In Providence, Rhode Island, joblessness and recession have pushed homeless shelters beyond capacity. But in the audio slideshow below, some families are turning things around, one day at a time.
Photos and audio by Brian Snyder
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – At 65, Bill Robinson never expected he would end up homeless.
Yet three months after losing his apartment, here he is at around 7am at Harrington Hall, a shelter for the homeless in Providence, with few prospects of moving on.
“Before I became homeless I had no idea how fragile I would feel without four walls of my own,” he said. “One you lose that enclosure you lose a sense of security.”
Up until three months ago he was living in Virginia, where he had a place to stay in return for taking care of other apartments. But when his landlord fell on hard times, Robinson decided to come back to Rhode Island, where he is from. A friend had promised to help him, but that friend has since disappeared.
His social security payments of $670 per month are not enough to pay rent, medications for a heart condition and buy food.
“I’d like to find someone to share with, but even that would be a stretch,” he said.
Now Robinson spends his days trying to fill in time between nights at the shelter. He can stay here from 7pm at night until 7am in the morning, then he is on his own for the day.
“I spend my days trying to be invisible,” Robinson said. “As a homeless person if I become visible I can get arrested for loitering.”
So he ends up spending time in his car instead.
“I tend to park my car at shopping malls during the day,” Robinson said. “There are lots of cars there, so nobody notices me. But I find the days very difficult because 12 hours is a lot of time to fill when you have nowhere to go.”
He feels that optimism that the longest and deepest recession since the 1930s is over is more than a little misplaced.
“There’s a lot of denial about the economy,” Robinson said before heading out into a chilly November morning. “Don’t let anybody kid you. This is a depression, my friend.”
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – For John Freitas and Barbara Kalil, the hardest part of being homeless is having to spend each night apart.
“We were rather naïve when we became homeless,” Kalil, 50, said. “We thought as a couple that we would be able to stay together or they would put us up in a hotel.”
“The reality was quite different.”
Freitas, 56, was laid off from his manufacturing job at a wire factory in 2005, and Kalil lost her job as a licensed practical nurse around the same time. They became homeless in 2006, a shock for a couple who had spent their lives working.
Each night he has to sleep in a shelter for men, she in one for women.
“You lose all your dignity in the shelter,” she said. “After 10pm you can’t even go to the bathroom without asking for the key. That’s a very private thing, so having to ask for the key is humiliating.”
Being forced to sleep apart was the main reason that early this year they decided to become part of the “tent city” movement here in Providence, where more than 100 people camped out on city land until a court ordered them to move in September.
“We decided to live in a tent because we decided we couldn’t stay in the shelters anymore,” Freitas said. “Now we’ve had to go back to the shelters and we’re stuck sleeping apart again.”