This is Kevin
Sitting on a fire hydrant asking for money because you haven't had anything to eat in three days is no way for a 40-year-old man to spend a beautiful Spring day in New York City. But that is what you have to do if you have been homeless on the streets of New York City for ten years.
Kevin's life has been difficult almost from the start. He was an only child, living in the Fort Green Projects in Brooklyn, New York, with his parents. He doesn't have many memories of his childhood with his parents. His mother died of a heart attack when he was six years old, and his father died a year later of a stroke.
His uncle, a single man with no children, took Kevin in to live with him. However, after a year of living with his uncle, the Bureau of Child Welfare determined his uncle unfit to raise a child and removed him, and placed him in foster care. Over the next seven years, Kevin lived with five different foster families, each one worse than the last.
"No one wants you," he says. "So, I ran away."
Bouncing around from foster home to foster home created all sorts of problems. Without a stable home, Kevin was unable to make and keep friendships.
Kevin told me he had no friends and never really did. How could he if he changed schools and neighborhoods every year or so? Often, people on the streets find a network of friends that look out for each other, but Kevin said he is a loner. No wonder!
How does this happen? How does a healthy 40-year-old man willing to take any job in one of the richest cities in the world end up on the streets? How can someone who has spent 10 years living on the streets still go hungry for three days or more?
My guess is a large portion of the population in this country would think it is the fault of the individual. That if Kevin really wanted to work, he would not be unemployed. Society tends to fault the individual for his or her failure.
Kevin is not without motivation. He is not lazy, an accusation often made of the homeless. Rather than completing high school, he started working as a teenager to feed, clothe himself and pay for rented rooms. He was able to sustain himself this way for a long time, living the life of one of the working poor.
However, eventually, his low-paying jobs were not enough to keep up with the rising cost of renting a room and buying food.
Kevin has been on the streets for the past ten years. He has stopped in every shop in the area looking for a job, any job, but no one wants to hire him.
He even has a government-issued cell phone, which would allow a business to reach him, solving a problem common to many homeless people who are looking for a job. Yet, still, the job offers are not forthcoming.
Even sleeping on the subway is no longer an option for Kevin.. Two years ago, he was sleeping on the subway late at night when he was woken up by three young men punching and kicking him. The fact that they were white and Kevin was black was not lost on him. He talked about the young black man who was choked to death last week on the subway by a white man.
Remarkably, Kevin is still optimistic, mainly because he has to be. "Things can't get much worse," he said.