Male, Age 38
“Father, Friend, Son, Brother, Genuine, Respectful”
Daniel Enger (Interviewer) Good Morning today is November 10th, 2021, and we are here at the Gateway Center in Metro Atlanta. My name is Daniel Enger and I have the pleasure of being here today with Justin thank you very much for taking the time to talk I’m looking forward to hearing your story and learning from you. And my first question for you is a really big one namely, could you please tell the story of your life starting when you were a small child up to the present day?
Justin: Good Morning. Sure, I moved to Metro Atlanta when I was eleven years old with my family who I mentioned consisted of myself, a brother 2 to 3 years younger than me, and a sister 10 years younger than me. We grew up in Gwinnett County which is about 45-minutes east of here. I grew up in a middle-class family I had parents that both worked for AT&T full-time I had a pretty good childhood there were some traumatic experiences along the way that were perhaps a bit out of the norm, but all in all I had a really good childhood. I did well in school, I got my first job when I was 15 at McDonalds and have worked my entire adult life up until about a year and a half ago. I have one son who is now 14 which I can’t believe he is now 14 years old, that’s my heart which is sort of my motivation for just about everything in life. I have worked off and on a lot of blue-collar work landscaping, I did welding for a while, I had done some tree work, some account management and things like that. And I attended school after high school and was able to get a degree which was pretty fruitful for me, I never really had to want pretty much the majority of my life, and was able to take care of myself, yeah. About a year and a half ago I had lost my leg and I came directly from the hospital to the Gateway Center, and I’ve been here ever since, I’ve been here the last 14 to 15 months. I’ve spent 90% of my time here in Fulton County for the last year and a half or so. I still have family in Gwinnett County that I visit often as much as possible. My brother and my sister have gone on to have many children and have gotten married and are doing well for themselves. All in all, with the exception of homelessness and sort of economic heartache I’m excited about life, I enjoy living life, I really do. I enjoy all the little things. I enjoy human interaction just like everyone else, and genuinely get excited about what the future holds, and what the possibilities and the potential hold. I guess being withdrawn from mainstream society to a degree hasn’t necessarily impacted my lust for life shall we say.
Daniel: Justin of all the things you’ve accomplished or overcome in your life so far what are you most proud of?
Justin: Hands down the greatest accomplishment of my life as I mentioned earlier is my son the young man he’s become. I have many things that I’m proud about that I’ve accomplished my religion is very important to me and faith is extremely important to me. I think I’ve come a long way in that regard as well, but if I had to narrow it down to a specific quality it would be the inception of my child, yeah.
Daniel: Justin, you’ve gained a lot of hard-fought wisdom and experiences in your life so far, if you were invited to share your wisdom with school kids in your community giving them guidance to live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives what would you tell them?
Justin: Wow, that’s a great question. I would tell them that their perfect exactly the way they are and that they should be proud of who they are and continue to fulfill what makes them happy and don’t be scared to speak on what makes you unhappy or what makes you sad. Because that’s sort of half the story isn’t it there’s no good without that so you’ve got to sort of act on both of those emotions and it’s okay to feel both of those emotions, you know.
Daniel: Justin, in what ways would you say that your life is going well these days? Please talk a little bit about how life is good for you at the present time.
Justin: Oh, life is good! I wake up every morning I can see, I’ve got both my hands, I can speak, I can eat good food, there’s many things to be excited about. Everyday literally offers the promise of endless possibilities. It’s only been maybe the last couple of years that I honestly realized that concept, yeah just the ability to do whatever it is you want on any given day we live in an amazing place called America that allows us to have all the beautiful qualities to fulfill and to live every day.
Daniel: Justin, what led to those things going well for you? How did this happen? Who or what contributed most to your doing well these days?
Justin: Again, the Lord my faith, family, friends, the same sort of elements that I suppose influence a lot of people doing well. I guess their inner circle, their family and loved ones, and then that thing we call drive that we all have maybe some more than others, but I think we all have it to a certain degree. Just internal motivation you know.
Daniel: Justin, when it comes to living a healthy, safe, stable, happy life what are your hopes and dreams looking ahead?
Interviewee: To live as freely and independently as possible. To be able to provide (and you’ll hear my son come up a lot) to be able to provide for him and offer him opportunity is huge you know just the essentials, I’m a fairly simple guy just the basic essentials, food, shelter, water, clothing the ability to groom, things like that. I’m pretty content as long… given that those things are fulfilled I would be pretty happy if all those things were in place and were constant. You Know.
Daniel: Justin, what are some of the personal strengths that you draw on as you pursue your hopes and dreams?
Justin: Faith, family, hopefully a little bit of intelligence (chuckles) and a maybe with a twist of charisma I can pull it off.
Daniel: Justin, what challenges and obstacles do you see standing between you and the realization of those hopes and dreams, what holds you back?
Justin: Sort of newly being handicapped and sort of having to accept that has been a big hurdle for me. I was always a fairly active guy and have been sort of limited to a certain degree physically, but I think the body sort of compensates. Have you ever heard that a blind person will have their sense of taste or touch becomes accentuated? I’ve sort of experienced a similar scenario in that sort of my mind and my soul have like compensated for not having a limb and have become stronger in a sense. And being handicapped has become the most recent large obstacle that I’m sort of continuously working on and trying to tackle.
Daniel: Justin, when it comes to challenges and obstacles related to the handicapped what needs to be overcome so that you can realize your personal hopes and dreams?
Justin: Very simple guides just having insurance, having access to just basic help from a health standpoint. Maybe even having a prosthetic leg being able to walk again would be absolutely huge. As much as I’m not a money person it’s sort of an essential component to life I mean it is what it is and having funds… I don’t receive any sort of social security or anything like that, so I guess maybe getting disability or something of that nature would probably improve my quality of life significantly.
Daniel: Justin, I would like to shift to your perspective on the homeless community. The first question. How would you describe the homeless community? Who are the people who make up the homeless community in Atlanta?
Justin: Great question. Having sort of been brought up my entire life in a very middle- class mindset and surroundings I’ve learned a lot in the last Year and a half, and I’ve met some of the most kind, vulnerable, compassionate people in my entire life, you know. (pausing & crying) It’s not sort of what you see on the TV, you know it’s people just like your next-door neighbor and your boss, it’s your brother or your sister, it’s good people (weeping) with big hearts (sorry I didn’t mean to get choked up) It’s really good people. They have needs, and wants, desires, and compassion just like everyone else you know, sometimes they don’t have the voice to speak up and there’s no one there to listen you know, all those things come into play, the sort of reality that the homeless population chooses to be that way they’ve all got a sort of debilitating mental health disorder or a drug problem, yes all of that exist but it’s a very small percentage of the population you know. They just happen to be the loudest sometimes so maybe that‘s the visual that a lot of people get, but by and large their good people who have led good lives and have just come under unfortunate circumstances you know. That’s been my experience.
Daniel: Justin, when it comes to living a healthy, safe, stable, and happy life how would you describe the hopes and dreams of the people in the homeless community?
Justin: They’re just the same as anyone else’s. There are the same dreams of wanting to succeed and want to do well as anyone else’s, support humanity and all of the things that anybody else wants. People are people they still have the desires again a lot of people that are homeless typically haven’t been homeless for a long time so there’s really no text or book to pick up to be able to teach them how to get out of being homeless. Part of the reason why I’m doing this interview is ultimately there’s just not enough resources for the volume of people to adequately handle the situation, even if you can just help one or two that’s huge.
Daniel: Justin, In the homeless community what are some of the strengths that people draw on as they strive to realize their hopes and dreams and live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives.
Justin: I don’t think it’s all that different from the strength that anybody else would draw on. You will continuously hear me speak on faith that’s huge, your faith becomes strengthened when you sort of go through difficult and tough times because you are forced to confront your relationship with your spirituality whatever that may be, so that’s huge. But again, they want to see their family succeed, they want to provide for their families, they want to have friends, and relationships to make others happy just like anyone else would. Surprisingly the sort of motivation that is very much outward. You’d be surprised that how many people that have nothing literally would give the shirt off their back to someone that’s cold, their last sandwich to someone that’s hungry. So, there’s an innate need to care for the man next to you or the woman next to you and you’ll see that time and time again a sense of community that we are all in this together, you’d be surprised how kind absolute strangers can be sometimes.
Daniel: Justin, what are some of the challenges and obstacles that make it harder for people in the homeless community to realize their hopes and dreams and live healthy, safe, stable and happy lives? What holds people back?
Justin: Well, you sort of become fixated on just essential survival. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this neighborhood but this can be a pretty spooky place, and your constantly concerned about your safety hats off to the women and children that are out here alone and I see them every day, believe me their out here just constantly having to be concerned about falling victim to physical violence, predators all that stuff goes on here this is where you’re at sort of the epi center, I’m not sure if you’ve seen the show “The First 48” that feeling is right there you know what I mean that’s where you’re at. You don’t really have time to be concerned with hopes and dreams when you’re starving if that makes sense, or when you haven’t slept in three days because you don’t feel safe, or because it’s raining out and you’re soaking wet for days on end, you don’t really have the luxury of really being concerned with anything else other than surviving that moment, you know. That’s sort of a huge obstacle, you know. And again, the resources that are in place are really good people that have good intentions it’s just unfortunate that there’s not enough of them. And I don’t want to take away from the work that those people do in places like Gateway that’s personally saved my life, Gateway has saved my life. I don’t want to take away from the massive accomplishment that those people have done, but there’s just not enough of them unfortunately. For every man that has a bed here at Gateway and is fed three meals a day there’s probably 5 or 10 that don’t you know, and that’s the reality of the situation. We’re sort of a few small lucky percentages that have a place where we can talk about hopes and dreams and I don’t have an empty stomach and I’m well rested and I mean just those simple basic necessities you know.
Daniel: Justin, you just spoke of some challenges and obstacles that make it harder for people in the homeless community to realize their hopes and dreams and live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives. From your perspective what needs to be done to overcome those challenges and obstacles?
Justin: Wow, I guess that’s the question, isn’t it? I sort of touched on the physical component of having to eat and sleep, but the mental component of being homeless is debilitating at times. You have a very strong sense that you are in a sense removed from mainstream society and, I don’t necessarily think that that feeling is without reason. I think that you’re sort of swept under the rug because people don’t want to see it, or don’t know how to deal with it. And you’re sort of forgotten about and I think that just putting people in a place just to listen maybe or have an open-minded unbiased person to sort of talk to, or maybe even direct sort of a path that’s needed to take, even if they can’t offer all of those resources just again, homeless people are very confused about their situation. Nobody plans on being homeless therefore, there’s no game plan in place that they’ve ever put together in order to get out of being homeless. So, maybe just some sort of mediator to offer some sort of sense of direction would be huge. And of course, there’s all of the other things just basic government services that could really do a lot more. These people are not lazy it’s not that they don’t want to work, but nobody wants to hire someone who doesn’t have a phone or an address. You’ll see it time and time again you’ll see these obstacles in place “hey buddy go get a job quit asking for money go get a job.” When you have no money sometimes that one dollar is huge, I mean that’s lunch, or you know that’s huge and not everybody can go get a job they want to work. There’s some very strong misconception that these are inadequate for work or in my case I’ve worked my entire life, I would love to work unfortunately I can’t right now. I could go on and on about that one I think we could sit here for days and debate that topic there’s a lot, I just think more resources as a whole from the standpoint of just tending to people’s basic essential needs, if you can take that weight off someone’s shoulders of not having to revert back to living like a caveman then you open up their whole mindset as far as what… you can take someone’s life from zero to a hundred by just simply nourishing their bodies you know.
Daniel: Justin, imagine for a moment that you are a powerful leader a decision maker who can really make things happen. How would you change the system to make people in the homeless community to realize their hopes and dreams and live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives? As a powerful leader how would you change the system?
Justin: Well, I won’t be running for President anytime soon (chuckles) but if I was, I mean just again the things that ordinary people take for granted. Education is huge either just not even just for a piece of paper or a certificate, or for a job just to enhance peoples mindset and sort of motivate them. Education is huge, healthcare has to be dealt with, has to be dealt with. There’s so many people I see every day out here that just need medication and they would be fine. Access to healthcare that’s been an issue in this country for a long time, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Healthcare it just stinks when you see people pass away or people wind up in the hospital day after day after day out here because they don’t have access to insulin, their schizophrenic and their medication hasn’t been filled. These basic sorts of necessities that could be prevented you know. There’s got to be some sort of option to work or some sort of pathway to help people find jobs in this situation. Because again if you don’t have a contact number and you don’t have an address to sort of go off of well then you fall short and you’re certainly not gonna be an employer’s first go to or pick. And that’s sort of the vicious cycle that you sort of want to do better but if you go to one of the clinics it’s a four wait, and maybe you can’t wait four hours, or maybe you’ve got another appointment at the Food Stamp office. There just needs to be easier access in a more practical way for education, jobs, and healthcare. I think if I were to narrow it down those three things we’ve have got to shift somehow if sort of the quality of life of your society is what you’re trying to improve, you sort of are forced to focus on those three things you know.
Daniel: Justin, imagine you had a million dollars that you could spend to help the homeless community realize their hopes and dreams, and live healthy, safe, stable, and happy lives how exactly would you spend that money?
Justin: Again, I’m not a big money guy I never really have been, but I also have the realization that it’s a vital component to just get by. I wouldn’t need a million dollars; I just wouldn’t need it around here we call it breaking bread. I would somehow implement a strategy to maybe just give small loans to people so they could maybe perhaps just get them up off the ground literally and assist them in getting work or providing funds for a lawyer so they could get the social security that they need and then pay that money back, which these people would absolutely do if given that opportunity. Again, sort of the one percent of the predators, the drug dealers, and the murderers which are absolutely out here they sort of get the limelight and that’s just a very small percentage of the people that are actually out here. Most of these people are honest, trustworthy, good people you know, and want to do better. Just paying someone’s rent for a year, anything of that nature and I think you would be genuinely surprised at how you would see that sort of scenario be paid forward by those people once they got up on their feet, and you would see sort of a domino effect. Because I see it already in the little things, I see people give away clothes they don’t have, and you’ve already got this sense of community in place. If you just sort of take that existing structure and were to elaborate on it, you could accomplish a lot you know what I mean.
Daniel: Justin, thank you very much.