Newall: A few blocks from the DNC, tales from the city with the highest poverty rate among major U.S. cities

Nasir Fears, 21, of North Philly, talked about the seven years he said he spent off and on the streets after his family rejected him when he came out of the closet. How he is now working for Wawa and pursuing his nursing certification.

Richard Henry and Robert Jones took a break Tuesday from their maintenance jobs and sat on a ledge outside the Municipal Services Building to watch the protests that had overtaken the plaza.

From a stage, a woman crooned for the cheering crowd a shaky soul song - an original, it seemed: "Feeeel the Berrrnn."

There was a Bernie supporter in a Superman costume and another in Bernie jammies. There was guy bearing a large wooden cross on his shoulder with the message, "Vote 4 Jesus."

And there were some "Hillary for Prison" guys who seemed about ready to rumble with a few masked Communists.

Henry, 50, and Jones, 48, finished their cigarettes in the unforgiving heat. They had seen enough. Both work other jobs to survive; Henry works three. Neither has health insurance. They live in violent pockets of West Philadelphia. They had heard enough.

There are two cities in Philadelphia this week.

The one that has moved in for a few days - the media, the delegates, the protesters of all the stripes - and the one we live in every day. The one of contradiction and divide. The one with a downtown bursting with new growth and neighborhoods plagued by the highest poverty rate of any big city in the nation.

The one where working men like Henry and Jones sit on a bench in a Center City that is becoming shinier by the day and talk about the neighborhoods where they live. Neighborhoods just a few miles away that might as well be a universe away. Neighborhoods plagued by poverty and hunger - the types of issues that have not garnered nearly enough attention during this bizarre and frightening election.

God help us all if Donald Trump wins. But how is it that two nights into a Democratic National Convention held in a city where one out of four people lives in poverty, where one of five children goes without enough food, where 700 people sleep on the streets each night, the words hunger or homelessness have barely been mentioned from the lectern, if at all?

When the circus leaves, we will remain, as will our problems.

It was a point not lost on David Brown. He sighed as he watched the protesters, wishing the crowds were clamoring for something else: the end of homelessness.

I know David, having written about him. For more than 20 years, he slept on benches on the Parkway or inside refrigerator boxes in a lot next to the Free Library. Three years ago, he finally accepted a Project HOME outreach worker's plea to come inside. Now he lives in an apartment and manages a boutique.

Having seen enough, Brown left the protests and walked to the library, passing the benches where he once slept.

At the Free Library on Tuesday, Project HOME was holding its own DNC event, "Stories From the Margins."

David talked about all those nights inside refrigerator boxes.

Ericka Brown, no relation to David, talked about the five years she lived on city streets and in shelters with her three children before she arrived at Project HOME. She now works for Project HOME as a digital literacy instructor. Her oldest is in college, while another child is thinking of joining the Air Force.

Nasir Fears, 21, of North Philly, talked about the seven years he said he spent off and on the streets after his family rejected him when he came out of the closet. How he is now working for Wawa and pursuing his nursing certification.

"I wanted my story to be heard," he said.

They were the types of stories, the types of voices, that need to be heard this week amid all the speeches and the shouting.

Project HOME had invited delegates and press and anyone in town for the DNC to come hear the stories of former homeless people.

"There will be lots of speeches, lots of rhetoric this week," said Sister Mary Scullion, the saint who runs Project HOME. "But so many voices will not be represented."

A few dozen people showed up for Tuesday's event at the library, but only a few press and six delegates came. No politicians made time for it.

mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

@MikeNewall