Dyke Sparks, a 61-year-old Vietnam Veteran, is one of the 12 male tenants at My Place Germantown. He said he has been living there for over a year now, and although it is not what he considers an ideal situation, he is better off today than he was before he moved in.
Sparks had been a DJ in Philadelphia for 20 years, but after he paid his rent and other household expenses, he would only be left with $68 each month. He said he woke up one day and decided he needed to change his financial situation. He began doing odd jobs around the neighborhood out of necessity.
Theses days, Sparks hands out flyers with his name and contact number, and a list of some jobs he does for extra cash. Sparks said he normally does concrete work, painting, yard work and other household chores.
My Place only requires their tenants to pay 1/3 of their income for each apartment.
Since he’s been living at My Place, Sparks said he’s been able to save more money, and he’s able to eat and sleep better.
“I wouldn’t live in any other neighborhood,” Sparks said. “This is it for me, this is my community. Everyone around here knows me. There are various businesses along Germantown Avenue that gave me work. If I catch somebody out there with a broom I’d say, ‘Give me that! That’s my job!’ That is how I developed my business. They gave me enough work in order to survive.”
Sparks insisted he does not believe himself to be better than anybody else, he just considers himself to be perceptive with a strong work ethic.
“In order to survive you have to be creative,” Sparks said. “You have 10 or 11 guys who sit around all day and wait for a check. It’s about who you are as a person. So if you were in jail for 20 years, when you come out, maybe you can only relate to the streets. Or if you were homeless, and you want to stay home all day because you used to live in a park.”
Despite it being an independent living facility, Sparks said there are still rules in place that all tenants must follow.
First, there is a strict no drugs rule, especially since some of the residents there have fought battles with addiction. The men are allowed to have female visitors, but not after 11pm. And if any of the tenants decide to leave their apartments for more than 3 days, they are required to call the office to let the staff members know.
“Am I happy to be here? No,” Sparks said. “Am I better off than I was? The answer is yes!”
Sparks has had 3 spinal cord surgeries, but said he’s fortunate enough to still be walking and moving around.
“I’m able to go to the doctor’s and things like that, so being here has been a benefit for me from a financial standpoint,” Sparks said. “It’s not much more, but it’s more.”
Sparks returned to the U.S from Vietnam, and said many Americans had a disdain towards Vietnam veterans.
“They hated us, but now we get honored every so often,” Sparks said.
His ultimate objective is to save enough money to improve his living conditions, Sparks said.
“I was raised in the 1950’s, I’ve seen some hard times,” Sparks said. “I’ve seen times harder than this, and I’ve seen some great times. When I was a DJ, the culture back then was wild women, drugs and songs. You live it. And if you live it, fine. But where do you end up? You end up with no pension at [My Place Germantown].”
– Text, video and images by La’Rene Cassells and Matt Snider.