Dig Baton Rouge

Love Your Neighbor: Baton Rouge’s invisible homeless community

Sylvester Miller is a 61-one year old Army veteran, having served 15 years in the military. He ended up in Baton Rouge after getting out of the service in August of 2005.

“I got out because when we got back from Desert Storm, I thought we were supposed to be over there fighting a war. But it was all about money. If I would have known I’d go through times like this, I would have gone ahead and taken an early retirement and stayed in the military for another five years.” Sylvester is a newbie to living on the streets.

He lost his job, which resulted in him losing his home. He’s been homeless for about 8 months now, currently sleeping on the porch of a small business.

One of the people in the office told him it was okay to sleep there, because they hadn’t had any break-ins since he showed up.

“I’m more like the security at night,” he says with a chuckle.

Sylvester is from California. He has two daughters there and would love to return home, but only when he can do so on his own.

“I do want to go back to California. But like I told my family, I’m trying to get a job first. Get on my feet and at least go back with some money. My mother raised us to try to stand on your own two feet.”

Sylvester is a quiet man, taking his time to think before answering my questions. He says the biggest obstacle to getting off the streets is finding work. He has experience, but it doesn’t seem to help.

“I can do painting, drywall, auto mechanic work. I can do any kind of work. I just want to get on my feet. I even got an application in for a bag boy at Winn-Dixie. You gotta crawl before you can walk.”

He says the One Stop Center has been a big help and he appreciates everything they do for people in his situation. But not everyone feels that way.

“People take this place for granted,” he says with a sigh. “Some people are not trying to better themselves. They’re not trying to do something about being on the streets. They don’t want to look at responsibilities.”

Sylvester brings me to the place where he sleeps, a small business on Florida Boulevard. After a few minutes, the owner comes out, already angry. He asks if Sylvester is the one sleeping on his porch and that he’s not welcome there, that this “promotes nothing positive about the area.” He shows no compassion as he threatens Sylvester and myself off of his property.

While in this unfortunate situation, Sylvester still looks for the silver lining. He tries to stay away from the “messy people” and keep his head up.

“Substance abuse is bad out here. I think more of them get into it after getting out here [on the streets], because they think ‘Well, I done lost everything, so I ain’t got nothing to live for.’ I steer clear of that. I got a lot to live for.”



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