On Saturday, Michelangelo Giuseppe Peluso will be 92. And there are a couple of things especially noteworthy about his birthday.
Michelangelo is -- at age 92 -- homeless. But more important, Michelangelo is -- at age 92 -- a happy camper. And the words "happy camper" are appropriate, for they describe a man who enjoys, as he does, living close to nature. The van he has called home for some 40 years can usually be found parked in a shady spot, within sight of the ocean that surrounds his beloved Key West.
I've known Michelangelo for only a decade of his 92 years, but his is a treasured friendship. We have much in common, and that includes experiencing some of life's ups and downs while "sort of" homeless. And though I reside now in north, central Florida, contact with Michelangelo is frequent and full of fun. Even by phone, he remains a joy to be around.
In writing about homelessness in Homeless Isn't Hopeless, I offer Michelangelo as an example of America's "sort of" homeless. He does have some income -- but not enough for a place to live. Maintenance for a van is a cost he can afford. Normal housing is not...
To meet Michelangelo in person is to see a smiling, well-groomed older gentleman, who does not fit the usual stereotype of a homeless person. Yet he does fit the official federal definition of a homeless person, for he is, indeed, "an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, nighttime residence." At 92, Michelangelo could be the poster child for the urgent, nationwide need for affordable housing.
Michelangelo is among that 47 percent, that 30 percent, that somewhat-dependent-upon-government group of Americans that some politicians continue to disparage. But, here again, Michelangelo could be a poster child -- for the good that is within many of those less fortunate.
Michelangelo is a veteran, who served his country as a medic in World War II. And he is an active veteran -- driving that 40-year old van, with its handmade, patriotic signs, in the Key West Veterans Day parade.
Until recently, Michelangelo went to work daily as an unofficial City of Key West volunteer, clearing litter from parks and public places. And Michelangelo is an advocate for others who endure some form of homelessness. Last year he made an impassioned appearance before the Key West City Commission to oppose an effort to outlaw the use of a vehicle as shelter.
Come Saturday morning, I will be calling my friend, to wish him well on his 92nd birthday. And sometime during that conversation, I will hear him utter those words that are part of his every conversation. Michelangelo will remind me that "life is good."