How ‘invisible people’ make it through winter

Being homeless and hawking a newspaper on the street is a hard sell.

Jerry Ellis, 62, who has been homeless for about 20 years, has started to get things back on track by selling “One Step Away,” a paper featuring articles written by the homeless.

“I can afford a room now,” said Ellis, as he stood at busy 13th and Filbert streets outside Reading Terminal. “I’m eating with the paper.”

His earnings from selling the $1 paper helped him move out of an abandoned, decaying house with no lights and broken windows.

Still, it’s not an easy job and few people stop to buy a paper. Over a long stretch on Tuesday, a policeman stopped to give him a buck and a woman getting lunch bought a copy of the paper.

“We’re the invisible people, nobody sees us,” Ellis said. “They just figure were out here begging. They don’t realize we’re selling something. We’re selling a paper.”

Ellis has sold “One Step Away” for three-and-a-half years.

He was based on South Street, but left after a series of spats with a policeman over a case of what he called mistaken identity. Ellis complained to Mayor Michael Nutter and Commissioner Charles Ramsey, but the situation was never resolved. So he started selling papers in Center City instead.

On his new corner, fewer passersby know him, he says, and business is less reliable.

“Sometimes people look at us like we’re pieces of s—. And I’m not a piece of s—. Sometimes it hurts, but what the hell, it’s life,” he said.

Ellis got as far as 11th grade in Philadelphia schools, then traveled the country selling books and magazines — the same kind of work he does now.

He became a cabbie in the ’80s, but that’s when things went south, he said.

“I’d party so much, I’d forget to pay the rent. I’d forget to pay for my cab,” he says.

Now Ellis says he is hoping to get back to having a permanent home.

“My goal is to get my own apartment, to have water, to be able to have a hot shower in the morning,” he said.

Helping the homeless

Some 650 people are living on the streets of Philadelphia at any one time, according to Project HOME, a homeless advocacy group,

Homeless support groups work with 5,500 people a year who are living on the streets, in abandoned buildings or in train and bus stations.

About 12,000 people stay in Philadelphia’s homeless shelters each year. Many applicants have to be turned away.

To obtain assistance for a homeless person, contact Project HOME at 215-232-1984.

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