When Glen Artis would prop his feet up on the park bench where he slept, the rats would scuttle between the wheels of his wheelchair.
“The plug where I charged my chair was between two trash cans, so the rats were always bothering me,” says the 50 year-old New York native.
Much has changed for Artis in the three months since Street Sense last profiled him. He has gone from living on the street to inhabiting a stable residence, a move that came in late November when he was accepted into a housing initiative through the homeless service organization So Others May Eat (SOME).
“One day the phone rang,” Artis remembers. “It was like a gift from God.”
Following a single room occupancy, or SRO, format, the SOME housing provides Artis with his own private room within a larger housing structure.
Though the SRO is merely a temporary location while Artis waits on the list for his own apartment, it is a vast improvement over the District shelter he dwelled in before moving out on the street. He compares the “negative environment” of the shelter to the rodent colony he once slept above.
“It was disgusting and dirty,” he says. “Everyone was running around and fighting, like those rats. If I dropped my food, they would steal it.”
Artis says the positive change in his life was preceded by a harbinger in the form of a different animal.
“One day I was selling the paper and a pigeon comes up to me. Next thing you know, there’s pigeons everywhere. To me, that was a sign of good things to come,” explains Artis, who now carries a bag of bird feed to attract his feathered omens.
Birds aren’t the only ones that flock to Artis on the corner where he sells his papers. Dispensing smiles and warm greetings like handfuls of bird feed, he draws crowds of customers.
It is these loyal Street Sense consumers, who he refers to as his “angels sent from the Almighty,” to which Artis attributes all of his success.
“Without my customers I’m no one,” he asserts.
In addition to monetary contributions for the paper, Artis has received food, clothing and even a recent Happy New Year’s card from his beloved patrons. Above all, however, he appreciates their donations of time and conversation.
“They show me love, they show that they care,” he says. “They give me a lot of positive energy.”
It is this positive energy that has buoyed Artis during his quest to get off the streets.
“If you send out negative energy, you’ll stay down like the rats. If you stay positive, you’ll rise up like the birds.”