This tale is part of the SF Homeless Project, a cooperation of more than 70 media organizations reporting on homelessness .
SAN FRANCISCO When Philip Jones first heard of Street Soccer USA, he wanted to play.
Program director Ben Anderson made a pitch for new players at the shelter where Philip was stayingin 2014 : Get some workout, satisfy new people and consider where things go from there. It voiced good.
Philiptried to find the field for what felt like an hour. He became more desperate as he searched, and recalls“running around like a madman” through thestreets of San Francisco. But he simply couldn’t find the field.
Problem: Philip was, in his own terms, “high as shit” on crystal meth. Meth was his “drug of choice” when he was at his lowest. Living on the streets, selling drugs, using them even more, stealing, sleeping wherever he could “it get real dark, ” Philip says.
But that was 2014.
Eventually not that day, but eventually Philip discovered the game.
The ‘untold story’ of homelessness in San Francisco
On a sunny, cool afternoon this June, Philip is atMargaret S. Hayward Playground in the city’s Western Addition, wearing a gray Street Soccer hoodie, black baseball cap and Nike Huaraches. Along with three other Street Soccer staffers, he’s coaching about a dozen kids through drills and scrimmages.
“Who wants to be goalie? ” Philip asks.
Three hands shoot up. Three voices squeal, “Me! “
“Who wants to be goalie first ? ” Philip asks, this time with a smile.
Philip is 24 years old. He’s tall, with dark brown skin, thick black eyebrows, black fuzz on his chin and dreads that hang to merely below his ears. His voice is soft, but he speaks with confidence.
Philip is doing well now. He works for Street Soccer, and has a receptionist task too. He lives in housing for at-risk young people run through theLarkin Street Youth Services program, a nonprofit that provides services to homeless youth. He’s been sober and on the straight and narrow for more than a year. He’s also back in school.
Philip’s story represents a very specific, sizable, segment of San Francisco’s homeless population: Young people, and others who don’t fit the most prevalent stereotypes.
More than 1,400 young people were on the street during a point-in-time census conducted by the 2015 San Francisco Homeless Count& Survey.A quarter of San Francisco’s homeless population first becomes so between 18 and 24, according to the same survey, while the portion of the city’s overall homeless population in that age range increased from 15 to 17% between 2013 and 2015.
Philip is young, and he’s always had an eye for style. In other terms, he doesn’t fit the stereotype many have of the typical person who is homeless in San Francisco.
“People tend to overlook someone who doesn’t fit their perception of what a homeless person is.”
“We feel like that can be the untold story of homelessness, ” says Nora Brereton, associate director of At The Crossroads, a non-profit that aids homeless youth in the heart of the city. “People can be wearing nice clothes, out there hustling and selling medications, or even running a full-time undertaking but additionally they’re hungry and don’t have a place to sleep.
“People tend to overlook someone who doesn’t fit their perception of what a homeless person is, panhandling in a certain neighborhood.”
At The Crossroads offer counseling to about 330 homeless youth per year and works with a total of more than 1,100 youth annually. It serves a diverse population that’s approximately 60% African American, 18% white, 13% Latino and two-thirds male.
Philip’s own descent into homelessness began with a case of consumer lust.
Into the darkness
Street Soccer isn’t Philip’s first contact with the athletic. He played goalie as a kid, and was good enough to get recruited by a competitive squad. Around fifth grade, he wanted to try other positions, but his coach insisted on maintaining him in goal.
“So one day, I just sat down on the field and let the other team score objectives, ” Philip says.
That was it for soccer at least for many years.
Philip was raised in Oakland, then moved with his mom to Pacifica at age 10. She subsequently marriage a human with some fund and a son of his own. They all moved in together. Now therewere summer vacations to Europe and Hawaii.
Philip says he’d always “had what I needed” as a kid, but there hadn’t been many indulgences with a single mom working hard to provide. Suddenly, he lived withan older stepbrother who had the freshest sneakers and the coolest clothes things Philip wanted.
In middle school, he sold pot for the first time. It provided spending money and more.
“My motive was to fit in, ” Philip says.
Meanwhile, he fought with focus and social anxiety at school.At 17, he was arrested for the first time after stealing clothes from a store in Daly City. It only got worse from there.More stealing. More arrests. More and harder drugs.
By age 21, Philip was living on the street of San Francisco for days at a time. Then his mom kicked him out and street life became full time. The Tenderloin, the Mission District and Potrero Hill were his haunts.
“By then, my personal drug use was to the point where it was a bit darker is available on abandoned houses, smoking meths all day, it get real darknes, ” Philip remembers in an interview at Street Soccer’s Civic Center office. “I’d be in and out of jail.”
Finding positive energy and recovery
Seated at the Street Soccer office, Philip just finished his coaching transformation in the Western Addition. After his original, failed and “high as shit” attempt to find the game in 2014, he credits Street Soccer as one of the pillars of his recovery.
“It’s being able to dedicate myself to something and understand that if I put positive energy toward something, I’m going to get positive things back, ” he says.
Philip continued his descent into addiction after he failed to find the Street Soccer game for the first time. More and more drug and stealing instances piled up against him. As it became obvious he was headed for serious incarcerate hour, if not demise, Philip finally committed to rehabilitation for his drug addiction.
While in rehab, he’d sometimes walk past friends playing in Street Soccer-organized games. He’d watch for a couple minutes, yet be unable to join because of the conditions of his program. But he finished rehab, kicked his addiction and has been playing soccer ever since.
Street Soccer, a national nonprofit that’s active in 16 cities, aims to use the sport as a route to assist homeless adults, and homeless and at-risk youth. It operates rec leagues for running adults to help create funding for its mission, while corporate partnerships offer more support. U.S. Men’s National Team regular Chris Wondolowski will host a celebrity match when Street Soccer’s2 016 Cup Series comes to San Francisco in July.
In San Francisco, Street Soccer serves about 75 homeless adults annually through service centers, job training and soccer leagues and practises, according to chief operating officer Rob Cann. About 90% of participants in Street Soccer’s youth and adult programs are homeless when they join. Many likeJimmy Flebotte become success stories.
Philip’s is another success story. He’s cultivated a structure and supporting network through Street Soccer, lately traveled to Philadelphia to play in the organization’s National Cup and comes within the framework of a group whose theory won an app design contest.
Then there’s the coaching job, which is new this summer.
But even a sunny, pleasant afternoon in the Western Addition shows the fragility of life in one of San Francisco’s most overlooked and underserved neighborhoods.
A thin line in the Western Addition
Kid and what looks like his mama playing catch. Two dudes leaned against the other side of that backstop shooting up pic.twitter.com/ eQgm5qGnaY
Sam Laird (@ samcmlaird) June 13, 2016
As Philip and his Street Soccer colleagues work with kids on a pitch set up on an outdoor basketball court, other children laugh and play at a nearby play structure. On the other side of the play structure, past a driveway, a child and a woman play catch on the Margaret S. Hayward Playground baseball diamond.
A wheelchair ramp behind the backstop leads to the corner of Gough and Golden Gate. On that wheelchair ramp, about a half-dozen men with shopping carts lean seated against a wall. Two of “the mens” begin shooting up.
This is life in the Western Addition, where the blurry line between poverty and homelessness exists far from the most famous hallways of Haight Street and Market Street. Sheryl Davis is director of Mo’ Magic, a non-profit that works in the neighborhood and was founded by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office in 2004.
“Here’s the deal We can actually pinpoint and say about 40% of the people “were working with” would be considered homeless, ” Davis tells. “But the actual numbers are much higher because people are utilizing other people’s address to get access to services even though they don’t truly have homes.”
Cann, Street Soccer’s chief operating officer, also assures firsthand the disconnect between the widespread theory of homelessness and its less-obvious manifestations. Many of the young people who join Street Soccer don’t fit the idea people might have in their minds.
“They by and large don’t have drug addictions and aren’t mentally ill. They aren’t sitting on Haight Street with their puppies, ” Cann tells. “They do what is logical in my intellect expend the little fund they have on looking like they aren’t homeless. Buying a cellphone, things that make it so you think they’re just another citizen when you pass them on the street.”
It’s a mindset Philip knows, too.
While homeless, he might not have had money, “but I’m wearing everything brand new. That was kinda my thing for a while.”
But that was some time ago. That was before things reached their worst and before Philip began to turn his life around.This past Christmas brought a different kind of gift a priceless gift.
A birthday, and a new set of challenges
Philip’s mom divorced the man she marriage when Philip was young and moved to a new place a while back.But last Christmas she invited him to expend the nightfor the first time since kicking him out three years ago.
No matter what I do in this world, there’s one person who’s going to always love me .
They didn’t do much largely only hung around the house. But six months later, Philip is still visibly touched by the invitation and experience.
“There’s been times when I’ve been in jail or on the streets and woken up and felt like I wanted to die, ” he tells. “But on those days I’d always suppose, ‘No matter what I do in this world, there’s one person who’s going to always love me. She might not agree with me, but she’s going to love me.'”
Things are different now. Philip just finished his first semester of school in half a decade. He pulled down As in both his classes, which covered music and design. Sober more than a year, he tries to stay grounded in the day-to-day but also thinks about the future.
The young man who stole clothes as a teen now has notions of a career in fashion design or advertising, while making music on the side.
But uncertainty also looms.
When Philip turns 25 in November, he’ll age out of the support system Larkin Street Youth Services provides. He’s tracked down another program that helps subsidize rent for adults, and has managed to save a little bit of fund since get off the street. But particularly in San Francisco’s tech industry-fueled and notoriously brutal rental market that birthday is a bit daunting.
“I’m not gonna act like it doesn’t stress me out, ” Philip says. “But I know there’s something for me.”
‘The difference between a good day and a bad day’
As he considers his future at the Street Soccer office, the room Philip gets to live in until he turns 25 is only blocks away. He used to roams the surrounding streets while out of his mind on crystal meth. A mile west is Margaret Hayward playground, where he now teaches soccer to children growing up amid precarious circumstances in a neighborhood that are typically goes ignored.
With moving pieces all around him and an uncertain future ahead, one thing Philip knows for sure is that he wants to stay involved with Street Soccer.
“It’s one of those places where you can exam, ‘Hey, if I show up every day, what’s going to happen? If I go above and beyond and cheer on my teammates, what’s gonna happen? ‘”he says.“It helps you refocus and reestablish yourself with positive things.”
And the goalie who once staged a protest by letting the other team score? He plays midfield now, and has a lot more fun.
“There’s not a day that goes by that’s perfect, ” Philip says. “But recognizing also that I have the ability to get the support that is going to help me get through is the main thing I had to overcome with being on the street. It’s the difference between a good day and a bad day.”