By G.M. Filisko
It didn’t occur to David Pirtle that he was homeless. “I thought I was down on my luck and had to get a couple of things together,” he recalls of the two-year- plus period he lived on the streets. It was 2004. Pirtle was 29 and living in Phoenix. But many Arizona cities have punitive anti-loitering
laws, so Pirtle hitchhiked and freight-hopped his way to
New York City.
“That’s where I had to start coming to terms with being
homeless,” he explains. “I lived in an abandoned building in lower Manhattan. I couldn’t find work and started
to lose hope. I stopped trying and thought, ‘I guess this
is it for me. I know where I can find food and shelter.
I guess I’m just waiting to die.’”
Thankfully, Pirtle didn’t die. He got lucky.
Pirtle calls himself lucky because he was arrested twice
for stealing food from a museum gift shop in Washington,
D.C. (New York City was too cold for the Arizona native).
Because there were no public defenders available at the
time, Pirtle was represented by a private lawyer who recognized that he wasn’t a criminal. He was mentally ill
and needed treatment.
Thus began Pirtle’s journey from the streets to permanent
housing, all the while getting treatment to find the right
cocktail of medicines to manage his previously undiagnosed schizoaffective disorder. Pirtle was among a group
who benefitted from a novel program at the time called
“housing first” as the initial step of transitioning people
from the streets to shelter.
“They wanted 25 people who were chronically homeless
and mentally ill — and yay! I qualified!” jokes Pirtle.
“I got keys to my apartment Nov. 17, 2006. I’ll remember that to the day I die.”
Housing has become the hub around
which resources are provided to
transition people experiencing
homelessness to permanent housing.
Courtesy of Florida Community Loan Fund
Photo by USDA
David Pirtle coordinates
public education programs
for the National Coalition
for the Homeless (NCH).
He’s one of the growing
number of success stories
when it comes to housing