Steven Harper Piziks on Homelessness

Steven Harper Piziks (Twitter, LJ, Facebook)  is one of the first Michigan authors I remember meeting back when I started to take this writing thing more seriously. His most recent books are The Doomsday Vault [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] and The Impossible Cube [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. Steven’s oldest son recently became homeless. I can’t imagine what he and his family are going through right now. He talks here about his experiences, about how his son Sasha opened his eyes to the problem of homelessness, and the things Steven is doing to try to raise money and awareness for people like his son.


I’ve mentioned elsewhere ( that my son Sasha is homeless. The reasons are difficult and terrible, and the short version is that it’s the least worst of all choices.

Last winter he spent his days on the street and his nights in a series of church basements. I worried about him constantly. He got robbed at knife point once. Another time he got caught outside when the church closed its doors for the night and he had to spend a winter night outdoors. It isn’t something I ever envisioned for the little boy I adopted seven years ago from Ukraine.

After several months, Sasha managed to get a bed at the Delonis Shelter in downtown Ann Arbor. He’s working on his GED and trying to find a job. It isn’t easy, however, for a 19-year-old to find work without a high school diploma.

I do see him from time to time. It’s a surreal version of a dad visiting his son at college. I drive down to Ann Arbor, pick him up at a warped version of a dormitory, and take him to lunch somewhere. We talk, I ask him if he needs anything like shoes or a trip to the laundromat, I slip him $20, give him a hug, and drop him off at the dorm again. Except it isn’t a dorm, and he isn’t heading back inside to finish a paper for Monday class.

Sasha once gave me a tour of Ann Arbor from the homeless point of view. We were strolling around downtown, and this is how it went:

“He’s homeless,” Sasha said, pointing at a man in a polo shirt and baseball cap as we strolled past the bus station. “And so is he, and him.” This at two more men, both clean-shaven, in jeans and work shirts. They looked like two guys heading home after their morning shift.

“Later I have to go down to the dorms,” Sasha said in his accented English. “This is the good time of year for finding stuff. The University [of Michigan] students are all moving out, and they throw things away. A friend of mine found a laptop in the trash piles. Worked fine. You can get good furniture–desks, chairs. But we have nowhere to put them, so we leave them. And food! The students throw out all kinds of food everywhere. Cans and bottles and milk and peanut butter and Ramen noodles. All good, all to eat. Walk behind the dorms and you find anything you want. They waste everything, and we have nothing here. I don’t understand it.”

“She’s homeless,” he continued, and pointed at a teenaged girl in a hoodie with a purse. “She’s seventeen and she ran away from home. I don’t know why.” He nodded at a woman with stringy gray hair. She wore a brown sweater despite the warm spring day. Smoke trailed from her cigarette. “She’s forty and homeless and pregnant. Her boyfriend lived in a hotel until they kicked him out because he had no money for the rent.”

“I don’t take the food,” he said. “Not if it’s open. I don’t think it’s good. And I don’t climb into dumpsters. Not yet. I am embarrassed to be seen doing that.”

A man with silver-streaked curly brown hair half strutted, half strolled across the street. He wore a suit jacket and slacks.

“I call him Peter Pan,” Sasha said. “He acts like he can fly. I worry he will get hit by car.”

We passed a row of restaurants and cafes.

“Some places will give you food at the end of the day,” Sasha said. “But you have to be there right when they close. Pizza places throw everything out, but I do not want to get it from the garbage, so sometimes I ask the girls at closing time, and they give some to me.”

“If you have a Bridge Card [food stamps], you can buy sandwiches or hot coffee from the grocery store, but there is no place to keep extra food at the shelter. So you can’t buy groceries, only expensive sandwiches.”

We passed an older man and a woman with backpacks and grocery bags. Sasha waved at them, and they waved back.

“I know them. They are going to Camp Take Notice,” he said.

Camp Take Notice, Sasha explained, is a strip of state-owned woodland on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. In the last few months, it’s become a shanty town of tents and ramshackle shelters for people with nowhere else to go. Its name is unofficial. The government, however, is now forcing the people off the land and building a fence around the land to keep them out. I blogged about that at the link above.

“Everyone looks at you funny if you have nowhere to live,” Sasha finished. “Like you aren’t a real person. It is hard.”

Every town has a homeless scene. I’ve become adept at spotting it now. Like a magician, Sasha has made the unseen fully visible to me. The restaurant where people come for food. The dumpster where people go to scavenge. The building where they go to sleep. The teenager/woman/man heading down the sidewalk, trying to look like they have somewhere to go.

We can help. For the next year, I’m donating the royalties from my ebooks at Book View Café and Amazon to the Delonis Shelter. Every time you buy one, you’re making a donation. You can also donate to the shelter directly at their website. Equally good is to donate to your local organization or shelter for the homeless. Every dollar counts.

Together we can make the least worst a little better.