Exit six off I-95 offers two options. A left sends you into the outskirts of Chester’s Sun Village with dilapidated homes and litter strewn empty lots. A right puts you directly onto Widener University’s campus, a school that recently reached record highs in a national student satisfaction survey and is regularly listed among the best law schools.
Frank, a homeless man, sits on the side of the off-ramp, a common sight to the thousands of cars that pass daily. He holds a sign written on a tattered piece of cardboard that reads, “Homeless Anything Helps!!! God Bless”
Late last Wednesday morning, temperatures already crept over 90 degrees and Frank sat with one knee folded under the other in a tank top and shorts.
“Hey, can I get a smoke?” he asked a driver who ashed a cigarette out of the window and handed Frank his lit cigarette.
Frank says he’s been homeless for 10 years and stays in an abandoned building on 10th and Walnut St., a few blocks from his daytime spot.
“I did a lot of bad things,” admitted Frank. “When I got out of jail they didn’t have anywhere for me to go. They have a shelter system in Chester, but they only let you stay for five days then you have to leave for a month. Then you can’t come back if you don’t have a job and there is no jobs here.
“It’s (panhandling) the only way to survive here,” Frank says, nodding to his spot. “They don’t got any resources for the homeless. You know how many homeless guys there are at downtown Chester at the newsstand? There’s like 50 dudes who sleep down there every night with nowhere to go.”
During an interaction with a reporter, he is polite and worries about the reporter’s safety standing on the ramp with him. After moving to another spot close by, he shows a note on an index card he has kept, “Go to the Widener parking lot…we left some food behind the tree. Green bag on the fence.”
“I can walk around here and be depressed and say I can’t do nothing for myself and no one will help me, but the truth is, I met more good people in traffic than I did in my whole entire life. I have people who stop everyday,” said Frank.
Frank says he does get enough to eat and sometimes doesn’t have to go to CityTeam Ministries for dinner (he usually does go to the Sproul St. location which serves dinner at 5:30 p.m.). Passersby give him cheesesteaks, hoagies and every Friday, one man gives him $20 and a platter. He says his favorite food is beef ravioli with sausage. He has a few bottles of water he will drink or pour over his head when the heat becomes oppressive. He may go to Catholic Social Services and sign up for a shower in the morning.
“I wish I wouldn’t have made the mistakes I made earlier. That’s the worse thing. That’s what I would want to change. The guilt. Mother lives three miles away and won’t see me,” said Frank, who is 50 years-old and originally from Brookhaven.
“Most people think giving me money is helping me, but the thing is, that you don’t have too many resources,” continued Frank. “People don’t stop and say, ‘Yo, can I take you to detox?’ I get people who stop and say, ‘Yo, you want a cold one?’ and hand it to me out the window.” Frank stopped drinking seven months ago and feels bad because he throws away the beers.
Frank says he is trying to take of himself. At night, when he leaves his spot, he will make a left and walk a few blocks to the abandoned building.
“And I’ll pray to God that one day someone will stop that can do something.”