Faces of Homelessness: local man shares story

Katia Faroun / photo editor Jacob had lost his apartment in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence.
Katia Faroun / Photo Editor
Jacob had lost his apartment in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence.


Katia Faroun and Griffin Sendek | The Duquesne Duke

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, Jacob shared his story with us and briefly acknowledged the challenges he faces being homeless in Pittsburgh.

A man wearing a blue coat, maroon hat and black sweatpants slowly made his way up and down the median on Washington Pl., at the intersection of Washington and Center Ave. Holding out a sign to vehicles stopped at the light, he shuffled along the small patch of concrete, patiently keeping his eye out for any generous drivers.

We approached the man from behind and accidentally startled him. He didn’t seem accustomed to others walking up to him and starting a conversation. We introduced ourselves and he began to talk.

He told us his name was Jacob. We offered him a sandwich and a bottle of water, which he gratefully received and promptly began to eat. We asked Jacob about the difficulties he faced in trying to find housing in Pittsburgh and he immediately started to tell us his story.

Jacob explained that he had been living in North Carolina before he came to Pittsburgh. He lived in an apartment, and in the fall of 2017, suffered a severe spinal infection. He was hospitalized, and most of his savings went into paying off medical bills.

As soon as Jacob was released from the hospital in September, Hurricane Florence hit the coast. He returned home, only to find his apartment destroyed.

Jacob gathered up all the money he had left and purchased a bus ticket to Pittsburgh, a city he had lived in before. He had faith in the opportunities it would offer him, and for the past few months, he’s been trying to pick himself back up again.

Griffin Sendek / features editor
Jacob usually stands on the intersection of Washington Pl. and Center Ave.

We asked him where he was staying, and in between mouthfuls, he explained how he was staying on-and-off at Light of Life in the North Side. He mentioned the help it has offered him: food, warmth and a place to stay. In order to get a bed for the night, Jacob has to show up at check-in, where the volunteers take his name and assign him a ticket for the night.

A couple days a week, Jacob works cleaning buildings, and gets paid under the table. Sometimes he doesn’t get back to the North Side until late at night, missing check-in.

“If you’re not there, you don’t have a bed,” he explained.

When he’s unable to stay the night at Light of Life, Jacob has to find other options. Sometimes he goes back Downtown, where there’s a warming shelter.

“It’s gross. It’s just a gym floor,” he said. “They give you a little mat and you have to be up at 5:30 a.m.”

It’s hard for Jacob to sleep on the floor and then spend his days bent over cleaning with his back still in rough shape. It’s not a lot of money, so he has to work a little extra to get enough money to find a place to stay permanently.

Jacob spends a majority of his afternoons where we found him, holding up a sign asking for some cash and mentioning that he was a previously a Marine.

He cut our conversation short, saying he needed to take advantage of the traffic. Before saying goodbye, he assured us that though people often don’t have a lot to give, every little bit helps.

“Anything is enough.”

This is the start of a new 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.