Behind Every Face is a Story

Photo and story by Emily Garr

  Jim is homeless and a vendor of the Homeless Grapevine. He grew up in Ashtabula. He moved to Florida, then California, then Colorado. He went through two marriages. He got sick and lost his job. He returned to Ohio. And he has ended up on the streets of Cleveland. Jim is a restless man with a great deal of energy, and yet a calm and quiet demeanor when talking face to face. To the average Joe, Jim is just another guy on the streets. But for those who choose to look closer, there is a wonderful story of survival. I sat with Jim on a spring afternoon in Market Square.

 He told me about how he wanted to contact the children from his first marriage, and how he did not have the means or the resources. I heard about his long –haired hippie days in Florida, and t he green Colorado mountains that he hopes to soon return to. I heard about a guy who faces an incurable illness called Celiac, brought on by depression, and a lost man who got off the bus in Cleveland on a whim less than one year ago-finding himself homeless for the first time. I asked Jim if there was anything he’d like the general public to know about the homeless. And after assuring me that he was not on a campaign of any sort, he responded, “I would like to have the `general public to be more cognoscente about the charities and the institutions…not the fact that they are supporting them where they are –but rather that they’re in. And I would like the general population to be aware of that fact and be appreciative if some of these institutions.”

 I later went home, and I looked up the word cognoscente: “having the power to know.” Many are aware, and yet are still ignorant, not only of the organizations that assist homelessness, but the faces that endure it. Many will believe that Jim’s story represents the typical hardships and circumstances of someone on the streets. Others think his story is the one exception. Both inferences are wrong.

There is a story behind each face and each voice. Each person is different, with different struggles, together, or we cannot truly know what it means to live. We do not need to be linked by a quarter dropped into a cup, but a smile or a glance of recognition-a thought taken home and not left on the streets. Jim said to me,” You gotta get down before you get up. What I’m going through now- it’s a bad fall. I gotta get up, keep on going…”Jim’s voice is one that lends itself, but for a community that has not yet surrendered itself to recognizing one another.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH published in Cleveland Ohio in July of 2001.