Since arriving in SF, one topic permeates discussions – homelessness. From swapping stories of close calls to commiserating about feeling useless, Minervans continually talk about homelessness. Even still, an invisible wall separates those living on Market Street and those living on Market Street. How might we deconstruct such a barrier? Perhaps an appropriate place to start would be to see the pile of blankets against the doorway for the person under rather than the grime on top – at least, that’s what an M2022 MiCo decided to do. The AmongUs MiCo leaders packed sack lunches, gave some conversation topics, and sent students out to talk with people on the streets. From these intentional interactions emerged stories of hardship, accomplishment, struggle, and success – stories of humanity.

As students reflected afterward, these vividly cutting life stories challenged their preconceptions and biases about homelessness – specifically, their ideas about the relationship between homelessness and drugs.

So what exactly is the relationship between drugs and homelessness? Could this relationship be multifaceted? Vary depending on the individual’s life story? And be more complicated than it seems?

Walk along Market Street, even just the couple blocks distance from our residence to headquarters, and you will likely pass someone doing drugs. Quite often, this person appears homeless. Very few people deny the pervasiveness of drugs in the homeless community – fewer people, however, stop to ask precisely what roles drugs play. Fewer still stop to ask these question to people they pass.

So what exactly is the relationship between drugs and homelessness? Could this relationship be multifaceted? Vary depending on the individual’s life story? And be more complicated than it seems?

As the Minerva students who went out this weekend discovered firsthand, the answer is a thunderous, “Yes!”

Take, for example, the testimony of a homeless man from Chicago. At 25 years old, he spent the last decade of his life addicted to heroin and some of those years also addicted to crack. While still under his parent’s insurance, he has the option of going through rehab. Unfortunately, this option expires when he ages off his parent’s insurance in February. As he turns 26 on February 26th, his golden birthday seems more bleak than promising. Especially since rehabilitation the past seven times failed to break his addictions. Why? He makes a living by holding drugs for other people, primarily functioning as a drop point between dealers and customers. Because of this, he is continuously around drugs which only encourages addictions. With two jail sentences on record, he fears that if he can not get sober now, he may never clean up.

This story may sound similar to many others struggling with addictions. Even still, it holds unique aspects that shaped this man’s identity and living situation. Besides, Minerva students heard other drug-related life stories that question this idea of a ‘typical’ drug story.

“It’s good to have your life fall apart, so you know how to put it back together.”

Consider the memoir of another man, Michael. Originally from Connecticut, Michael studied metalworking at a community college. He claimed to know a lot, offering to teach and advise the Minerva student. In recent years, Michael began growing and selling weed as a living. He ships it cross-country then waits – hoping the package makes it to the buyer, expecting to receive his fair $20,000 to $30,000 deposited into his bank account. According to him, after California legalized weed, major corporations began to farm it, making the substance cheaper and disrupting small farmers like himself. A disruption that put him on the street for a year now. Of his life, Michael told us, “it’s good to have your life fall apart, so you know how to put it back together.”

Real life stories cannot be simplified for ease of digestion. They are heart-breaking, breath-taking, and change-making. They are vivid, authentic, and unfinished. After all, the stories of these men illuminate little except inaccurate personal preconceptions, biases, and prejudices. They cast doubt on popular perspectives. They do not answer any questions. Instead, they ask: what exactly is the relationship between drugs and homelessness? How do personal stories interact with the many facets of this complicated discussion?

Remember, the stories of the people you pass, on the streets and off, remain unknown to you until you ask.

Whose story will you learn today?