The Hopes and Hurdles of Marcellus Dyson
Though Marcellus Dyson has been homeless on and off for six years, he still has not lost his dreams: a legitimate job, affordable housing, and enough money to survive.
“I would like to be making enough money legally where I wouldn’t have to live until the next paycheck,” he says in an earnest, yet weathered, voice. “I want to buy a place of my own so if I ever had children, they would have a place to lay their heads.”
Currently all of these hopes seem out of reach for the 26-year-old, as he sits on one discolored plastic chair with his broken leg propped up on another at the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) shelter, his current home. He has been without a home for the past three years; without a job for several months; and without a functioning leg, broken in a hit-and-run, since early last summer.
However, Dyson lived this dream in the not-too-distant past.
By the age of 17, the Washington, D.C. native had moved to Denver, Colo., and had a place of his own. He was working full time for a construction company and making enough money to pay rent, clothes, food, and other essentials.
“I had a huge one-bedroom apartment with a sunroof in the bathroom, a large living room and a balcony that overlooked a courtyard and woods,” Dyson said. “It was safe.”
He had moved to Colorado to be close to his mother, who was at a drug rehabilitation clinic there at the time. However, things changed for him suddenly when one day, his mother showed up at his doorstep after being released from rehab. Not wanting to send her to the streets, Dyson let her in.
“Who’s going to let their mom go homeless when they have so much room,” Dyson said.
When his landlord discovered that a second occupant who was not on the lease was living in the apartment, Dyson was given thirty days to find a new home. By the end of 1997, Dyson had moved out of his plush apartment with a balcony; this was the last time he truly had a permanent place to call home.
Because his mother wanted to return to Washington, they moved in with her parents in the Columbia Heights area. However, Dyson did not want to further burden his grandparents, so he soon left them and became independent once again.
Dyson was working minimum-wage jobs and was hard-pressed to find a steady job that would enable him to afford the city’s notoriously high rents. With finding an affordable place to stay on minimal wages being such a burdensome task, Dyson had to stay wherever he could. He worked during the day and at night stayed with friends, in the park, in abandoned houses.
“Basically, the whole time I was on the streets,” he said, “we had jobs and went to work every day; we just didn’t have anywhere to stay.”
As with many other people on the streets, working minimum-wage jobs did not provide enough money to secure safe and affordable housing in addition to other living costs. So to make money, Dyson turned to selling drugs. He describes selling drugs at this time in his life as a way of surviving.
“I did it to house and feed myself, not for cars and clothes,” Dyson said. “I can’t make more than seven dollars an hour with my experience with most jobs. The average efficiency is about $500 a month. I can make a lot more money selling drugs.”
However, violence was frequent, he said, and run-ins with gang members, hustlers and the police made it extremely dangerous. It’s something Dyson regrets because of the way it affected his community.
“Selling drugs is like the devil making us commit genocide against our own people,” Dyson said.
Dyson sold drugs until he got back on his feet. He spent a semester enrolled in a small Virginia college but, lacking finances, was forced to drop out. Once again Dyson found himself trying to make enough money working minimum-wage jobs to find an affordable place to live.
In the beginning of the summer of 2003, Dyson was struck in a hit-and-run car accident. The accident left him with legs that required surgery and he has been either on crutches or in a wheelchair, depending on which he could find, ever since.
Dyson has been living at the CCNV shelter over the past six months.
When asked about where he would like to see himself in a year from now, Dyson says that he merely wants to get back on his feet, literally and figuratively. And as someone who wants to eventually return to school to study computer science, Dyson feels that the sky is the limit. “I feel like I can do so many things,” Dyson said.