“I was making it seem like I was this free spirit living on the edge, when really I was terrified. Terrified that I would grow up, become an adult, and I would fail. It seemed that everything responsible I tried to do ended up in failure. I tried to go to college. I failed. I've had several apartments. And then I made it to the point that everyone told me that I needed to make it to. I had an apartment and a stable job in Chicago. And I didn't feel like I had accomplished anything. I came to New York because I’m a writer and I always knew that New York would be the place to take off from. Somehow my plans fell completely apart. A house of cards. One big blow and everything was gone, and all I had was a suitcase. But in homelessness I found freedom. In some strange way. I needed to hit rock bottom to see my life for what it really was."
“Homelessness makes a lot of people look down on you. I don't know if I'm the face of homelessness but I am a face of homelessness. My education didn't save me. My businesses didn't save me. My addiction brought me further and further down. So I am a face of homelessness, and it can happen to anybody. If you read the New York Times you'll know that people are a paycheck or two away from it. I'm a real person that this happened to. I'm not ashamed… I'm Precious- that's who I am. And like the phoenix, I will rise again, just like I always do. I don't want it to be forgotten that I'm human and there’s something wonderful about being beautifully human. There are people in penthouse apartments who have no idea who their friends are. Who are spiritually homeless. I'm not spiritually homeless. I know who I am. And that's beautiful.”
“Because you don't understand the implications of what's going on around you, because you don't get that you're homeless, because there's no language around it when you're a kid, it's like this weird magical space where you're with a lot of other children. Don't get me wrong, it's an incredibly traumatic experience, but it's also an experience where you have a really big community in the shelter, and there's a lot of joy. But that's a child's experience of homelessness. The homelessness in my youth was all tied to my mother's addiction. Then, as I got older, I went to live with my grandparents and my father. When I started coming out towards my junior and senior year, that was when I couldn't live with them anymore, because they were really strict Irish Catholics. They essentially told me I could not come back. So I ended up living with my friends, with my high school English teacher. Then I got to college and had my first girlfriend. Something that I'm working on is not allowing my relationships to be home for me. Because what you end up doing is building homes in other things and other people, which is a really dangerous thing to do. When you grow up without a home, you hold on to people. In my apartment right now in Brooklyn, this is the longest I've ever lived anywhere in my life, which is two full years. It's exciting, but I don't think I'll ever get rid of the feeling of impermanence. As an adult looking back at these experiences, I think about how easy it is to slip back into that system. Had it not been for the scholarship program that got me into NYU, I don't know how I'd have gotten out.”
“I lost my apartment because of high rent. At age 50 I had medical expenses. My cats had to go with someone else. I had to go to a shelter. I started looking for work. I found a good job and educated myself. I went to places that gave classes and went back into the workforce. But the jobs I would get would only be temporary... 6 months to 8 months, and then I would end up having nothing again. And I had to rebuild and start over. Along the way I learned how to cook and I loved it. I would like to have my career in cooking. I would love to become an executive chef at Tavern on the Green.
I think that homelessness affects anybody. I don't think you need to be on some substance abuse to become homeless. Sometimes you can lose your job, you can lose your apartment, you can lose your family. And you can be so devastated that you don't know what to do. You haven't done anything wrong. You're just trying to rebuild your life, trying to stand again.”
“I grew up in the Bronx. I've lived in California, Connecticut, Florida... New York is where I feel most like my true self. For a long time I was in drug addiction. Going through this journey has taught me that I want to help people with my career. The job that I want- being a paramedic - I know that it's going to be hard and dangerous, but its something that I'm drawn to because my life and the way that I've been living is so dangerous. I feel like now being in a position where I can help people in their danger is going to help me feel like I'm redeemed from all of the things that I went through. Peace and happiness for me is sitting outside and feeling the sun on my skin. Having a moment of silence.”
“Don't judge a book by its cover, because you never know what a person has been through. Prior to being homeless, I worked for the attorney general. I had good jobs. I started working at 12 years old. But the drugs... I ran into a guy with fast money, and didn't have to work, everything was provided. So I was exposed to the drug life, and got caught up in the life I was exposed to. Crack is so powerful, you get that high that one time, and you never get it again. So you're chasing that high. It was rough being out on the streets, because you never knew who you were going to bump into. For 11 years I drank every day and smoked every day. I thought I was going to die on the streets. But God said no. And he gave me a second chance at life. I've been clean for 27 years. I got my children back, I went to school. Got my first masters. I'm working on my second masters, to get my MSW. I'm currently working with homeless men. I have a population of 177 men and I have the daunting task of making sure they have housing and that they are treated with dignity. Every now and then I have to give myself a refresher course. Because you can become numb to the pain, numb to the way the some people are living, and then I have to remind myself, Leslie you used to be a homeless woman too, so if there was hope for you, there's hope for them.”
“I was born and raised in the Bronx. I was married for 12 and a half years. I was 18 when we got married… I’m homeless today because rent is so expensive out there. When I can, I rent a room. I take homelessness to my decision. We’re not bums… we just need understanding. People typecast us… I don’t consider us to be bums. Just because someone’s not dressed appropriately or somebody hasn’t taken a bath or somebody has a drinking problem or a drug problem, it all adds up to a person… People gotta understand that we’re all human beings.”
“The disco days were fun. That was in the 70’s. I bought every record that had to do with a hit. Me and my wife went to LA in 1999 to the biggest dance competition they had there. I was proud to win. Two Mexican people… we won $10,000 and a big trophy. Me and my wife became homeless together. I had to panhandle… it’s not something I like doing but I had to do it in order to feed my girl. I’ve been sober for 3 months and I’m proud of it. I would say to others... take the life that you have, take it to heat, do what you can with it. Don’t let nobody talk you into doing a drug that’s going to make you feel like a different person. Cause you already are what you are. I’m 59… but you’re never too old to learn something new.”
“I’m just trying to get back on my feet. I have a family back home… they are waiting for me. This program is going to send me to school, get me some training. I never got my G.E.D…. Those are some things I’m trying to accomplish. I just want to get on my feet and go home and take care of my children.”
“I’m starting my whole life over again. I was part of a gang. Once my niece was born, I tried to separate myself from the gang. That’s not the lifestyle I want my niece to see. She’s my motivation, she’s why I came back to this program. I have to step up and be a brother, a son, and an uncle. They all know I can be it… a great man… but back then I didn’t see it. All I knew was the street. I want to become a youth counselor. I want to catch the young brothers before they even have the thought of gang life.”
"Anything I do here, I do it to serve God. So far it's been working for me, and I'm looking forward to my six months... I've been living here 24/7, doing what I'm supposed to be doing, but I do it with the attitude of serving God, and that gets me through what I'm doing. You have to want to be here or you're just going to be right back to the streets. I think the reason why God brought me here was to see that this could've been me if I continued to be negative back home, I could have been homeless."
“I was lucky to find Bowery Mission it’s a nice place. They provide food, clothes and place to sleep. I did have a job as a gardener that I really liked in the beginning but now I’m looking for something else. I send a lot of resumes and go to interviews and I’m trying to find a good job but it’s not easy. My dream job was building inspector. I like details, I like when things are done right. I volunteer a lot too. I love helping others. I keep in touch with my parents and my daughter. I have a granddaughter now too but they don’t know that I’m homeless. I don’t want them to know, I want to do something on my own. Life is not always easy but I believe everything will work out. I stay positive."
“The lady who raised me, she always told me, you can be anything you want to be. I believed that. I started a successful business, but then I began to look at my life and I said to myself, isn’t there more than this? How many cars can he drive? How many shoes does he need? That’s when I found cocaine. I lost everything. I came across the bridge from Jersey in 1986- broke, angry… I got on the train one night, the A train… I’m not accustomed to falling asleep on the train, but I did that night, and about 2:30 in the morning a lady woke me up and said, ‘what in the world is a man like you doing asleep on the train?’ She gave me a ticket to the Mission, and a month later I showed up. I joined the program. And eventually I became the director here. The bank account’s not as big as it used to be, but I’m okay with that. It’s better to have a love of people than to have all the money in the world.”
"When I was a kid, I would hear fire trucks go by and I would say 'I want to be a fireman.' And nowadays I try to figure out what happened to those dreams... why did we lose that desire to be? What happened? It helps me to tell my story because it's like a burden... and this is an opportunity to let it go. When I was 11 I left home and went to the streets. The people in the streets became my parents. They became my idols, and I tried to emulate them. They offered me security... something that I'd never got before. But as a child I still had those dreams of being a fireman, of wearing a uniform. But those dreams were taken from me because I had to grow up fast... I had to be responsible for me at such a young age. I couldn't be a child. To this day, I've never had a birthday.
“I’m from Nigeria. I’ve been in this country for a month. I have a masters in International Security. I was forced to leave my country, I don’t have anybody, any family or friends here in the United States. So that’s why I came here for shelter, to get on my feet, to regularize my immigration status, before I can be able to get a job and all of that. It’s hard to leave home, especially when you have all things planned in your life, a career to pursue, you never thought about leaving home. With a change of environment… you think, okay, how do I take my life from here?”
“I got off the bus at Port Authority and just started walking. I didn’t know where I was... There were tall buildings everywhere. I was just amazed to be in New York. I had a gut feeling I could improve my life here. But I had to take a risk… and that led me to be homeless. I came to the Bowery Mission, and it left a mark on my life that would never get erased. I love it, that’s why I come back and volunteer, now that I have a job.”
“I went to high school in the Philippine Islands because my father was Air Force. That started me traveling. This time last year I was in Poland, then at a hotel in the Catskill mountains.. But the hotel I worked at closed down, so that’s why I came here. Hotel work is seasonal. So every time the season’s over, you go from there. I love working in hotels. That’s the thing, you have to have something that you like, that you wanna go to every day, and for me, it’s hotels. Everything is clean and everything is fresh. I was a dining room Maitre D’. The city is where you come when you can’t go anywhere else.”
“I’m from South Jamaica, Queens, New York. Born and raised. I had a good childhood. When I got older I decided to do what I wanted to do. I was hard headed. I wanted to keep on running. I wanted to go on the streets and experience how the world is. When you go out there on your own, you can get depression. I came to the Bowery Mission by myself, with only the clothes on my back. I felt welcome when I came in the door. My mission is to be a better person, a better man. I got two interviews coming up. Five years from now, I see myself with a nice job, my family back together.”
“I got to the Mission on March 26th for the 3rd time to start my life over. I have a son who is back in my life. I’m not ready to see the rest of my family yet… I’m still mourning my wife. The Mission has done a lot for me and others. What I plan to do, God willing, is work here three more years, then go back to my roots in North Carolina. I’m Cherokee, Irish, and Black. My son is engaged to get married next May, and I’ll be at the wedding.”