PITTSFIELD — Every homeless person has a unique story that led to the streets, according to Lindsey Hunt, who recently completed a thesis project on homelessness that included spending time in downtown Pittsfield meeting and talking with the homeless.
Below are two profile excepts from her thesis report, "Losing Yourself on the Streets — Being Homeless in Pittsfield, Ma." The city native completed her year-long project in the spring as a senior at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., receiving a degree in anthropology in June.
"Tom" is a homeless man in his 50s, Hunt writes, who cannot remember the time before he was not on the streets. He is tall and has graying hair and a full beard.
His mother kicked his father out of the house because of the man's alcoholism when Tom was a child, Hunt relates, and he and his mother and brothers grew up in his grandparents' home in a town near Pittsfield.
Tom recalls the entire family often joining the grandparents in frequenting local nightclubs or bars, and he remembers hanging out at places with pool tables as a young boy, as well as waltzing with older women. He remembers his older brothers forcing him to smoke cigarettes before he was 10.
He later served in the military, and by his early 20s began working in different local restaurants, before finding one where he worked steadily for some time.
"Since growing up as a child around the nightclub scene, the night scene of drinking and partying was the only space he perceived as normal," Hunt writes. "Without ever being urged to excel academically and continually being brought to the bars alongside his grandparents and mom, he never understood the importance of trying to better himself and finding alternative, healthier ways to live."
By his late 20s, Tom said, he was also into cocaine, which eventually led to him committing a robbery that resulted in his arrest and a prison term.
Still, he said he afterward married and for a time owned a home and his own contracting business, before once again beginning to drink heavily until finally his wife left him.
"Tom reflected back on the choices he made and the paths he took in his earlier years," Hunt wrote. "He realized how he drank and partied his years away until he was too late to turn back time ... He grew up believing that what he saw as a child is what should be done on a daily basis, and since then has been on the streets."
"Jack," who is in his 60s, grew up in Pittsfield, and after attending high school met his future wife and moved with her to a nearby county. He said they were married for 30 years and the couple had four children.
"His wife cheated on him," Hunt wrote, "and he wanted a separation. It was at this point when he came back to Pittsfield, broken-hearted and, for the first time in 30 years, alone. He internalized his sense of insecurity, loneliness and failure of marriage by taking all of his frustrations out on drugs. He began with pills."
She said Jack is "scrawny, wrinkled of age, has scraggly gray hair, and eyes that always appeared to me as being full of pain and sorrow."
He had an apartment in the city and had taken in some younger relatives when Jack began to use cocaine and then crack cocaine, Hunt writes. Eventually, the younger people and their friends were often staying overnight and partying, and Jack decided to give up the apartment after he received threats of eviction.
After living in motels and sleeping on friends' couches, Jack had begun living with relatives again as winter approached in October 2014, Hunt said, but the partying and other issues had begun to wear him down again and his health deteriorated.
"Throughout the months of November and December, Jack's health rapidly deteriorated," she wrote. "He ended up in the emergency room one night, learning that he had blood filling in his lungs. He was left homeless on the streets after nights of arguing about money with [relatives], continually being mistreated, and finally refusing to return. At this time, while on the streets, however, he would cough, shiver, shake, and feel faint because of being out in the frigid weather."
Hunt said that she finally was able to assist in getting Jack placed in an apartment, and he was still there when she saw him this fall.