Faces of Homelessness: Generosity amidst hardship

Katia Faroun / photo editor
Robert often sits on the corner outside the Chipotle. He requested for his photo not to be published.

3/14/2019

Katia Faroun and Griffin Sendek

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, Robert spent some time talking to us about his experiences being homeless in Pittsburgh and his views of the world.

Sitting on an upside-down orange milk crate on the corner outside of Chipotle Mexican Grill in Market Square was an aged man with a blanket strewn across his lap and a 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup of coins at his feet. He had a large graying beard and wore a jacket with multiple rips hastily patched over, a thick beanie and an oversized pair of pants.

We asked him if he’d be willing to share his story with us, and he began talking before the sentence was even finished.

His name is Robert. He lived in Gibsonia before coming to Pittsburgh, where he now spends most of his time. He stays the night at a personal care home with eight other people in Wilkinsburg, a half-hour bus ride from Downtown. Robert tries to be there by 9 p.m., when he’s supposed to, but he tends not to make it back until 11 p.m. When he doesn’t make it to the home, he finds a place to sleep Downtown.

Robert never knew his biological father, and the moment his mother died was when “everything went downhill.”

He spends the majority of his days earning money on street corners. Most of the cash he receives from generous passersby goes into paying for bus fare and cigarettes.

“You always need money for something,” Robert said.

Robert mentioned his gratitude for the people of Pittsburgh. During the span of our 15-minute conversation, two individuals walked up to him, handed him some cash and gave him their blessing. Another came over and handed him a meatball hoagie from DiBella’s, which is a favorite of Robert’s.

Despite the generosity of its people, making a living in Pittsburgh hasn’t always been very easy for Robert.

He stated that during his time on the streets, he has received multiple false accusations of crimes, and has been harassed by business owners. He described to us a story where a man reported him for harassment by communication for hanging around an area for three days, and another of a local restaurant owner who allegedly threatened him for remaining outside of his restaurant. Robert also stated that he was arrested for possession of marijuana at one point, and claimed that while in jail, the guards stole some of his only possessions.

His outlook on life was notably cynical. He spoke a length about world politics and views of the current administration, touching on topics such as nuclear war and homosexuality.
“With Trump and all, I don’t know how many years America has left,” he said.
We asked whether or not he had plans to find more a permanent living situation or if he was saving up to get an apartment, and he said no.

Robert also spends a majority of his earnings on medication.

“Sometimes I want to take a large dose to help me sleep. I have trouble sleeping.”

Robert frequents this corner of Market Square and is always willing to have a conversation.

Homelessness is habitually viewed with a negative connotation. Speaking to Robert gave us a further glimpse into a world that is so often shied away from. These are real people with real lives, and Robert’s story supports this truth.

This story is 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.

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