By Jeff Gray
In the decade and a half that he has battled homelessness, Eric Thompson-Bey has often contemplated the factors that have led him to this point. To what extent is he a product of circumstance; a prisoner of societal constraints or bad luck? What role have his own bad decisions played?
“[Social factors] play a part, but they’re not the only thing,” the 46 year-old DC native admits. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes.”
Thompson-Bey first experienced homelessness fifteen years ago after being kicked out by the sister he had been living with. After he ran out of friends with whom to stay, he tried the homeless shelters, but found the streets preferable.
“I came downtown and started sleeping on a park bench,” he explains.
Perhaps the largest contributing factor to Eric’s homelessness is his inability to hold down a job, an issue he says stems from psychiatric disorders. Eric has been diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder, all of which combine to make consistent employment difficult.
“I’ll have a job, be doing good, then get depressed and won’t go to work,” he laments. “Then they fire me.”
Thompson-Bey works with a mental health case manager but says he does not feel he is getting the help he needs.
His life has not been an easy one. His mother was murdered when he was only two years old, and he lost his father at the age of nine. He was left in the care of his eldest sister, who, despite her best efforts, simply could not provide the nurturing support Eric needed.
“From then on I really had no guidance. Your sister can’t be your mom.”
He believes that if his parents had lived, his life “would be totally different.”
Instead, the behavioral problems he had as a teenager resulted in him getting kicked out of school during his senior year at Ballou High, setting him down the wrong path.
“I fell to the streets,” he says. “I got caught up with the wrong crowd and it was off to the races from there.” Poor decisions led to a four-year incarceration at the age of 27 and he has been in and out of prison several times since.
Thompson-Bey readily accepts responsibility for the course his life has taken.
“I can’t blame it on society. I can’t do that,” he asserts. “I always look at what part I played.”
The housing situation Thompson-Bey has relied on for the past few months recently came apart, and he faces the very real possibility of returning to a shelter in the next couple of weeks. Though a daunting notion, he remains determined to make the most of what he has, saying he will continue to face his challenges head on.