Our vendors: Tony Landers (StreetWise, Chicago, USA)

Interview by StreetWise staff writer

Tony Landers was referred by the Outreach and Health Ministry, a programme under the Night Ministry umbrella, a partner organisation of StreetWise.

Staff and interns at StreetWise took an instant liking to Tony, who has a gentle and kind demeanour, an expressive and creative presence, and possesses the confidence to recognise that, as a human being, he is deserving of a certain standard of life and is ready to work towards improving his circumstances.

Tony Lander sells StreetWise in Chicago

Tony has “Been sleeping outside every winter since 1991… I’m sleeping outside now, under the bridge on Wilson.” Tony makes the best of his situation, recognising that, “Sometimes it’s fun. I like being outside because on the outside I’m able to just be me.”

There is obviously something that draws Tony to the outside life, and he is comfortable in the understanding of that aspect of himself. But he also says that, “I’ve been out for too long. The cold doesn’t bother me but it does get too cold sometimes. Now, I’m tired. I’m getting old. I get dizzy a lot.”

Tony experiences seizures, and the cold has affected his ability to take the medications necessary to keep him healthy.

When the cold Chicago nights become frigid to the point of endangerment, Tony will sometimes opt to spend the night in a shelter. But shelter life is difficult for him.

“I don’t like the shelter. The employees don’t know how to treat people. They shout at me. When it’s time to get up, they holler and rush me out the door. Sometimes I’ll ask for a bottom bunk because I have seizures, but they’ll tell me that they don’t have any and I have to go somewhere else. Some of them you have to be up at four or five in the morning and if it’s still cold, they’ll still put you outside. It might be below zero, but you have to get out still. I might as well stay outside.”

“I want an apartment where I can have my grandchildren over.”

Tony has been working with several agencies, including StreetWise, to obtain permanent housing. He says that he’s been offered Single Room Occupancies [SROs], but a room would be unacceptable for his vision of where his life needs to go.

“I don’t want an SRO because I want a space that my family can come to. I want an apartment where I can have my grandchildren over. They’re looking forward to being with me; I don’t want a room where my grandchildren won’t be able to come because it’s against the rules or there’s not enough space. I want to be comfortable. I have an income and I’m saving money, with that I can afford an apartment.”

Tony has the means and the will to fulfil his vision of having a space for his family to visit him, a place where he can have an entire apartment to call his own. Unfortunately, there are roadblocks that have kept this vision from becoming reality.

“I was in jail for two days because I busted out a window in 2009. They check my background and say I can’t get the apartment because I damaged property. I know people who were evicted that have apartments but I was never evicted.”

Though Tony has become frustrated with the lack of progress made in his search for housing, he has made the best out of his situation. He is slowly collecting items that he’ll need for his apartment, and when he leaves the bridge, the others staying under the bridge, his neighbours, watch his stuff for him. And to stay warm, Tony has a tent: “And a bunch of blankets, maybe around 20. I’ll be hot under there!”

We share a vendor story every Wednesday. Read more global vendor stories here.