By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Facyson followed "The Decision" controversy closely and has been waiting for this moment to opine: "I think he didn't get a fair deal in Cleveland. I don't think it was racial. It is what it is. It's a business."
Facyson's voice sounds like raked gravel. His goatee is flecked with gray, and the skin on his hands is dry and chafed. He's nursing a Big Gulp that smells like beer until he spots a cop car and dumps the amber liquid into the gutter.
After 17 years in prison due to a love affair with crack, Facyson now casts the past decade of off-and-on homelessness as a lifestyle choice. "Being out here isn't all that bad," he says. "You always have a place to eat, people bring you clothes, you ain't got to worry about no rent."
He has a sister he could stay with and a twin brother who gives him hand-me-downs. But Facyson believes the Lord put him on the streets for a reason. Pointing to a blue grocery bag beside him, he says he collects donated sandwiches, snacks, and drinks and hands them out to people needier than he. "When God puts you someplace, you just got to sit still," he says.
As Facyson delivers his soliloquy, swarms of onlookers are getting restless. Allen Roberts, 40, walks by on his way to the library. He's shaped like a WWF competitor with a fox-red mustache and a cig in his mouth. The controversy surrounding an NBA superstar's jerseys doesn't impress him. "Yeah, I'll wear it," he says. "I don't care. Makes no difference to me."
Another friend, tanned, green-eyed Brandon Johnson, sits hunched and indignant on the steps beside Facyson, smoking vehemently. "How can they speak for the homeless?" he says of the advocates who have refused the jerseys. "I'm just glad LeBron James came to us."
Around his neck, Johnson proudly drapes his new heirloom: a T-shirt featuring LeBron's face superimposed on the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo logo — a little sample of Cleveland's willful naiveté, considering LeBron has always been a Yankees fan.
We head back to the USSR to hand out a portion of the bounty from the trunk of a dented Toyota Corolla. This time, we decide to pair the clothes handouts with a bit of food. On the menu: pierogies — cheese-and-potato-filled dumplings favored on the shores of Lake Erie — along with the customary sides of apple sauce and sour cream.
"I don't know what that is," announces Gary Elliot, a droopy-eyed fellow dressed like a maintenance worker in blue Dickies shorts and a matching collared shirt.
It's like a Polish empanada, we explain.
"I don't know what that is," he retorts smugly. But the mystery grub disappears quickly, as do the dozen or so jerseys and T-shirts.
A pleasant, gabbing crowd gathers around the car as Patches stands nearby, leaning on a bicycle and listening to a tiny radio playing salsa music.
"Let me trade you — I got blue pants," Elliot tells a buddy and barters for an away-game matching jersey. "I'm going to cherish this."
"Why wouldn't we want them? We're homeless," Darius Moore says as he pulls on an extra-large home-game jersey. He wears camouflage shorts, a faded black military-style cap backward, and a few touches of gold jewelry. His breath smells like the floor of a distillery. "I know they're old clothes, but it's the sentiment behind the garment. Somebody cares."
The folks living on NE Eighth Street in downtown Miami come from Cuba, Alabama, and Detroit by way of lost jobs, prison, and penchants for drugs and drinking. Most of them say they've been homeless for two years. It's unclear if that number coincides with the recession or is the point when they stopped keeping track.
"Seven days a week, to five, to three, to two," Juan Reyes says of how his last job — setting up banquets — began to evaporate. "Then to twice a month. Then job's over." The Havana native wears a heavy sweatshirt adorned with the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo logo, customized with a diamond earring and a headband, to look like LeBron.
Marcelo, moseying up Biscayne Boulevard around NE 25th Street with a baby stroller full of belongings, grabs a large jersey and size 11 1/2 Nike Air Force 1 LeBrons. He's a bearded Puerto Rican drifter who has the look of a master collector with his carriage full of junk, a Dickies cap on his head, and sport sandals over socks. Then he admits he has size 9 feet — but he has a plan for the shoes. "I got a friend," he explains coyly. "I make a deal with him."
We make a mental note to ask for shoe size before distributing any more sneakers.
A retro-style jersey T-shirt goes to a man named Willie, sleeping at the Metromover station on Biscayne at NE Sixth Street. He promptly uses it as a pillow and shuts his eyes again. Getting a matching shirt is his neighbor, Reggie, who looks dirty and defeated as he sits on a brick ledge. He just finished a prison stint and is hitting the crack too hard. Life on the streets is defined by NASDAQ-esque ups and downs, and Reggie is in a bear market.