The homeless just want to be heard and seen.

Being homeless isn’t a choice.

It can happen because of several situations; a loss of one’s apartment because the rent is too high, trauma and abuse by a family member, mental health not being taken care of or treated properly, loss of a job because a company downsized or other reasons.

Byron, a current guest at St. John’s, admits he has made some poor life choices following a divorce in the early 2000s that led him to become homeless several times over the past two decades. What he wants people to know is that every person has a story and Byron doesn’t want to be viewed or treated any differently because he is homeless.

Byron is an educated man in his late 40s, who loves reading books and talking about current events. What people don’t know is that he is a father of two thriving children and was once a highly successful high school basketball coach in California.

It frustrates him that society has a negative stigma towards the homeless population, and he wants the community to know there are a lot of talented and skilled people who are trying to get back to self-sufficiency. Over the past few months, he has spoken with a former doctor who lost his practice because of cancer, a man who went to the University of Oxford in England and aspiring artists and writers.

“Don’t stereotype the homeless population,” he said. “Fixing the homelessness problem starts with our communities. A community is only as strong as its weakest link. A lot of homeless individuals have talent or a skill set that can be used. There are a lot of smart, loving people out there who have been hurt.”

Bryon was stereotyped one day recently and it wasn’t a positive experience. He said the situation didn’t even need to happen.

“I was trying to get to a doctor’s appointment and was standing on the street corner when this guy drove up to the stop sign. We made eye contact and he rolled his window down and said, “I don’t have any money to give you.” I wasn’t asking for money. I just needed directions. When he found that out his tone changed completely, and he was willing to help. That is what I am talking about. Don’t stereotype a person standing on the street corner by the way they look. I am not a bad person, I just needed directions.”

Being homeless comes with a plethora of challenges and one of those difficulties is dealing with the feeling of loneliness and despair. It can be difficult being looked at negatively, navigating depression and the feeling of being on a desert island alone.

Byron is putting in the hard work to get himself back in a position to be employed, housed and more importantly having the opportunity to visit and talk with his two children on a regular basis. He is also a recent graduate of The Joseph Project, a four-day intensive employment training program, hosted by St. John’s at the Micah Center.

“I just want to be involved in the community again,” Bryon said passionately. “When I was a coach, each person on the team had a role and being a homeless person, I don’t feel like I have a role in the community. I am making the necessary positive choices, but it is difficult. Most of the time I just want to be heard and seen as being more than just a homeless person. Every person deserves respect and dignity.”