Philadelphia Metropolis


From Riches to Rags

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By S.A. Gibbins

In the spring of 2001, I moved to lower Delaware, starting both a new relationship and a new business. Construction in that area was strong and my painting business took right off, along with my new love. I pulled down any where from $8,000 to $12,000 a month. They were good times, secure times.

But, the bottom fell out on me when my girlfriend left. Old demons surfaced to haunt me in a bottle and drugs. Nothing kills the pain though, and in 2004 I entered rehab to address my problems.

It's sad to have to face life on life's terms. But, I was determined to not make my life worse. The year I spent in a halfway house gave me back the tools to work through it. In 2006, I moved to Las Vegas to run part of a three-state painting outfit. I was back on top, but the traveling in and out of state got old and I missed the East Coast.

I returned to Delaware with hopes of prosperous times, only to find that the market had died out. I found myself with no work and nowhere to go. With no family to fall back on and no friends to speak of, I spent that winter living in my work van

In a few short years, I went from top of the world to being homeless.

I spent many a night covered in blankets and drop cloths, desperately trying to keep warm. What little work I could find only provided gas enough to look for more work. I got $123 a month from general assistance and another $174 a month from food stamps, but it was barely enough to eat.


Sleeping on the streets

One day, I relapsed and found myself back in Wilmington, looking for help, no longer having a truck for refuge.

I slept in graveyards, alleys, overcrowded shelters, and finally got into a transitional home for men. Day after day, I spent hours searching jobs on library computers and at internet cafes. The search went on for a year before I found a government-funded program for men and women over 55. It was 20-hours-a-week, minimum wage, but I swallowed what pride I had left in order to survive.

Along the way, I met many people like myself, people who never dreamed that they could end up homeless. But there we were on the streets. Before finding a transitional home, I spent many a night with them, sharing stories and a bottle in some dark alley-way or park bench. I realized the bottle didn't help matters, so I stopped. I nipped it in the bud.

I took the tools I had from rehab and went forward again. I attended support meetings and applied for counseling to deal with the real issues of why I turned to self medicating.

I was determined that the streets were not going to be my demise. I wanted to be remembered as someone who pulled it back together. But it's a tough road, homelessness. It eats away at the fine character you once had in life. Where once I was revered in my business community, now I was nameless. Another inhabitant of the streets. But like everyone I met along the way, none woke up one day and decided they wanted to be homeless.


Looking for shelter

I placed free ads on Craigslist for handyman work, taking on anything my skills could handle. My spare time was spent writing in the library after hours of job searches. I established a few good customers who referred me to others and the little money I had I put to good use. A year ago, I began to look for a room, explaining in the ad how little I could afford to pay. By the grace of God, someone answered that ad. I got a place of my own to stay.

I don't have much right now, but I am regaining my self esteem and confidence.

I still search every day for two hours or more for work in this lousy economy. But, I am not a quitter. You just can't give up that's all.

And life, though meager, is good now. I spent the summer writing my first novel, of all things to do. Go figure. It was good for healing me in a way, though.

The long and short of it is that I never thought I would end up on the streets, but I did. Anyone can end up there. Yet, I must admit, it has made me a better person. Instead of passing by strangers on street corners perched in my truck, I see clearly what life is from street level. And what can happen if you assume that it can't happen to you.


S.A. Gibbins is a writer and painter who lives in Wilmington


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