Couple living on the streets of Flint
41-year-old female and 32-year-old male
August 29, 2013
“We’d give anything to have nothing to do but sit and watch TV, because at night we go to bed with no money and wake up with no money and have to start hustling as soon as we get up.”
We had the amazing opportunity to hear a heart breaking story of a couple living on the streets in the eastside of Flint. For purposes of the story we will call them Steve and Stacey, because it was requested that we not use their real names.
We drove to the eastside with a local pastor, who had gotten to know Steve and Stacey over the past few years. Since they don’t always know where they will be and they walk everywhere, we had some trouble finding them, but when we found Stacey we couldn’t wait to hear her story.
Stacey had beautiful brown eyes. In fact, that’s what we first noticed about her. She’s a small woman and she wore her make up done up with pink nail polish on her fingers and glitter on her skin. Stacey talked openly and with emotion about her life and what she had been through as we sat outside on the tailgate of a truck to talk. She admitted feeling ashamed for the things they she had done to survive but Steve kept her going.
We talked to Steve a little later when he met up with us for dinner. He was tan with paint on his hands from a side job he did that day. He didn’t say too much more than Stacey had already told us, but what we noticed the most was his love for Stacey. As he sat in the booth at diner in Flint he put his arm around her and stroked her hair. There was true love there, despite what they had been through.
Steve and Stacey spoke in an honest, candid and emotional way about their lives.
Here is their story:
Steve and Stacey have been living on the streets for two years, but their hardships in life started a few years prior.
They both went through struggles, losses and addictions. One decision after another and one unfortunate circumstance after the ended landed them on the streets of Flint. But the one thing they always had was each other.
They’ve reached a point today where they’ve hit rock bottom and don’t know how to get out of it, but they said, without a doubt, that something needs to be different.
“We’ve got to make some changes and we have to make them quick,” Stacey said.
Stacey is the mom of two kids, who she had when she was young. Her son was born with cystic fibrosis and she spent a lot of time taking care of him. She had a house and a car and a job in the health care field.
Her life is what you would consider normal. She did the best she could for her kids as a single mom and would do anything for them.
In 2009 Stacey got into a car accident and broke her leg. That was on top of having a head injury after she was beaten in an abusive relationship. This eventually led to an addiction to pain killers, which she took every day. But even when that was the case, she said nobody – including her children – could tell.
Steve, who had broken multiple bones throughout his life, was also addicted to pain pills.
On April 19, 2011 Stacey’s son died at the age of 21. Five months before that her father also passed away. While her son was in hospice, Stacey went down to working one day a week, which was a stress on the bills.
Once her son died, Stacey said she went off the deep end. Both Stacey and Steve lost their jobs and then lost the house.
“It happened really quick. You get in deep quick. I was an everyday, normal, average family with two kids. I worked every day, came home, made dinner, did laundry, helped with homework,” Stacey told us. “Life can turn from sugar to shit in seconds.”
Steve was living with Stacey at the time they lost everything and they both were struggling with money and a pain pill addiction.
Steve, who grew up in Burton, was an all-star athlete at Bendle High School. He started with alcohol and marijuana in high school with his friends. And it escalated from there to more dangerous drugs.
After graduation, Steve decided not to go to college and started working in construction. He was working at a scrap yard when he and Stacey were living together, but all of a sudden lost his job, too.
“We’ve been on the streets ever since, hussling, doing whatever we can to get by,” Steve said, adding they sometimes hold signs on the corner of a street or do odd jobs.
‘Caught up in the wrong things’
On a daily basis the two could walk anywhere from 20 to 30 miles on average per day. Stacey often wears shoes too small for her because that’s what’s available to her.
The entire time we spent talking to her and Steve, however, they didn’t complain. They moved through life with what they had and hoped more opportunities would come their way.
They sometimes rent out rooms in a home or stay in abandoned houses, making sure to not upset the neighbors. Currently they are living in a shed behind an abandoned home with two couch cushions, two couch pillows and a comforter.
Steve and Stacey both ask for money on the streets to get food. Steve also does odd jobs when he can get them and Stacey has gotten into prostitution.
Stacey admits what she does to make money, but she is by no means proud of it or wants it to define her value. Tears fill her eyes when she talks about it, just knowing this is not what she wanted for her life.
“It got to where I was going for a walk, the more walks I took the more approaches I got from guys. ‘You need a ride? You want to go on a date?’ You start telling them about your life, they want to help you but you have to do this and do that. And you’re in. And that’s what you’re known for out here,” Stacey said.
So she does what she has to do to provide money, to survive. Steve watches the cars she gets into and remembers the license plate number. It’s not easy for him to watch her get into cars with other men. It’s actually extremely difficult, but that’s the situation they are in.
But nothing will take away the love they have for each other. That is one thing both Steve and Stacey made apparent to us.
“He’s been there since the roughest part in my life,” Stacey said about Steve.
“This is my baby right here. I would do anything for her. I definitely love her with all my heart,” Steve said. Some people tell them they are only together because they both are addicted to drugs.
But that’s not true at all, they both said.
“There was a (Stacey) and (Steve) before the drugs.”
The worst part about being on the streets is how they are perceived. They aren’t treated with dignity and those who pass them on the street think they are the same as every other person on the street.
They are seen as trash, dangerous and hateful.
Let us assure you those words would never come out of our mouths when describing either Steve or Stacey. Stacey is beautiful, kind, soft spoken. Steve is hard working, cares for Stacey and is eager for more for his life.
“God doesn’t love you any more than he loves me because you have money and I don’t. It doesn’t make me a bad person because I’m on the street,” Stacey told us.
When they began living on the streets, their addiction switched from pain killers to heroin because it was cheaper.
Being on the streets isn’t ideal for anyone. Stacey’s daughter worries about her, understandably, but right now there isn’t a good option for Stacey and Steve.
“She worries about me getting hurt,” Stacey said. “I’ve been in a couple bad situations out here that I’m lucky to be alive.”
She’s been robbed for $70.
Despite what others have done to them, it’s very important to both Stacey and Steve to not hurt others. In fact, if they can spare anything to help someone else, they will.
Sometimes, however, their drug addiction has caused them to take money that wasn’t theirs to buy food. But it’s only ever been used for food, Stacey said.
“We really do have good intentions but once me and (Steve) feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel there’s something blocking it,” Stacey said. “I am not a bad person. I just got caught up in the wrong things. You never know what is going to happen from today ‘til tomorrow.”
Hoping for more
When asking Stacey what the future looked like for her the answer was simple and complicated at the same time. She wanted more. She wanted normalcy.
The question then became about how to make that happen. The first step is to get clean and off drugs.
Easier said than done.
“It’s not that me and (Steve) want to live like this or choose to actually live like this, you know what I’m saying. If we could get a way out with work and guarantee that we would have a way to get jobs … the thing is I did try to get help for my addiction. I did go into rehab one time,” Stacey said will full sincerity. “But when you come out of rehab and you have no place to stay and you have to live on the streets, it’s kind of hard to do what you to make money without being under some sort of influence. You get tied right back into the addiction because it helps you get through what you are doing.”
Once they can get clean and find jobs, they hope to once again have a place of their own and living life they believe it is meant to be lived.
If Stacey could give any advice for anyone it would be to get as much education as possible and don’t get caught up into the myth that drugs are fun. It starts fun but you will hate it in the end, she said.
After all that that Steve and Stacey have been through over the past few years, hope still remains. Even though they have been beaten down, hurt and run dry, they have hope that there is something better.
“Hopefully the future holds opportunity for me and (Steve) to live what we call a normal life. We’d give anything to have nothing to do but sit and watch TV, because at night we go to bed with no money and wake up with no money and have to start hustling as soon as we get up.”
You can’t sum up a person’s life, hurts, passions or story in any amount of words. This is only the tip of Steve and Stacey’s story. But in the short time we spent with them they reminded us that everyone is only one incident away from being on the street.
Thank you both for letting us into your lives and sharing your journey. We hope this is just the beginning of a friendship we can form.
This is the ninth story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at Flintstories@gmail.com.
Everyone has a story. We are listening.