Erik Michael Younge, 57, is a political activist who, in his youth, was a participant “on a small scale,” in the civil rights movement during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Born in San Francisco, Younge has visited Toronto, Ghana, Tanzania, Cuba and parts of Mexico and Spain. He spent time as a political science major at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
He’s the eldest of seven children, and he’s a father of three. His son, Jonathan, is a 37-year-old lawyer in Shreveport, La., and his two daughters Erika, 31, and Deirdre, 29, work as a veterinarian and a massage therapist – respectively – in Atlanta.
Younge, who said he loves to listen to the radio, is a writer, a soon-to-be grandfather and a proud sports fan of both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Baltimore Orioles.
Younge is also homeless.
For the last two years or so, Younge has found a temporary home in the Kailo Haven facility at 2107 W. Tioga St. But Younge is still one of an estimated 4,000 homeless persons – according to Project H.O.M.E.’s website – living in the City of Philadelphia.
Project H.O.M.E. defines those affected by homelessness as individuals who do not “have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence [and] … may be sleeping on the streets, with friends or family, in cars or abandoned buildings or in shelters.”
Brandon Banks, the weekend supervisor at Kailo Haven, said the home is a transitional one, whose methods involve a certain level of leniency intended to help guide residents back into a better life.
“We can’t push you through the process,” Banks said. “We can only walk with you.”
Younge was living near 40th Street and Powelton Avenue with three friends, when asbestos was discovered in their home.
“They did an inspection, so we actually had to leave,” he said. “We had like two weeks to leave.”
Then, Younge lost his job as a facilitator at a local dialysis center.
“Things just kinda got into a bad period,” Younge said of the circumstances that led to his homelessness. “And it could be worse,” he added, “but I’m here and plan to move on pretty soon.”
With plans to move back into his old place in West Philadelphia, Younge is “hopeful that everything will fall together.”
“That house has been renovated, so they say,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll go back to the job I was working at before I came here. They’re hoping to get everybody called back, if they get additional funding.”
In the meantime, Younge spends most of his time at the Nicetown-Tioga and Central branches of the Philadelphia Free Library, as well as the local headquarters for Resources for Human Development, a national nonprofit that “oversees and supports more than 160 locally managed human service programs in 14 states,” according to its website.
Younge is heavily involved in one of RHD’s most recent endeavors: a tabloid newspaper called One Step Away. The paper, which is written entirely by formerly and currently homeless persons throughout Philadelphia, published its first issue in January.
Local homeless persons, who pay 25 cents for each newspaper they pick up and later request a $1 donation from readers, distribute copies throughout the city.
“It’s a way of keeping some money in your pocket as well,” Younge said.
“We all like to make assumptions,” Younge writes in his latest cover story, “The Real Face of Homelessness,” which serves as the theme of One Step Away’s June issue. “And we all like to be comfortable in our assumptions. It tends to make life much easier for us, doesn’t it?”
Younge saw his first bylines in the April issue, when he did a pair of cover stories: one about a survey that uncovered the second-highest rate of hunger in the U.S. inside Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Chester and parts of South Philadelphia, and another about budget cuts that affect impoverished Pennsylvanians.
On page 13, Younge’s name appeared again. The following month, another one of Younge’s stories appeared on the front page. Inside, Younge told One Step Away readers about his experience with acupuncture treatments and the history of the medical practice in a health column.
This July, the newspaper will begin an ongoing series, Younge said, on homeless youth in Philadelphia.
“Just about all of it has been positive ‘cause people really like the paper and the idea about it. I got one or two e-mails that gave me their opinion or a different side of it or a different slant,” he said of the feedback he’s received via e-mail since he started writing for the paper. “We’re getting to the spot where – you know, like a regular newspaper – where people may challenge you on the issues.”
Younge has written politically charged articles on topics such as youth violence in Philadelphia in light of the wave of flash mobs the city saw earlier this year and the politics surrounding the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast.
“And we usually just get positive feedback via word of mouth or people seeing that horrible picture in the paper and remembering,” he said with a laugh, referring to his headshot.
“I gotta do that over again. I gotta get this shaved off,” he added, rubbing a salt-and-pepper goatee with his left hand.
“That’s just my ego talking,” he said. “I’m just proud to be in the paper.”
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This multimedia feature is part of a two-segment package about homelessness. To learn more about the community’s concerns about homelessness in Nicetown-Tioga, select this link.