Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life on the Pittsburgh Streets

    Carl Harris grew up in a house that he can clearly see from the place he spends the weekend. Harris begs on Saturdays and Sundays in Pittsburgh's Strip District, at the base of the hill where he was raised. He tries to make 42 dollars by the time the bus comes at 3 p.m. so he can stay in a motel near West Mifflin.
    Harris has two daughters, ages 30 and 9. One lives in South Carolina, and the other lives in the Hill District with her mother, he said. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    Harris lost his left arm and left leg at age 10 when he was run over by a train. "I was playing on freight trains and fell off," he said. He has a positive demeanor, offering a smile that shows several missing teeth to passerbys. He welcomed the sunshine instead of cursing the hot day.
    This gives me something to do -- keeps me busy," he said. "Is this what you do in your leisure time?" he asked, laughing and motioning toward the camera. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

   "I hope you like Pepsi," says a man bringing Harris a meal of roast chicken and fries. He invited Harris to an outreach for hungry people called "The Table," held at the Hot Metal Bridge Church on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.
    "People are pretty nice out here," Harris said. "You want some of this?" he asked with a grin as he opened his plastic fork with his one arm and few remaining teeth. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    A man sneaks a glance at Harris' change cup, walking swiftly by, while a girl points toward Harris with a look of disgust. The majority of people pretended not to notice Harris, though some openly acknowledged him, either positively or negatively.
    One time last year, a police officer told Harris he was not allowed on the Strip. "I transferred, and then came back," Harris said. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)
    Harris looks out on the crowds of people walking by, some dressed in church clothes, others with designer purses and high-heeled boots. He started begging in the Strip District four years ago, and many pedestrians recognize him, saying they will see him next Sunday.
    "I think sometimes that's a good thing, in case I get in trouble or something," he said.
    He is saving up to get an apartment in the city, and is taking classes during the week to earn his G.E.D. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

    "This is the hardest part," Harris said. "Cleaning up after you're finished." He hobbles across the street on one crutch, avoiding cars to redeposit his chair, a milk crate. He then returns to pick up every scrap of paper he dropped before walking several blocks to catch a bus that would take him 35 minutes away, to the place he calls home for now.
    "I hope this weather lasts," he said. Minutes after Harris boarded the bus, thunder rolled and lightning broke the gray clouds open, turning the sidewalk into a riverbed. (Photo/Alyssa Choiniere)

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