Interview With Phil Sullivan
Jejune had the pleasure to spend a day with Phil Sullivan, model and humanitarian. When Phil first moved to NYC, he found himself homeless for a short period of time, and that, with the help of a model friend, Shane Duffy, just started his desire to give back to the homeless community.
Affordable housing in NYC is an ever increasing problem in NYC, and across the world. People are being forced to live on the streets or try to survive crime ridden homeless shelters. At the end of last year the number of homeless people in NYC, alone, was 63,169, including 15,712 homeless families with 23,694 homeless children (learn more here). With new affordable housing limits now including people of higher and higher incomes, it makes it impossible to be a lower or middle class person or family in the Big Apple.
Which is why Phil and his friend took action into their own hands. First, they started the awareness, by living on the streets for a few days during NYC Fashion Week. Through this they met a man, Dean Cummings, who helped them while they were "homeless," and they wanted to give back. So, they started I Am Supported, which is an organization that builds functional mini homes for the homeless that blend into the surroundings. For example, the one they built for Dean looked like a dumpster, but he could open it from the side and it even was equipped with solar power!
Where are you originally from? What made you decide to move to NYC?
I am originally from the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. I was living in Boston for a year, when I was 23, and I had recently sublet a room in the south end of Boston when I decided to purchase tickets to see the band XX in NYC at terminal five. After arriving to the city I was informed that the tickets I bought were fake. I spent the evening in NYC and woke up the following morning to find out I had been scammed in my sublet in Boston. I had no money and no place to stay if I went back to Boston, ergo my homelessness, and that's where the story begins....
What drew you to modeling?
I originally got interested in modeling when I met a dear friend of mine, Dominick Avellino, on a train. He asked if I would be interested in shooting portraits with him. My younger self jumped at the opportunity to be photographed in some briefs on film. 8 years later and a beard here I am.
We are going to dive in deep right away, you said you spent some time being homeless when you first arrived to NYC, can you please talk to us about some of your experiences being homeless? How did people treat you? And how you got out of it?
I was very fortunate to have my health and my all American aesthetic during my period of homelessness. I was quick to communicate with everyone at my disposal to find ways to survive. In many ways I was lucky that it was summer and got off the streets before the harsh winter. It was a humbling experience because I realized what the important things in life are.
I met a girl in Times Square on the red steps while Curiosity was landing on mars. We connected on Facebook and when I had the available Wi-Fi at Starbucks I would message her in regards to having dinner. Our conversation consisted of you provide the kitchen and I'll provide the food. At that time I had 40 dollars to my name and I spent it all on groceries for dinner with her. The night proceeded as I then took off my famous boots where my feet were bloody and blistered causing much embarrassment. She enjoyed the meal and the night went into the morning and that was the start of my progression towards getting off the street. I was then able to get a catering job, which gave me the funds to rent my own room. 3 months later I had an audition for America's Next Top model and started filming shortly after.
What made you and Shane Duffy decide to spend a few nights living homeless on the streets? Can you please tell us about your experiences during that time?
After years of modeling I wanted to figure out how I could make an impact using social media. I thought that there would be no better way to create awareness during New York fashion week, then going on the streets with my best friend Shane to crowd source money that would help the homeless.
Some of the experiences were being kicked out of the subway on the coldest recorded temperatures in NYC in the last 50 years. Also, having been denied water and being shamed from the general public.
We at Jejune love you and Shane Duffy’s idea of I Am Supported! Can you please tell us a bit about it and how it got started?
We started I Am Supported knowing that it is so easy for an individual to end up homeless if they do not have the right resources including emotional support.
Are you still in connection with Dean Cummings, the homeless man that started it all? Do you know how he and his home are doing?
Yes, we are still in connection with Dean. After his disguised dumpster/ home was taken off the streets by the NYPD as a result of the New York post article, we connected him with an outreach homeless program. Dean now has a home at a YMCA.
How many small homes for the homeless has I Am Supported build at this time?
We have only built one, as our concern is helping one individual at a time until our resources allow us to help even more.
What are your thoughts on the homeless problem in New York City, and how we can continue to work towards the city offering actual affordable housing?
I think the issue is that people focus on the large scale instead of the individual in terms of making change.
If someone wanted to help, how is the best way they can donate/volunteer?
If someone wants to help they can go to I Am Supported, and reach out directly. Any money donated goes immediately into helping someone get off the street and the help they need.
Do you have any words of advice for people who want to help? What would you recommend is the best way to give?
The best way to give help is talking to someone homeless and listening to what they have to say and their story. Most people just pretend they are not there.
The homeless population is much bigger than the small group of panhandlers we come in contact with daily. Just like Dean Cummings, many people are trying to work, but just don’t make enough to have a home to come home to. How do you think we can increase awareness to the homeless issue in New York City and across the world?
I think we can increase awareness about homelessness by telling one story at a time, and humanizing people who live on the street and are trying their best to survive with the resources available.
As a model, you get a travel a lot, have you been in any cities where you felt they handled their homeless well? If so, where and what did they do?
On my recent visit to Japan I was shocked, for seven days I only ran into one homeless person. On my next visit I plan to inquire about how there system operates.
You are known for your beard and personal style. What inspires your wardrobe?
I am inspired by vintage and the quality in which things are made. My style is very much about how things make me feel and a story each piece of clothing I wear has.
We love the beard! How has it affected you as a model?
Having a beard allowed me to create a unique identity within the industry and set myself apart! Creating and appealing to a niche market of clientele and giving a different look to models in fashion editorials!
Interview by Kira Bucca, Editor in Chief of Jejune Magazine.