According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are 553,742 people who are permanently homeless and over a million people who have checked into shelters at any given time, even if their living situation is only temporary.
There is a stereotype about homeless people that they must have done something wrong to deserve their fate, like crime, drug addiction, or alcoholism. While it’s true in some cases, such instances are only a fraction of what homelessness in the United States actually looks like. Thousands of children cannot take any blame for their situation. There are veterans, unemployed professionals, and chronically ill people whose medical bills sent them plummeting into bankruptcy.
Even when we hit rock bottom, human beings have the amazing ability to be resilient. These are ten people who were homeless at one point in their life and found a way to break out of their situation in order to find a new place to call home.
10 Braheam Murphy
Braheam Murphy was a promising football player at Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. His coach, Sam Greiner, noticed that his grades were dropping and almost kicked him off the team. Little did he know that Murphy was struggling just to find a place to sleep at night. His mother died when he was just five years old. His father remarried, and his new wife gave birth to Braheam’s half-sister, who has cerebral palsy. They could only afford to live in a one-bedroom apartment, making it too small for him and his older sister to stay.
Murphy worked a part-time job after football practice and slept with extended family members, who allowed him and his sister to stay on the couch or floor for one or two nights at a time. He had no place to call home. This lifestyle left little room for homework, studying, or extra practice. If things didn’t change, he would have no way to succeed in his life.
Murphy opened up to his coach about his living situation and how football was his entire world. He asked Coach Greiner if he could live with him so that he could continue to play. Greiner said yes. Once he had more stability in his life, Murphy brought his grades up to a 3.7 GPA, and he became the new quarterback. His journey helped to inspire his teammates so much that in 2018, his high school won the North Carolina state championships for the first time since the 1950s. A recruiter from Army West Point noticed Braheam Murphy and gave him a full scholarship to play football for their school.
9 Elijah Arnold
In October 2017, a thief entered an IHOP in San Antonio, Texas, with a gun. He fired two shots in the air, threatening to kill anyone who tried to stop him. He started prying open the cash register with a crowbar, and in that moment when the gun was not in his hands, a 22-year-old employee named Elijah Arnold tackled him to the ground and clung onto the thief’s legs as he tried to crawl away. The robber hit Arnold in the face with the crowbar, which broke his nose, spreading blood everywhere. Arnold, however, had a black belt in karate, so he knew exactly how to detain the criminal long enough for the police to arrive.
Arnold only gets paid $2.50 an hour, plus tips. Why would he risk his life for his job? He’s homeless, and his job is all he’s got. After living in foster care his entire life, Elijah went straight to working. He lives in his beat-up car that he parks at a 24-hour Walmart and goes to work.
After he potentially saved the lives of everyone in the store, patrons began to walk up to him, handing him money and gift cards as tokens of their gratitude. One of the local news stations interviewed him about this act of bravery. At the end of the segment, they handed him a $1,000 reward. With tears in his eyes, Arnold said that it should be enough to help him find a place to live.
8 Raymond Pates
Veterans of the Vietnam War were not met with parades and joyous reunions when they returned home. Many of them felt empty and had undiagnosed Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Most wondered why they had to witness so much pointless death and destruction. It made it almost impossible for them to integrate back into life in the US. In fact, this is so common that there is a National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
When Raymond Pates completed his draft in Vietnam and returned to Birmingham, Alabama, he started to drink and use drugs to hide from the pain. It got so bad that he became homeless. One day, he started going to church. He asked the pastor if he could get involved with their charity work. By engaging with his community, he was able to find a job at the Social Security Administration. Now in his sixties, Pates still helps to deliver food to homeless people in Birmingham and gives them words of encouragement. “Everyone can be a hero,” he said. “When you see a need, fill it.”
One cold winter night in London, a young couple named Charlotte and Taylor missed their train. They had to stand on the platform waiting for the next one to arrive. A homeless man in his twenties spotted the couple and offered them a warm spot underneath his blanket.
The three began talking, and they learned that Joey had lost his job. He also went through a breakup, so he was kicked out of his girlfriend’s apartment. He was far from home, so without any money or a place to go, he had to resort to sleeping in the train station. After hearing his story, Charlotte noticed how her body couldn’t help but trembling from the cold, even with a blanket. She couldn’t imagine living there for one night, let alone several months, like Joey had. She asked him to come home with them, because her parents had a guest apartment.
After a while, Joey met the rest of Charlotte and Taylor’s family and friends. He was able to meet someone who hooked him up with a job, so he could get back on his feet. Friendship and support from one’s family to help them when times get tough is something that most people take for granted. For Joey, that act of kindness was all he needed to escape rock bottom.
6 Liz Murray
Liz Murray grew up in the Bronx with her parents, who were addicted to heroin. Her mother was schizophrenic and had contracted AIDS from dirty needles. Murray would have to skip school a lot to take care of her. Her dad ended up leaving the family to live on the streets and in homeless shelters. When she was just 16 years old, Liz’s mom died. Once she no longer needed to take care of her mother, Liz decided to focus on her grades. She was so far behind in her academics that her school allowed her to study and test through the many years of school she never passed.
Academics became her world. After living through homelessness and very nearly failing to graduate, Liz was accepted to Harvard University. Today, she is married to her high school sweetheart. She published a book about her experiences and is raising two children in New York City. She said this about her journey: “If I had a religion, it would be gratitude . . . Look. I grew up broke. We didn’t have food in the fridge. We didn’t have a lot of stuff, but we had each other. And when you have that, you have everything.”
5 Amanda Richer
After surviving a traumatic brain injury, Amanda Richer could no longer hold a job due to her disability and chronic pain. She lost her home and was forced to live in a tent under a bridge in Seattle. Richer became involved with local homeless organizations and worked at soup kitchens to get free meals. She met Mark Horvath, a man who has a nonprofit organization called Invisible People. He interviews homeless people for the organization’s YouTube channel. Despite Amanda’s circumstances, she stood out because of her smiling, bubbly personality.
During her interview, Mark asked her how she remains positive while being homeless. She responded:
You have to get through it. You have to remind yourself that you are a person. You are not an object. And it doesn’t matter who threw you away . . . You are worthy of getting through this. You have to love yourself, because no one is coming to save you . . . If you have to be a Disney princess to do it, be a Disney princess.
After her interview went online, Mark helped her create a GoFundMe account. Amanda Richer was finally able to get an apartment. She has made several update videos with Mark, where she is still a happy, bubbly Disney princess.
4 Amos Reed
Amos Reed is a bright, nerdy kid who loves playing board games and talking about fantasy and sci-fi. He sounds like a lot of kids living in Santa Barbara, California, except for the fact that he was raised by a single mother in streets, shelters, and the occasional motel room. At 23 years old, Reed had opted to sleep on park benches instead of sharing a cramped motel room with his mother. He was never able to finish his high school diploma, which prevented him from finding steady work. One day, he walked into a store called Game Seeker and asked for a job.
After his first paycheck, he was able to rent a shared bedroom, and he was no longer homeless. Once he had a roof over his head, he began working on completing his GED. His passion for board games made him the perfect employee for Game Seeker, where he still works today.
3 Jean Manganaro
At 15 years old, Jean Manganaro came home from school one day to discover that his alcoholic, abusive parents had abandoned him. Their apartment was empty, and they were never coming back. He tried to seek help, but there wasn’t anywhere for him to go. He opted to become friends with other wayward teens and became addicted to drugs and alcohol, just like his parents. He got into trouble and ended up going to a juvenile detention center. As an adult, he continued to struggle with homelessness.
At 29 years old, Manganaro decided that he needed to change everything. He moved to Florida in search of a long-lost older brother and started attending AA meetings. After telling the group his life story, one of the members struck him a deal. Manganaro had two weeks to crash on his couch for free. After that, he needed to find a job and pay rent or get out. He accepted the challenge and found a job almost immediately.
Manganaro volunteered to help homeless men he met in Florida. He realized that there were so many holes in the system where government bureaucracy prevented so many people from getting help. He founded an organization called The Gratitude House to help these people beat their addictions, find jobs, and get back on their feet. He uses the same two-week, do-or-die opportunity that helped turn his life around. Today, he is sober and has a good career and a wife and kids.
2 Chris Gardner
Chris Gardner was a single father. His wife left him to care for their toddler in San Francisco alone. His single paycheck just wasn’t cutting it, and he was evicted from his apartment. For an entire year, he was homeless, locking himself in public restrooms and standing in line at homeless shelters and park benches. He found an internship program at a stock brokerage and spent the only money he had paying for his son’s day care. Once he had the internship, Gardner would sometimes sneak his son into the office so that they could sleep under his desk. After a year of unpaid work, he was finally given a full-time position at the firm because of his dedication and talent at trading stocks.
Today, Chris Gardner is worth over $60 million. He donates a lot of his money and time to homelessness charities and preventing violence against women. Gardner’s story inspired the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith.
A single mother named Dionna lived in Detroit, Michigan, with her young son, Daerys. When she lost her job as a nurse, Dionna had no money to pay for childcare and no family nearby to help her with babysitting. She refused to give up her son to foster care. This meant that they were forced to live in homeless shelters together until he was old enough to go to public school for a few hours each day. Even when Dionna found a job, it wasn’t enough to get out of rock bottom.
After years of being on the waiting list, they finally got an low-income apartment through help from the state. It still took Dionna’s entire paycheck to pay for her share of the rent, food, and other necessities. They couldn’t afford any furniture, so Daerys slept in the corner on a pile of blankets. A nonprofit organization called Humble Design paid for their furniture, including a bedroom for Daerys. He was so overwhelmed with joy that he immediately started to cry, and he’s not the only one to have that reaction. Since 2009, Humble Design has furnished apartments for 724 families around the Detroit area.
Shannon Quinn is a writer and entrepreneur living in the Philadelphia area. You can find her on Twitter @ShannQ.