Philip Townsend

Homeless for 28 years. Now a resident of The Times Square.

  • Mr. Townsend on the roof garden of The Time Square.

Philip Townsend was born in Albany, NY. His parents were separated, and after kindergarten, his mother took him to Vermont to live with his grandparents. He learned about self-survival from his grandfather, an outdoorsmen (hunter, fisher, wilderness-lover). He and his grandfather often went on spur-of-the moment wilderness “survival trips” when he was a child (which proved to be valuable skills later in life when he became homeless).

Philip got his first job at age 14, loading soda trucks for $50/week ($1.25/hour for 40 hours/week). He completed high school, earning both his high school diploma and GED because he went to prison for 18 months a week before graduation. As an adult, Philip had a variety of jobs including an electronics technician, computer programmer, taxi driver, a truck driver, a barber, and a teacher.

While Philip was working as a livery cab driver, he and his steady girlfriend lived together in Castle Hill in the Bronx. They had been paying $75/week for a studio apartment and lived there for 12 years. Their landlady warned them a year in advance that she had extended family coming back from California to take apartment. They searched for a new place but couldn’t find one comparable in price.

They moved to New Jersey and lived in a hotel and continued to look for a permanent home. They exhausted their credit cards. His livery car broke down; his girlfriend was laid off. Finally, their credit card bills, unemployment, and a breakup of their relationship created a perfect storm for Philip. He has nowhere else to turn but the street.

Philip lived on the streets for 28 years. He is extremely thankful for the survival skills he learned from his grandfather. He had maintained many homes over the years (built three families), but he found that he was not dependant on creature comforts of homes like a TV, bed, or couches. He used the survival skills he had learned to stay warm and dry, sleeping on the subways, staying in libraries in the cold, heat, rain, and snow. He even learned how to maximize his body heat wrapped up in just one blanket on the sidewalk.

He and the crew he formed while homeless often hung out on 11th Avenue and 52nd Street in DeWitt Clinton Park. Homeless outreach teams from various organizations often came by but offered deals that had strings attached. “We’ll give you a place to stay if you… (join a rehab program, go to meetings, take a drug test).” He found that many organizations and outreach teams seemed to have “their own agendas.” All Philip needed was a home.

Common Ground’s Street to Home outreach team came consistently, too. They would always leave a card with their phone number. He believed they seemed to have a genuine, real concern for and interest in helping him and his crew of homeless friends find a place to live. One night, they were expecting heavy rain. His crew asked him for advice from time to time because he was generally the most sober. This night in particular, he suggested they go with the Street to Home team.

Street to Home gave them a health screening. He found that they consistently followed up to make sure they took care of the people they reached out to. Within 10 days, Street to Home offered him temporary housing. He took it. He was placed at The Prince in the Bowery with just a bed and a small space for his personal belongings. After 2 months, he was offered a studio apartment at The Times Square in Midtown. He has been a resident of The Times Square for four years.

Philip’s goals include living more healthfully. He plans to go to the dental van that visits The Times Square quarterly and wants to get his feet cleaned up and fixed. (They are very worn and torn from street life.) Philip is also learning to cook. He uses the kitchenette in his Times Square apartment to make chicken, steaks, and salads. He loves getting cookbooks and following recipes. He recently joined The Times Square gym. He hopes to get his health back and begin exercising more regularly.

Once Philip takes care of his health, he wants to go back to work. He would like to reconcile some traffic violations and fines on his driving record and start truck driving again, a job he did years ago in New York City. This time, he would like to drive trucks longer distances, out on the open road.