up here, to NY where he is sleeping outside a building on the lower east side. We talked briefly about his safety and he was concerned, but where he sleeps now is pretty safe, he said. He also said that he was just going through a rough patch right now, but he’ll be ok. After a bit more talk we shook hands and parted. I went to a Thai restaurant while Harry ate his dinner on the street. And as I ate the food didn’t taste as good as it usually does. Not that the restaurant was at fault…I stop here whenever I’m in NYC, and it was as good as usual. It’s just that I couldn’t stop thinking about Harry. I hope he is warm tonight, because as I type these words it is raining outside

Urban Simplicity.

This is Dan.

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For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Matthew 25:35-36 

This is Dan. I met him on my way to work this morning. I was riding my bike and feeling a bit disgruntled…disgruntled that I had to work this morning. It was Sunday–Palm Sunday–and I was on my way to yet another day of rushing around a bustling kitchen. My whole career I’ve always disliked working Sundays. Anyhow, as I approached the corner of Allen and Franklin Streets in Buffalo I saw Dan. He was holding a piece of cardboard and written on it was “Homeless and Hungry.”  The traffic light was green and I was running late so I pedaled right past him. It was Sunday morning and there was no traffic anywhere…how long was he standing there in the cold I wondered? And who was he holding the sign for if there were no cars coming? Then I realized he held the sign up as I rode past, he was trying–without saying a word–to get my attention. I couldn’t keep going. I was about a city block ahead but I turned round. After introducing myself I asked if he wouldn’t mind telling me his story, and he did. It turns out that Dan is an experienced plumber. It’s embarrassing to ask for money, he said, but he has no other choice at this point. He was working and had purchased a house in Riverside (North Buffalo) that needed a lot of work, which he planned on doing himself while he lived in the apartment he was renting. Then one day while working on his house he herniated a disc in his back. I have done this as well and know how debilitating it can be. He couldn’t work because he was laid up. And while he was out of commission thieves went into his house and stripped it of all the new copper plumbing and wiring that he personally installed. To get to the point…he lost his job, his house, his apartment, and this is why he was standing on the corner this morning trying to get my attention with a sign. We talked a bit. He told me of his difficulties trying to find a place to sleep every night, and how hard it was being homeless last month (the coldest month on record…ever!). But he is resilient, he also said, and he will get back on his feet. He’s just got to start over, he added. After giving him a couple dollars I asked I could take his photo, he obliged. We shook hands and parted, and as I rode away I felt guilty for having too many options for work in my life. We all have issues, I know I certainly do. And if I were suddenly unable to work it would only be a month or two before I’d likely find myself in a similar situation. Dan seemed like a really nice guy who has fallen on some hard times, and he is no better or worse a person than I or you. Good luck Dan, I hope you make it, you are in my thoughts and prayers.To read previous posts on the Faces of Homelessness, click here. And if you have just over a minute of time you may find the below video interesting as well.

Urban Simplicity.

Four faces, how a fifth one restores my faith in humanity, and a prophetic dream, too…

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Image Credit

This post is another in an accidental series on the homeless I’ve been encountering in Buffalo (click here or here to read previous posts). I had written about this briefly on my Facebook page last night, but here’s the rest of the story. 

I had gone out for a long walk (4 miles), which I interspersed with beers (hey I get thirsty). And I was almost home. I just turned the corner onto Allen Street (which is the street adjacent to mine), had the Velvet Underground blasting in my headphones, when I stumbled upon—nearly tripped over—a women and three children sitting in a doorway. She was sitting in the doorway with her legs out on the sidewalk and two of her children—an infant and a toddler—where sleeping in her lap, while a boy of maybe 5 or 6 stood at her side. So surprised at this scene I walked past them for maybe 10 feet but I couldn’t keep going. I turned around. And what struck me was the look in the boy’s face; his eyes…they broke my heart. I went back and asked her if everything was ok. She wore African attire and had a thick accent but said everything was ok. I asked her if she had someplace to go or a place to sleep with her children, she shook her head no. In my head I panicked a little. What should I do, I wondered…there has to be an agency to contact. My first impulse was to just give her money, but then I remembered I only had a couple dollars left in my wallet. I couldn’t just walk away. But just as I was thinking this I heard a car door close. A women pulled over when she saw this same scene. She asked similar questions as I, then said with a certain authority (and urgency), as she reached to help the woman up with her children, “Tomorrow we will find you someplace to go. Tonight you are staying at my house where I have an extra bed for you and your kids, a shower if you’d like, and plenty of food.” They all got in her car and drove away. With all the incredibly bad news that the media presents to us (which they thrive on), instances like this truly restore my faith in humanity. This was such a beautiful sight to witness, but I really hope and pray that the family does find it’s way to comfort and safety.

Then, last night I must have been thinking of this when I lay down to bed because I had a night full of really crazy dreams. But in the one dream I dreamt that I was in fact homeless and asking people for money. And at one point in the dream I was in a large room and there was cash all over the floor but I couldn’t have any…there was a person with a vacuum vacuuming it all up. But then out of nowhere a women appeared, the same woman I witnessed help the family in the above story. She smiled at me, bent down and picked up an armful of money and handed it to me. She then turned to leave, and as she did I could see that she had wings on her back, angels wings. Am I crazy (likely a bit, yes) or did I witness an angel in our midst? I’ll let you do your own analyzing. 

Another face, another very real story…

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For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Matthew 25:35-36

This post is a continuation of one I wrote nearly a month ago regarding the homeless in our city (click here to read it). In that post I mentioned witnessing a women being verbally abused while asking a group of young party goers for some spare change, and also of a man I spoke with who asked me for money on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He told me that he worked full-time (for minimum wage) but still had to beg on the street to support himself. The image above is of Sarah. I met her today while out on my bike. When I saw her sign it was as if my bike stopped itself. After giving her some cash she seemed a bit apprehensive when I asked her if I could take her photo. I told her that I have a blog, work as a chef, and am also an interfaith minister…she then looked at me like I was a bit crazy (and rightly so). Anyhow, we both relaxed and we had a nice but brief chat, this is her story. She’s a single mom just as the sign reads. She and her daughter are currently squatting in an undisclosed vacant house with a few other people. They eat mainly at food pantries and with money she earns on the street. She became homeless after her father–in an alcoholic rage–through her and his grand daughter out in the middle of the night. She has had difficulty getting/holding a job because she suffers from crohn’s disease and is concerned about her daughter’s safety. I have always been moved by seeing people on the street. And as a person of faith I literally cannot help but respond. But in my own personal view I am not doing enough. While I believe that all faiths speak the same truth, I call myself a Christian. And to me, being a Christian is not just about going to church on Sunday mornings, it is a call to action. If I truly were to live out the gospel I would have emptied my wallet to Sarah (OK, I nearly did…but trust me it wasn’t much; I rarely have more than a few dollars on me), or I would have helped in other ways. Tonight when I lay my head on my pillow in my own home with a full belly Sarah and her daughter will be in an abandoned home somewhere. And yes, I am fully aware that she and others I have spoken with and given cash to may be making this all up, that they may in fact be asking for money to support a drug or alcohol habit. But then again, maybe they are not. And if they are not I can’t he;p but wonder how I couldn’t be doing more. Because seriously, as you read this, think about it…what if their stories are true. I’ll get off my little soapbox now, but not before I ask you to watch the below video (it’s only a little over a minute long).

Urban Simplicity.

Two very brief but very real stories…

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These are true events and conversations I’ve had a couple of days ago and cannot stop thinking about them.

The first, I was out at night taking photos as I often do, and I saw a women asking for money on the street. I’ve seen her before–and have in fact given her money in the past–as she is often in the same area. I had my tripod set up on the edge of the street and was taking photos when a group of young men passed her…party goers, no doubt as there are a lot of bars in the area. She asked them if they could spare any money. Their response was nearly explosive…”Blow me, then I’ll give you money.” There were other comments and she just stood there. Then another said, “Get a F%&king job you loser.” She simply replied, “I have a job and this isn’t it.” A few minutes later she came over to me and asked the same question. I didn’t have any cash on me, I told her, and I also told her I was sorry the way those guys treated her. “Thank you,” she said, “but it’s ok, I’m used to it.”

That was on a Saturday night, the next morning I had stopped for coffee just after worshiping at church. On my way out of the coffee shop and as I was unlocking my bike a guy came up to me and asked me for some cash. He looked to be just a few years younger than I. And as I reached for my wallet I asked him how he happened to find himself in these circumstances; I wanted to know his story. He looked a little surprised that someone would even ask. Then he told me that most people assume that he is homeless, but he’s not. And that he is also jobless, but he’s not. He went on to tell me that he works full time but only makes minimum wage (which is $8/hr) and it’s not enough to pay the bills, that he has to supplement his income on his “day off” by begging on the street. He finds it really embarrassing, but it’s what he is forced to do.Tears welled in both of our eyes as he spoke.

When I started this post I was going to hop up on my little soapbox and go on a tirade on how screwed up things are that people in our country that work still have to beg on the streets. But I don’t have to. These two stories speak for themselves. Sorry to be such a bummer.

Urban Simplicity.