From Homelessness to Entrepreneur

Phillip and his mobile shoe shine cart

An inspiring story of resilience

Phillip Wiggins was a graphic illustrator in the military. He has worked as a mason and in commercial cleaning. And his latest entrepreneurial venture is his most inspiring yet. Last year, Wiggins built a mobile shoe shining stand with his own two hands.

“My grandfather used to shine shoes, so I learned growing up. He shined shoes until he was 97 years old,” Wiggins said.

Phillip rode his bike downtown each morning with his mobile shoe shining cart in tow. He spent mornings serving business clientele. Later in the day, he rode a few blocks away to post up near a local barber shop.

“Stacy and I have a standing call on Tuesdays. She’s been by my side for every step. She asks good questions, and we work on the answers together.”

Phillip Wiggins

“I have absolutely been inspired by his entrepreneurial spirit,” said case manager Stacy Lucas.

Wiggins said that while his business started slow, people began to see the quality of his work. “I had one customer bring me 13 pair of shoes and made several hundred dollars in a single day.”

That momentum was lost when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. His business came to a halt as downtown offices closed. He, too, is concerned for his health and is staying safe inside the walls of his very own apartment – something he does not take for granted after experiencing homelessness.

After six years of military service, Wiggins received a degree from St. Edwards University in Austin and moved to Connecticut. He was married and raised three children with his wife as he worked in various industries. 

The events that led to homelessness

In 2012, Wiggins endured the most traumatic experience of his life. His wife’s leukemia returned while he was serving jail time for a DWI. When cancer took her life, Phillip could not forgive himself for not being present during that time.

“I have never gotten over that grief because I wasn’t there and my kids had to deal with everything,” he reflected.

The loss of his wife led Wiggins into a spiral of heavy drinking. In 2017, he entered treatment to get sober. After completing the program and working successfully in a transitional center, Phillip decided to return to his hometown of Austin.

“I just try to keep my eye on the goal.”

Phillip Wiggins

Last November, because of generous supporters, Phillip moved into his own apartment. His case manager Stacy has been there as a consistent support, even during current times of social distancing.

“Stacy and I have a standing call on Tuesdays. She’s been by my side for every step. She asks good questions, and we work on the answers together,” Phillip said.

Caritas’ housing programs are currently extending services to ensure the current pandemic does not cause people to return to homelessness.

“It is important to extend financial assistance during COVID because so many peoples’ livelihoods were affected without any warning or ability to plan for it,” said Lucas.

Phillip remains optimistic that things will rebound eventually. “I go downtown once a week to see what’s going on. I keep telling myself and others, “Hold on, time will change things.  I just try to keep my eye on the goal.”

Thank you for your continued support in such uncertain times. It allows us to continue providing critical support to Phillip and dozens of other neighbors!