"Don't be Jello"

Harry, 59, navigates the grocery store on his cane, picking out noodles, drinks and other items. He doesn’t make any choice quickly: He scrutinizes each item, looks at the nutritional listing and compares prices. Harry said making good choices is important to him, especially after living on the streets for decades. He defines being homeless as “deciding, making choices, right from wrong and how to find help.”

Harry is glad to have now made the choice to live in an apartment, supported by a team from Pathways to Housing PA.

Harry grew up in the foster care system and left around age 16. He said he wanted to find his biological family. With little knowledge of his mother and his brothers incarcerated, he went to Ohio to attempt to connect with his father, who was a truck driver. “I only knew his name. I wanted to know more. And to somehow find out who I was. But I think he thought he could just give me a few dollars cuz I was just a kid.”

Harry ended up back in Philadelphia where he spent the next 30 years on the street and occasionally in shelters. “I didn’t have family relationships where I had parents to ask or brothers to defend me. I wanted to know what it was like to grow up with my own family. It hurts me when people say they are visiting their brother, or going to a family picnic. I’ve never experienced what that’s like. Or what a normal childhood is like. I wanted to fill in the gaps.”

However, Harry admits he ended up in a back slide with drinking. While homeless, he would meet other people in the soup kitchen line and depend on them to find out the safe areas and where to access resources. But he would also spend time drinking with them to numb the hardness of the streets.

Harry connected with Pathways to Housing PA in 2012 as he was leaving treatment for alcohol abuse. He describes moving in to an apartment as “educational… It was my first time living by myself. I now had the structure to learn how to take care of myself and also how to find fun things to do…. Pathways is an idea to plus yourself. That means you are stepping up. Pathways staff understand and they are there for you. They try to add plus to your life.”

In March 2015, Harry fell while intoxicated and broke his femur. He spent a month in the hospital and a month at a rehabilitation center. It has been 5 months of hard work to rehab his leg and to literally get back on his feet. “Breaking my leg was the wake up call to get sober. Drinking would land me six feet under if I didn’t stop. It caused this fall.”
His goals for the future are to work hard to strengthen himself. “I want to volunteer. I want to go to new places. I want to exercise.”

Harry is known for his sense of humor and his constant stream of jokes. He ended this interview with his adamant belief that everyone should strive to “not be jello.… I don’t want to sit and wilt away. I want to take care of myself and better myself.”

About the Author

Jessica Weaver is a service coordinator on Team 1 and has been at Pathways to Housing PA for 3 years. She graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in Spanish.

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