Living In A Tent, Still Counting Blessings

“We exist on the kindness of strangers,” said Maria Murray. “A lot of us are panhandling, you know? And it would be nice to kind of put up a sign over there at the corner saying thank you to the communities, thank you for your support, and thank you everybody who helped us. As opposed to constantly just asking for stuff, how about saying thanks?” Odette Yousef/WBEZ

Odette Yousef

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Joseph and Maria Murray sat on empty milk crates as a city worker power-washed the Lawrence Avenue viaduct they call home.

The North Side’s Uptown neighborhood has long been a haven for the homeless, but as the area has recently become more gentrified, tensions have flared between residents who want to preserve the area’s commitment to the needy and those who want the neighborhood to become more upscale.

But the Murrays said they are thankful for the people in the neighborhood despite Uptown’s ongoing identity crisis.

The Murrays said they met while living in the tent encampment and married last year, but they have not been able to find any shelters that will take them as a couple.

Maria, who said she has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College, said she “slid” into homelessness after resigning from an administrative assistant job and fleeing an abusive marriage. Joseph said he has been unable to find work in construction, where he has experience but lost a job due to cutbacks.

Both said they have been applying for jobs, but without stable housing, it has been a struggle to get back on their feet.

On Friday mornings, tent city residents move their belongings to the sides of the Uptown viaducts to allow city workers to clean the area. 

“We have been lucky,” said Joseph Murray. “Every Friday, God has blessed us with good weather every time. We’ve never been rained on yet. So we’re thankful for that.”

“On Fridays, nobody can do anything,” said Maria Murray. “Like if I would have a job, or if I would be in a program, a job-training program, I simply couldn’t commit… As you see, we’re all here, we’re waiting for city to show. And we never know, every cleaning is different every week.”

“Our first year anniversary is tomorrow,” said Maria Murray. “We don’t have a wedding photo. We never had a ceremony. My husband panhandled, and we got the $70 together, and then in our hearts in front of God, we went to the justice of the peace and we got married.”

Words and photos by Odette Yousef, who is a reporter for WBEZ and can be followed @oyousef.