Seeing the Face of Homelessness

Why am I telling you his story? Well, because all too often, we judge by appearance and assume someone’s character.

Animation by JannerBros is based on a real-life interview with a homeless man Brendan who was homeless for almost 2 years. We walk past homeless people every day of our lives, without stopping to ask questions or even judging them… Well here is an opportunity to hear from a homeless man.

As I walked into the dining room, my eyes fell on him. To be candid, at first glance he looked like a thug. Very thin, scrawny even, I wondered how well he would handle the physically difficult cooks’ position. His clothes were wrinkled and well worn. But what stood out was how eager he was, he even offered to start working on the spot.

As I offered the young man, a full-time job his face showed obvious relief. He apologized again for not wearing better clothes. I assured him it was fine. There was something about him. Perhaps it was the “mom” part of me, but he looked hungry.

I offered him a meal with an off-handed remark about how he needed to learn the restaurant menu anyway since he would be cooking. He eagerly agreed. He ate as if he truly was starving.

By Jannerbros

As we worked shifts together, he began to open up about his situation. He was a foster child, knew nothing of his birth parents and though he was adopted at age 11, he was treated as a live-in servant. His bed was in the basement and not allowed to eat with the family. He was used for work.

ourworldindata - homelessness

As soon as he turned 18 he was kicked out. This was two weeks before his interview with me. He had nothing but what he was wearing. I asked him where he slept, his answer was “Well, I don’t really.”

He explained that he would go from place to place until he got kicked out. Bookstores, the library or even busy fast food places. He would nap here and there and then move on if he felt like he was in the way.

I continued to be amazed by this man. A hard worker, no doubt. He was always early and would stay as late as needed. He thrived with every bit of encouragement. And yet he had no place to live, not even a car to sleep in. It was mid-winter and very cold. I asked him why he didn’t go to a homeless shelter, he said it was full.

He’d learned compassion from his hard life. He would regularly pull scraps from the garbage to feed to stray dogs out back. When I asked him why he did that he replied with a smile, “Cause being hungry sucks!”

He pulled himself out of extreme poverty. Not everyone can do that, physical limitations or having small children can make it impossible for some. I asked him what he thought would’ve helped him most, he said “Getting paid every day, waiting for the first two weeks was so hard!”.

It doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life when they have nothing. Even a kind word or sitting down to chat. If you own a business consider adding flexibility to payroll structures, allowing daily payment for the first few pay periods. This could mean the end of homelessness and hunger for so many people.

One thing he said has always stuck with me. “I don’t have all the answers, but being kind is always a good choice.”

| Written by Tricia Elliott

| Visuals by JannerBros

Check out this great multimedia story: Portraits of Homelessness