Ashley Newman | Staff Writer
Writers from The Duke went into the city to gather the stories and opinions of people without homes. Duquesne University is located between Uptown and Downtown, where there’s a significant population of homeless individuals. This week, Elizabeth spent some time talking to us about their experiences and struggles of being homeless in Pittsburgh.
On the warmest day since the start of the school year, people flocked outside to enjoy the weather. Every street in Pittsburgh was bustling as many people went to PNC Park to root for the Pirates in one of their first games of the season. Among the jubilant faces of people excited for the first signs of summer were quiet, unanimated people. Scattered along the Roberto Clemente bridge and the surrounding areas, part of Pittsburgh’s homeless population sat, praying for the kindness of strangers going to and from the game to help them in any way.
Part of the crowd was Elizabeth, a middle-aged woman with graying hair, long and unkempt, and two prosthetic legs. She sat leaning against the bridge with PNC Park in the background. Her wide eyes and body language were like that of a deer in the headlights when we initiated conversation with her, and she did not relax throughout the exchange. She greeted us with normal pleasantries and said she was “hanging in there” when the banter was returned. Elizabeth was timid to share much with us, but graciously answered a few of our questions and told us a bit of her story.
Elizabeth became homeless when her husband left her, because she could no longer afford the house they had shared together. She did not hold a job while with her husband because she has trouble standing for long periods of time; when she was six years old, she lost both of her legs in a car accident. After her husband left, she was still unable to find work because of the pain and instability of her prosthetic legs.
After losing the house, Elizabeth had no family nearby to fall back on. She told us that she has no family in Pittsburgh at all; only an elderly mother in another part of Pennsylvania. She said that due to her mother’s age, she would not be able to take her in. Because of this, Elizabeth has been entirely on her own ever since her husband left her with no one to help her during this difficult time.
Elizabeth usually sleeps in the South Side, under the Seventh Street Bridge. She, like many others in her situation, made her way to the Roberto Clemente Bridge because of the game.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth is not a unique case. On our walk back to campus, we passed at least a dozen other people in the same situation as her. One man sat under the shade of the building and drew pictures for people who would donate to him. Just a few steps further, an elderly man with a long white beard sat in a foldable chair on a corner. When my friend offered him three small bags of chips, he tried to give her one back, insisting that two was enough and she should keep the third for herself (he lost that battle).
There are many misconceptions about homelessness that are very hurtful to the community. They are not lazy people who just want to mooch off of strangers. The people we interacted with that day were kind and just needed a bit of help. If you’re ever able to, I highly recommend giving anything you can to help someone. Even a small granola bar, a bottle of water or a meal swipe from Market can go a long way.
This story are part of the Duquesne Duke series titled “Faces of Homelessness,” where Duke writers go into the community and ask people without homes about their stories. We aim to focus specifically on their opinions and perspectives on social and political issues, locally and nationally. We believe that every opinion matters, and that theirs should be told. We hope this series will impact the Duquesne and Pittsburgh communities positively, offering those without a home the chance to have their voices heard. Hopefully, we all will listen.