This year I’ll be going around the city and interviewing people that are asking for money on the streets. As a test of their work ethic, I will offer to pay them at the pretax rate that I make as an engineer for their time and require that they sit with me for at least ten minutes. My goal is to learn more about how they got there, what it would take to get them off the streets, and hopefully reduce the dehumanization that these people experience by spreading their stories and appreciating the positive qualities that they have to offer.
I met Percy on the street and approached him because he was selling Streetwise. Percy and I have a lot in common. His first dream was to become a hip hop and rnb producer. Now he's his own boss and considers the magazine gig a stepping stone for him to get one of his many creative business ventures off the ground. At 39, he says he's still trying to figure himself out and I wonder if that's just always true for people like us. He takes good care of his family and is incredibly grateful for his 7 step kids.
A few months ago I hit a milestone birthday and had the amazing opportunity to interview my dad at the StoryCorps booth in Chicago. These recordings are archived at the Library of Congress so that future generations can listen back and understand the life and times of the people we live with today. For me, it meant a lot that my Dad was receptive to doing this with me. It was impossible for me to not get emotional while doing it, knowing that these recordings would far outlast my parents and even myself.
Recently I spoke with Kelly, someone who’s been on the streets for a couple years since her husband passed and her father was foreclosed on. In the past she’s worked was at the Burnham harbor, in a doctors office doing medical billing and coding, and has worked in service. We discuss the difficulties of finding a job while on the streets, why she stays away from homeless shelters, and some solutions that she thinks would help her get employed.
I got the opportunity to talk with a man named Nathaniel. This was his first day ever selling Streetwise, and we were on Michigan avenue when I met him. Nathaniel hopes to save some money so that he can afford books, a computer, and all the necessities for him to go back and complete his associates degree. His previous attempt at college was derailed after his computer was stolen. We talk about his life on the south side, growing up around gangs, and being able to stay out of the ghetto life as a young man.