Assignment 2d. Through His Eyes: My Interview with a Homeless Man


A young homeless man

A young homeless man. Click photo for photo source.

Searching

I spot several homeless men within meters of each other as I walk down University Avenue in Toronto. Most homeless men I see hold signs made out of cardboard. One reads ‘Homeless and Hungry, every bit helps’ next to a sleeping man with his hat held out from his arm.

A typical homeless street sign.

A typical homeless street sign. Click photo for photo source.

I see a homeless man with a long, scraggly beard alone on a wooden bench. We glance at each other. I take a deep breath. I cross the street, only to sit down again to mentally prepare myself. I glimpse at him again. He lies down on the wooden bench.

The Interview

I get up and walk over; “Hi…Can I ask you a few questions?” I pause, “You don’t have to answer them if you don’t want to.”

His light blue eyes glance up at me, “Uh, yeah, sure I guess.” He gets up.

I sit next to him and  he shakes my hand, “Hi, I’m Helmut,” he says.

What are some of your daily struggles?

He softly laughs, commenting how my very first question is so forward. He answers anyway.

Bad weather and winter are Helmut’s biggest obstacles, though he adds this winter wasn’t too bad. He braves the nights in his sleeping bag. He doesn’t like sleeping at the homeless shelters because there are always fights erupting, usually because of drug-addicted homeless men. Helmut doesn’t do drugs or even smoke but he enjoys an occasional drink. One of his main daily struggles is loneliness.

What led you to homelessness? 

Depressed man

Depression

“Depression,” he says.

Helmut, 25 years old, has been homeless only for a year now. Helmut explains how everything fell apart at once, avoiding going into detail as I am still a stranger to him. Trying to battle his depression, he went to a doctor who prescribed him experimental drugs. The experimental drugs only worsened his condition.

“I had nightmares” he adds.

Helmut lived at his parent’s house for a while (and he had his own place and a well-paying carpenting job before his depression) but it got “awkward” after a while, he admits as his parents mentioned how bills were adding up.

“If you approached me a few months ago, I probably wouldn’t have talked to you.” Helmut admits.

“So you’ve been battling your depression all on your own?”

Helmut explains he has gotten a lot better now. He is planning to start working again soon, as he is working it all out. He doesn’t want his life to pass him by.

Are you usually able to have three meals a day?

“Yeah, three, sometimes even more.” Helmut answers. At first, he used to eat whatever came his way but now he can make healthy choices as he knows the streets more. Helmut shares how Toronto has “amazing resources” for the homeless, stating how food is not a problem. Helmut gives me a paper outlining places that provide food for those in need. Originally from Burlington, Helmut feels there are a lot more resources available in Toronto than other cities.

Do people treat you rudely?

“No,” Helmut says, adding how he doesn’t beg which could be why he hasn’t had any bad experiences involving passerbys. Helmut explains how he has been approached by strangers before, mentioning the time two strangers asked him if he wanted a job.

What do you think is the cause of homelessness?

Helmut gives three main reasons:

  • Divorce
  • Addiction
  • Mental Health (In Helmut’s case, it’s depression)

Helmut acknowledges there are other reasons depending on individual circumstances. He mentions the story of a homeless woman who suffered years of abuse as a child by her own family member. She became a prostitute to support herself at one point in her life and resorted to drugs to cope. Helmut adds how he’s lucky, as things can always be worse.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about the homeless? 

Helmut elaborates how there are also intelligent homeless people. He explains how the homeless are also regular people. Talking to Helmut, I also felt he was just a normal guy. What I learned from this experience is how anyone can end up homeless- things like depression can easily worsen due to unfortunate circumstances.

Observations

Helmut shares how I am the second person to ever interview him. He was approached before by a Ryerson student. He asks me if it is my first time talking to someone homeless. It is. Our conversation felt natural and easy. I felt silly for being so scared to approach him in the beginning. After the first couple of questions, I put away my notebook and stopped taking notes. I just listened.

Helmut’s friendly demeanor and positive outlook masks his depression and loneliness. Beneath the surface, I feel like homeless people are also just like us. Each one has a unique story to share, so why not ask?

What do you think? Are homeless people just like us? Feel free to comment and share!

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20 thoughts on “Assignment 2d. Through His Eyes: My Interview with a Homeless Man

    • Thanks, Sam! Yeah, he was intriguing. He didn’t feel too comfortable going into detail about his depression though so I didn’t wanna push him.

  1. I agree with the first commenter. I would like to know more about this homeless’ man’s situation too. Sounds like becoming homeless can happen to anyone…Especially when you don’t have a good support system of family and friends who do not care about the bills or can afford it.

    • Yeah, definitely. I pretty much included everything we talked about… his story was really interesting! He was really polite and friendly.

  2. I feel like helping him…. but what II fail to understand is why he is not living with his family, when he has family? Bills don’t seem like an adequate reason to me. Putting things into perspective… if my brother were in his place I wouldn’t let my brother be alone on the streets. That sounds incredibly ridiculous to me. This is a real eye-opener for an article on homeless people.

    • That’s a very good point, Bill..he explained something along the lines of how he was sleeping on the couch due to his depression, unable to work and it just became too awkward. But yea, I couldn’t let a family member end up on the streets.

  3. Hi, thanks for visiting my blog and leading me here. I work in Oakland, California, and there are a lot of homeless and displaced people here. I hate the feeling of refusing someone who asks me for money, but I get asked so many times. Once in a while if I have change, or leftover money on my commuter train ticket, or half a sandwich from lunch that’s untouched, I’ll give it to them. I rarely stop to think about what put them in that situation, but it is probably a lot to do with family as you talked about above. If you have a support system or financial safety net, you will never end up on the streets. Someone will look out for you and help you through your difficult phase in life. I feel very fortunate to have a wonderful family and it’s really something to appreciate and never take for granted!

    • Hey, thank you for stopping by! True, having supportive friends and family is such a blessing 🙂

      It’s funny, Helmut even mentioned how it’s a bad idea to give money but better to just buy them a meal or give them food just so they don’t use the money for other things.

  4. Touching interview Sujana! I was so moved by reading this. Hope he feels better and starts working soon 😉 I’m glad you went up and spoke to him which normally people don’t do. He must have felt better talking and sharing his story with you. There’s so much we can learn from each other..all we have to do is go up to them and ask- you’re so right!! Much love hun..god bless and take care 🙂 Keep making us proud 😀

  5. This is my favourite blog post of yours because it sounds more similar to what you aspire to be based on what I read in your “About Me” page. I think it’s really cool that your blogging about social issues and taking it a step further by going out and interviewing yourself. Great use of pictures and sub-headings. I was wondering, are you a sociology major?

  6. Wow.. I really liked this. Very insightful, and brings to mind the only encounter I have ever had with a homeless man who called himself Shadow…It was kind of similar to your interview.

  7. I really appreciate your article. I work at a homeless shelter in Northern California. I was close to becoming homeless myself at one point. It was very very scary. Both my husband and I are Disabled Veterans. He is highly decorated. I have worked the majority of my life in various capacities, I am well educated and we both have great references, and yet we could not find work. We were able to sustain for the most part on savings and a very very tight budget. Then he started having PTSD flash backs, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and things snowballed. We have 4 children. We just couldn’t make it work. Luckily, it was around the Christmas season when it all finally exploded for us. I say luckily because for most of the year people seem to forget about giving. We were able to get our bills back on track through some community assistance and outreach programs. A local Veterans organization helped with some presents for the kids. He is till struggling but making progress. It has been a little over 2 years and I have been working at the very shelter I was seeking services from. I can now help people facing what is potentially the worst time in their lives. Things are still very tight for us financially, but we are making it. I work one full time job and 2 part time jobs to provide for my family. Our shelter is not a place where people end up, its a place where they start again. I would encourage all of you to visit your local shelter and get involved. There are so many options and ways to participate. Remember, Homeless does not mean Helpless.

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