At a young age, political theory and constitutional democracy junior Jovan Pillow-Harmon found himself homeless for a short period of time, leading him and his mother to take refuge at his uncle’s house.
When he heard the story of Walter Hutchinson, Pillow-Harmon said he knew he had to reach out and do something to help.
Hutchinson is a 33-year-old homeless man who works as on-call staff member at The Vista in Shaw Hall and most recently, Ned’s Bookstore on Grand River Avenue.
Pillow-Harmon said he heard about Hutchinson from a story he read by journalism senior Riley Thyfault, so he approached him with a desire to help.
“His story reminded me of my mom and how she made her way,” Pillow-Harmon said.
Pillow-Harmon found himself homeless when he was young — due to a robbery in their home, his mother didn’t feel safe staying there.
Hutchinson said he has worked at The Vista for more than a year, Ned’s Bookstore for more than three months and has been homeless since March 2012.
As a member of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity — one of the National Pan-Hellenic Council greek organizations at MSU — Pillow-Harmon said the fraternity plans to raise money for Hutchinson and collect canned goods for others in need.
“We’re trying to make sure we get as much help as we can before (the) holidays start so those people can have a nice holiday,” Pillow-Harmon said.
At first, Hutchinson said he felt apprehensive about receiving help.
“What I want to emphasize is, I’m not the only homeless person who works for MSU,” Hutchinson said, as he knows many women from women’s shelters also find employment on campus.
But the act of kindness from Pillow-Harmon flattered him.
“I don’t think I’m a very good person. I’ve made mistakes that ended me up in this situation,” Hutchinson said. “But I appreciated the offering.”
Hutchinson said he has moved around a lot, from Pontiac to Holland, to staying with his mom in Lansing, from living on the streets, to staying with a friend. He currently stays at the City Rescue Mission of Lansing on Michigan Avenue.
He has worked in a smorgasbord of jobs, including at a call center and as a McDonald’s employee. Each time he lost a job was another setback.
Hutchinson said he is being treated for sleep apnea, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes which affect his ability to complete work tasks accurately and it is one of the reasons he said he has lost jobs.
The initial goal of the Iota Phi Theta was to raise $5,000 through GoFundMe to buy Hutchinson a car, of which more than $600 has been raised.
“I’ve only owned a car once, but it’s so critical,” Hutchinson said.
Coordinating shifts, haircuts and other appointments with the bus schedule is one of his many struggles. “Nothing beats having the ability to go wherever it is you need to — even if that does come with the insurance payments and the gas.”
Hutchinson carries all of his belongings with him since he cannot leave them where he stays or even unattended for too long, as someone else may take them.
A car would provide more than a mode of transportation — it would be a home for his possessions, which he now carries around in a suitcase or a duffel bag.
But Pillow-Harmon said there is dissent in the fraternity — while he wants to get Hutchinson a car, he said other members want to get something more sustainable than insurance payments and gas, like a suit for job interviews or a PO box.
For the future, Hutchinson said he would like to work in the clerical field or become an electronic technician.
“I’d like to get enough education to get a better-paying job,” Hutchinson added.
Pillow-Harmon said the $5,000 might be difficult to raise, but he hopes to help Hutchinson in any way possible.
“He dedicates a lot of time to the university and I consider him a Spartan even though he’s not a student,” Pillow-Harmon said.