The truth of the Philadelphia streets

By Justin Hallman
December 4, 2003

Steph Mangold

Bum! Get off the street loser! Go get a job!

These stereotypes are all too common when referring to homeless people. In fact, I’m sure you too might have used one of these or another degrading remark right at a homeless person or quietly to your friends. Don’t get me wrong; I’m ashamed at the fact that I have done the same thing. But not anymore.

I am currently in the process of creating, developing, and finalizing a radio documentary titled “Homelessness: Stories from the Streets,” with four of my classmates. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we all have a newfound outlook and even respect for some of the homeless people we have seen. I know personally I walked away from the initial experience with a bad taste in my mouth and a disgusted, sympathetic anger about me.

The basis of our documentary was initially to generally find out more about homelessness and get as much “tape” as we could. As we went on discussing it and finding out more information, our priorities changed to finding out more and seeing what we can do to help by producing this documentary.

We journeyed to Center City, Philadelphia with the simple goal of walking around, hoping to find homeless people and interviewing them on various topics. Not only did we get to interview people, we had great conversations with these people. They were intelligent, made sense and had something to say; this did not apply to the stereotype of what a bum is like.

We agreed we had no sympathy for those who are keeping themselves on the street due to drug addictions and alcohol related problems.

One man had a cell phone and a small job, but because of the pay and his lack of good fortune, he had to remain housing himself on a bench. And you know what, he was content with that. Can you believe that? In a society where there are so many people who bitch about a little dirt or always needing the best or making sure their satin sheets are perfect, this man was fine with his sleeping bag and backpack. What is he thinking!?

We talked to another man who I had the utmost respect for and could probably talk to for hours. This man had only been homeless for about two months, first time in his life actually. He has an account, albeit a small one, but he has one for housing if he could find it. However, the place where he was staying housed his landlord; the same landlord that stole his checks and other residents as they came in. This man was forced to move out but wasn’t able to find a place to stay. He can’t find anywhere to stay because he doesn’t have enough money right now. He doesn’t have enough money because he doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t have a job because he is on disability and no business will hire someone with such a thing. He’s on disability because he is a 64-year-old man who just underwent a triple-bypass heart surgery about a year ago. I felt so sorry for this man. He’s stuck in this vicious cycle, stuck until someone will just give him a chance.

We also spoke to a man who used to be in the U.S. Marines and spends much of his days in the library. This man was very intelligent and told us all about the current shelter system and how crooked it is. The current shelter system will take in a homeless person and charge them about $2.50 a night, each night they stay there. After about two weeks, sometimes longer, they kick the person out, back onto the streets. The city is supposedly getting money in all the time to dedicate to solving the homelessness problem, however they never see any action taken place. No one is asking for a free ride, but in some of the situations they are put in, I think a little assistance would be nice. The way the shelter system is set up now, it just doesn’t work for homeless people, and it’s as simple as that.

Your opinion is yours, but for Jim, Lawrence, and Troy, I hope for nothing but the best. As far as every other homeless person is concerned, I think they maybe should deserve more of a fair shake. So the next time you want to yell “bum” at someone who isn’t as lucky as you, try to bite your tongue and see what you can do to help.

Posted to the web by Stephanie Mangold

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Justin Hallman

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