Originally from Davison currently living in Flint
Oct. 20, 2012
“The biggest struggle is just the mental side of it for me. I mean, knowing that I’m homeless…”
We saw Steven sitting on wet, stacked up brick pavers that enclosed a small park outside of the homeless shelter he lived in. Steven was rolling a cigarette from tobacco he had in an Altoid tin, along with three other homeless men, all outside on their smoke breaks. We sat down and introduced ourselves to Steven. We were a bit out of place. All the men around us were wearing second hand coats that were ladened with cigarette smoke, torn jeans and tennis shoes. We approached them with our black pea coats and iPhones ready to hear their stories, something we will reconsider in the future. We explained to Steven that we’d like to interview him, hear his story, why he was where he was and what his life was like now. He seemed reluctant at first but warmed up to us as he prepared his cigarette and agreed to share his story.
Steven was soft spoken and never used harsh words, which is a rare thing on the streets. Here is his story:
Steven came to Flint because, in his words, Flint is a good place to be homeless.
He owned a home and had a steady job. That is until 2010 when he lost his job and his unemployment ran out leaving him nowhere to go but the streets.
“I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do when I first got thrown on the streets,” Steven said.
He was homeless for less than a year before he found a job at a ranch. Three or four months ago he found himself homeless again and living in downtown Flint. He works on the work crew at the shelter where he stays, but that’s not the life he wants for himself.
“The biggest struggle is just the mental side of it for me. I mean, knowing that I’m homeless and have no money and stuff like that and thinking that people are looking down on me,” Steven said during his break. “(People misjudge the homeless by) thinking that we’re lazy and just don’t want to work, which isn’t the case for everyone. … They think I’m a drug addict or something and that’s not necessarily the case.”
Steven was adopted at a young age by his adoptive parents, who lived in Davison at the time. Steven was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and an addiction to Cocaine. Growing up he had mental and emotional issues, which he named off – bipolar, mild schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
Because of these issues, Steven had a hard time holding a steady job. He also butted heads with his adoptive parents, who didn’t accept that he had the mental or emotional problems. Tension grew between him and his parents because of their strict religious beliefs.
After a stint in high school, Steven left home.
Around the age of 16, Steven started experimenting with drugs and alcohol, but he was quick to reassure us that he has been clean for a year now. He told us “you can’t stay here if you’re buzzed.” As a young man he took the drugs as a self-medication for the mental and emotional issues that he had been dealing with all of his life. The same stuff that had created the issues was the same thing he was taking to deal with the issues. He said that the drugs temporarily masked the problems.
And after continually losing job after job and everything he had, he became homeless.
Life on the Streets
When Steven first became homeless he lived on the streets and in abandoned homes, along with other people he knew.
He continued to look for jobs but didn’t have much luck. But he knew life on the streets wasn’t something he wanted for himself.
“I saw a guy get beat down for 5 bucks and two packs of cigarettes.”
No one really knows what can happen on the streets, he told us. People living on the streets often stay in groups to watch out for each other, he said. He demonstrated that mentality to us as a man approached him during the interview and he didn’t hesitate to share the small amount of tobacco he had, taking no money even after the man offered to pay.
“See, we try to take care of each other, watch each other’s back,” Steven said with a smile. “A lot of bad stuff can happen and does happen to us.”
Steven’s situation brought him to Flint. Here, in his opinion, is the best area to be to get what he needs.
“Flint is the best area to get free meals, stuff like that, be fed,” Steven said when we asked what brought him downtown.
On top of the meals and the shelter, Steven also has access to a psychiatrist every other week, paid for by the Genesee Health Plan. But all of that is not stopping him from looking for a job.
He has applied for more than 150 jobs, but none have called back. Steven still has hope for the future.
Just like most of us, Steven wants to find a job that he loves doing and will keep searching, he said.
“I’d like to be able to work, save up and buy a vehicle and go from there and get back to how things were.”
His break time ended, which we realized we monopolized. We thanked Steven and shook his hand and he went back to work at the shelter. We feel privileged to have spent time with him and heard his story. His five-minute break turned into a 15-minute conversation with us.
This is the first story of many in a series we are calling Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories.
Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Everyone has a story. We are listening.