|Mark Matthews (bearded) with homeless|
advocate Eugene McDuffie
Most experts will try to tell you that the homeless are different, not like us. The Lehigh Conference of
While it certainly seems logical to conclude that many of the homeless might have these problems, the two I met this weekend are no different than your neighbors. They might actually be a little better.
Mark Matthews, a Southern Lehigh grad, camps out on Race Street with four others. This is not far from the Allentown Rescue Mission, and is right across the street from the bus station. The owner of the vacant factory building has let them stay there provided they keep the place clean. They periodically pick up garbage along the block between Linden and Hamilton. No alcohol or drugs are permitted.
Sitting on a cushion, Matthews is very likely eligible for full disability. He has suffered from chronic bursitis since his teen years. After graduating from high school, he began working for North Pole Photo, which brings Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to many of the malls. He became its artistic director, and played the Jolly Old Elf every year.
Unfortunately, he developed an abscess from the weight on his lap. He tells me it's inoperable because it is located near major arteries. His career as Santa ended prematurely, and there is little else he is able to do physically.
Jonathan Ward has only been in Allentown for three months. At age 22, he's been on the streets for the past six years. He handed me a business card indicating that he is a self-taught photographer and videographer. In fact, he took the picture of McDuffie with Matthews, which is much better than the photographs I took.
Ward was starting a job that very night at Amazon
A woman named Donna stops by from time to time to provide food. She gave Matthews a bomber jacket and got a blanket for Ward. Before he was camped out here, Matthews tells me that Diane Teti gave him a tent, which is being used by two other homeless guys living elsewhere.
As they told their stories, sparrows nearby would join us periodically to eat the breadcrumbs these guys left for them.
Matthews has been homeless for two years, so he went through both of the last two brutal winters. The Allentown Rescue Mission took him in last December. Though the Mission limits housing stays to 30 days, it was extended last year until April 1 because of the harsh weather.
"Do you know what day April 1 was?" he asked.
"April 1 was Good Friday. This religious group started throwing people out on Good Friday. They even threw a few out on Easter Sunday."
They both laughed at the forms-ridden Lehigh Conference of Churches, which refuses to supply basic things like work boots to people who lack identification cards
Matthews said it gets pretty wild on Saturday nights because there are nightclubs in the area. He talked about a recent Saturday night in which three women pulled into the bus station barking lot and urinated. When they turned around they were embarrassed to see five homeless guys, across the street, grinning at them. Matthews said he and his group applauded, and the ladies took a few bows and left.