Often times, people steer away from the homeless. At least that’s what I did. I grew up in a society that taught me people who lived on the streets were there because they messed up. I was taught they deserved to live there. Through my conversations with others, I’m not the only one who grew up learning this.
During my junior year of high school, this worldview of mine was shattered. During the summer, I went on a short-term mission trip to Chicago, Illinois. During this trip, my team took a day to split up and go out and share a meal with the homeless. My partner and I encountered a married couple living on the streets. Our conversation with them was genuine and intimate. They were loving people who offered a lot of wisdom over a ham and cheese sandwich.
After talking with this couple, rather than fearing the homeless, I loved them. They gained a special place in my heart. As soon as my prejudice was crushed, I wanted others to learn about the lovely people that the homeless are.
This year I had the opportunity to have seven intimate conversations with seven individuals living on the streets of Chicago. I once again was blown away by their authenticity and wisdom that they shared with me, a complete stranger. Along with having a conversation with them, they also allowed me to photograph them and their location.
Here are their stories:
Upon approaching Tony, he took hold of the conversation and talked to me as if we had known each other for years. I was handing out sack lunches, socks, and gloves. When I offered these items to Tony, he immediately asked me, “Do you know what you are doing?” I explained that though I didn’t have much to give, I hoped it could help. He asked me again, “No, do you know what you are doing?” Confused, I asked if he could tell me what I was doing. He then reached for his backpack pulled out the Bible. After handing it to me, he had me read from Matthew 25:31-46, which is a passage that talks of how when we care for others, we are bringing Glory to God. At the end of our talk, Tony led us in prayer and blessed me on my endeavors.
“I don’t live a glorious life, but I live a blessed life.” These are the words spoken by Jerald that continue to ring in my mind. Talking with Jerald was a time of encouragement. He spoke generously about how while he’s not living a life of luxury, he’s thankful for the life that God has given him. He maintained a positive attitude throughout our conversation. He admitted to times he has messed up in the past but he is a man who believes that God pours out mercy and grace on us. Because of this belief and his conviction, he informed me that he thinks his life could be way worse than the life he is currently living. Jerald has an optimistic view on life that’s full of hope and thankfulness to God.
Coming up to the street corner that Gary was standing at, I noticed immediately he was crying and asking for help. I was hesitant to approach him as he already appeared to be in a vulnerable state. I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. Despite these thoughts, I asked him how he was doing. A bit startled by my question, Gary responded that he was doing “alright.” After asking if I could sit and talk with him, he admitted that he didn’t feel very thankful and that he was just trying to get by. Overall, Gary is a friendly and approachable man.
Shane is quite the character. His favorite color is black, he’s not into football, and he lived in Gary, Indiana until he began a career as a DJ. As a DJ, Shane is into a mix of techno, punk, and heavy metal genres of music. After expressing this, he stated, “I’m not into ‘candy rave’.” The reason he is currently living on the streets is due to someone stealing his DJ equipment. Therefore, he’s hoping to be off the streets by September. He told me a story of a moment when a person approached him and called him a scum and lowlife. Shane took the time to share difficult experiences with me such as: losing his fiancée to cancer, being a heroin addict, to spending time in jail. Rather than people reflecting on these unfortunate circumstances, he wishes people viewed him with more dignity and that they would take the chance to truly get to know him.
Upon greeting Jackie, she let me know that she didn’t have a lot of time to talk, but she was willing to answer a few questions. Through our short conversation, I learned that her favorite animal is any kind of dog and that her favorite color is blue. Jackie grew up near the north side of Chicago, she has never married, and she doesn’t have kids. When I asked her what one life changing event was for her, she told me that she was very excited to receive her social security at the age of sixty-two. Towards the end of our conversation she told me that she wished people knew that she needed extra money for living.
While MJ didn’t have much time to talk, I still learned interesting facts about him. For starters, I learned that his favorite color is blue, he loves Huskies, and he did not want the Patriots to win the Super Bowl again. He grew up in Willow Springs and had foster parents until he reached the age of seventeen. Something that MJ wished people knew about him is that he doesn’t have a bad record and that he’s outgoing. Overall, MJ is working to get off the streets by making $180 per week at his job. Unfortunately, $180 per week isn’t enough to live off of and there is no state funding going towards MJ.
Joe is very friendly and quite talkative. One fun fact I learned about Joe is that his favorite animal is a lion because of its roar and power. Joe is a Chicago Cubs fan. With a big grin on his face he said, “I was just thinking back on their win this past year.” I also learned that Joe is from the far south side of Chicago in the neighborhood of Beverly. Due to an unfortunate change in lifestyle and not being able to find a decent job, he has been living on the streets for five to six years. Despite these circumstances, Joe attends a welcoming Presbyterian church and told me that he is very thankful to God and that he wouldn’t be here without God in his life.