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Tony Bailey: new life, new attitude for 2013

Thu, Jan 17, 2013

When did you come to StreetWise?
Well, actually I’m an old-timer. I was here when StreetWise first began [about 20 years ago] and then I went to Florida and worked in the carnival business. I did that for about 10 years, building rides and running games. But one day I left that and came back to Chicago to see my mother. I ended up staying in the streets and became homeless. I chose that lifestyle because of my addiction. [I panhandled] and, in fact, the spot where I panhandled is where I sell my magazines now. I’m at Chicago and Franklin.

The same people who saw you panhandle must see you working now. How did they react when they saw the change?
They see me now and they love it. They love the change. They see that I’m truly for real and my hand’s not out anymore. And it feels great. I’m 53 years old and I wasted the first half of my life, so I’m going to enjoy the last half. Because we’re all born to die, one way or the other. But I’m going to enjoy the last half without using drugs. And I’m having a blast. I got a studio apartment through Thresholds and I have a stove and a refrigerator and lots of food. I’ve even got a big old bed that the people that I used to panhandle from helped me to get. They put a post in their apartment building saying that Tony who used to panhandle up at Chicago and Franklin needs a bed. So they got me a queen-sized bed and a table. And then one of the girls in Starbucks gave me a TV.

How does it feel to know that so many people care about you?
I’m blessed for the fact that I have these people who have seen me at my lowest and see me now at my best. This is who I am. And to all of them, even those who don’t buy a paper, I want to say “thank you.” I appreciate all of the people who have helped me, I really do.

You’ve come so far… what’s the next goal that you’re working towards?
I have a job hopefully coming up in January, working at a place called BEL 50, a new Swedish waffle place on Clark and Superior that just opened. The owner saw me at Starbucks and asked what kind of work I do. I told him that I do everything. So [I interviewed] and he’s going to see where he can put me.

Is there anything you would change about your life if you could do it all again?
I wouldn’t change anything, because you can’t get what I’ve learned about the streets from a textbook. All the things I’ve learned can be taught to younger children or teenagers so that they can learn the consequences. And I’ve put myself in too many bad positions to know that I can’t go back. I’ve been clean for four months now and I’ve got a bank account. I’ve got cable TV. I’ve got an apartment. I’ve got clean clothes. I’ve got a place I can wash them. I’ve got money in my pocket. It feels great.

Interview by Brittany Langmeyer,
StreetWise Staff

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