I frequently travel the circuit from Smith Street, near Capitol Market, to the main post office via Leon Sullivan Way. On this route I pass three facilities that serve Charleston's homeless population: The Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center, Crossroads Shelter and Covenant house. Over the past few months I have noticed more and more folks that appear to be among the "homeless population" talking on cell phones. This intrigues me for many reasons.
First, just the practical logistics of buying a cell phone would seem to be insurmountable for a homeless person. How do they pay for it? Where is the bill sent? Of course there are pre-paid phones, like TracFone, that you can buy without an address or a credit card, but even these require you to add air time via land-line phone or internet. But according to a Raleigh, NC paper, "Cell phones are increasingly popular among the Triangle's homeless. With public pay phones quietly disappearing and prices on cell phones dropping, many homeless people say that it just makes sense."
OK, so it makes sense. But is seems to me that if someone who has no home and no address can figure out how to own a cell phone that they should definitely have the ability to find gainful employment and a permanent residence.
Which brings me to the second intriguing thought: Perhaps many of the people that we see on the streets downtown and we label as "homeless" aren't homeless at all. It's difficult to know, really. I remember years ago hearing a rumor that our own Bill Dunn (Aqualung) actually had a mansion on Kanawha Avenue in Kanawha City (the urban legend said that someone followed him for several days until, at last, he parked his shopping cart on the East End, walked across the 35th Street bridge and serruptitiously let himself into the house via the back door). I know of one man named Harry that lives in a group home in Dunbar. I see him walking all over the Kanawha Valley and he can often be found sitting and chatting with the "homeless" folks under the Leon Sullivan Way exit ramp. Most people think he is homeless, but he is most definitely not.
So where do I go from here? Perhaps we should ask people that are truly homeless to identify themselves as such. Perhaps a large red "H" affixed to their clothes would help.