Real Lives, Real Stories: Antonio
Posted By: Matt Kenyon
Many of the homeless in the Orlando community are pit against insurmountable physical and mental limitations that, despite their willingness to work, keep them rutted in a lifestyle on the streets.
This is the case with Antonio, a former deli owner with an Italian accent straight out of the Godfather. He expected to retire in Harrisburg, PA with a healthy business, but instead sat on a bench a thousand miles away in Lake Eola park watching the birds fearlessly pecking near his feet. His words were thickly Italian, but familiar: “I never thought I’d end up here.” His sentiment matched the bleakly cloudy and quiet Florida afternoon.
I had the opportunity to interview Antonio as part of the Rethink Homelessness advocacy campaign.
He was a friendly man, whose weathered skin showed that he had seen more than most. His brown eyes were half-hidden, concealed by a black beanie that snugly fit his head. I shook his hand and he smiled: “Today’s my birthday. I’m 54 years old.”
He proceeded to tell me all about his deli shop, his thriving business best online casino and coming here from Naples, Italy in the 70’s. He has seven children, all grown, and a wife – presumably estranged – still living in Pennsylvania. When asked why he doesn’t turn to his family for help, he retorts that it’s not their job. He’s the father, he says, and he should be the one taking care of them.
But for Antonio, taking care of himself is hard enough on the cynical streets of Orlando, where homelessness has been steadily increasing.
He wants to work, but his age and lack of medical assistance keep driving him back down to the streets. He mentioned that he managed to get a job at a pizza place downtown, which he was eventually fired from because of his limitations. He gave me an intimidating laundry list of conditions and diseases, two of which being a double hernia and cirrhosis of the liver.
Liver conditions can often be caused by drinking or excessive alcoholism. For a brief moment, I considered that maybe there was more to the story than what Antonio was telling me.
Even if Antonio could be mobile enough to get into a shelter for the night and get cleaned up, who would hire a 54-year-old with a strong foreign accent, no education and countless medical conditions?
When we sang happy birthday to him and handed him his oversized cupcake, his face lit up with thankfulness. It looked like a foreign emotion; something he hadn’t felt in many years. It was the least we could do.
Nobody deserves to be forgotten on his birthday.
Matt Kenyon of the Rethink Homelessness campaign