VOICES FROM THE STREET: Voices of the homeless

A few years ago, as I was about to become president of the board at the Homeless Empowerment Project, I found myself walking through Boston’s Back Bay to clear my head and think about the huge responsibility I was about to take on.

I was making my way through the T station there when I saw a man named Michael that I had known for years. He was a street musician who, like me, had been homeless on and off for a while. It wasn’t the first time I had heard him play music, but on this night, for whatever reason, I really heard him. The song he was playing on his harmonica was The Beatles’ Yesterday and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. But as I was leaving the subway station, the one thing I kept thinking was the only people that are ever going to hear this beautiful tune are the people here in the subway. No one else will probably ever hear it.

The other thing I kept thinking about was what if there was a way to create something—a publishing business, based on the same model as Spare Change News, that could help homeless people with talent like Michael cut through all the red tape and have their talents showcased and maybe one day hit it big.

The Internet was alive and well then. But I was still living in the Stone Age so to speak, so the obvious answer was in front of my face, but I couldn’t see it. Still, I never really let the idea go. I wanted so badly to create something, but when your main responsibility is to make sure the organization you’re the president of stays afloat and continues to grow, somethings have to wait. The beauty of having an idea, though, is that people who believe in it want to see it come to fruition.

A trusted friend helped me begin to bring my idea to life and that small idea has grown into more than just a platform to empower the homeless. It’s slowly becoming a way for me to bring exposure to homelessness on a larger scale. One of my pet peeves related to homelessness is that the public doesn’t know enough about it and the little info that they do get is from people who don’t have a clue. That leads to misinformation, which, in turn, leads to myths like people actually believing that the homeless are there because that’s where they want to be. Trust me, no one actually wants to be homeless, and if you find some that do, it’s because they’ve been brought into a system that, for the most part, has failed them: Case in point, Long Island shelter.

Will someone please tell me how a system that supposedly cares about those less fortunate let what happened last October 8 happen? I’ll wait … the answer is the system is broken. What I want to do with my idea is let the homeless and those who truly care about them tell you about homelessness. Let them tell you their stories and also show you just how easy it is to end up out here in the street.

You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to become homeless. Some never think they’ll end up out here. Neither did I.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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