The first time Michael Joynt set off on a solo adventure, it was 1,600 miles on a Greyhound from Pittsburgh to New Mexico.
That was a trip he took for his 16th birthday, visiting his sister, who was stationed at an Air Force base there. Thirty years and dozens of states later, Joynt is back in Pittsburgh, sitting in the middle of one of its busiest food pantries and crocheting a hat.
He's been coming to the pantry, just a few blocks from his North Side apartment, for a year to supplement the $200 per month he receives in food stamps. (Last month, he says, he didn't receive any money on his EBT card, something he's hoping will get straightened out soon.) But he doesn't think losing a few dollars as a result of SNAP cuts will affect him much: "I know how to stretch it."
He loads up on staples at the pantry so he has money left for vegetables and almost never goes out to eat. "I love to cook," Joynt says. "Chinese is one of my favorites because it's actually quite simple ... and it's relatively inexpensive."
But if he were to lose the benefits permanently, he says, the impact "would be very dramatic."
Joynt has relied on food stamps off and on over the past 10 years in Michigan, Maryland and Oregon — and he's been in tough spots before. There was the time he was homeless in Dallas after he left an abusive relationship with his partner; he lived in transitional housing in Portland; and he has battled bipolar disorder and clinical-depression diagnoses.
"I've learned to live simply," Joynt says. "I don't have furniture, I don't have a car, I don't have kids ... those are my values. I lead a full, rich life that a lot of other people don't."
He learned to crochet when he was 7 and made his first hat at 10. He's had various jobs in the arts, including painting doll faces in an East Liberty studio during the late '80s.
A Swissvale native and graduate of Woodland Hills High School, Joynt often had a hard time at school. "I was an eccentric child — I got harassed," he says. "I was always a little different, creative."
His parents have always been supportive, Joynt says, even after he brought home a man he had been dating when he was 19. Employers haven't always been so accepting.
"I've gotten indirectly fired for it and I know it," Joynt says. "[They] come up with some lame bullshit excuse for why they let me go."
Joynt now works the front desk part time at a local museum, does some occasional freelance event work and sells his own hats and jewelry through his company, HatManAtLarge. (The "at large" part "encompassed me living on the street, being kind of nomadic, kind of a gypsy," Joynt says.)
And even though money is tight, and moving can strain financial resources, "I could probably just pick up and go," Joynt says. "It's a tough choice, but I'll probably do it again."