Homelessness looks different in many ways people don't see — or don't want to see. This five-part series offers a glimpse into the daily challenges of being homeless and what's being done to help people caught in this difficult situation.
Part one in a series
Jerome Kidd of Hampton led the typical middle-class lifestyle for over a decade. He was a successful insurance agent, a member of city civic groups and a proud father.
And then problems and setbacks struck in succession.
"Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong," Kidd said.
The fallout of
wrecked his financial portfolio and the sudden death of his father and a failed marriage contributed to a suicidal depression.
Today, the 48-year-old is among a growing segment of people on the Peninsula — the homeless. Volunteers and relief agencies say they are seeing more and more people like Kidd because of the economic downturn — people who were professionals or who had been in successful jobs; people who formerly lived in houses or apartments of their own but who are now living under bridge overpasses.
"I'm a little bit different than what people expect from the average homeless guy," he said. "I think people are really afraid of what it looks like now."
"I definitely fly in the face of what people think a homeless person is," he said. "There's no doubt."
A path to homelessness
Many people are closer to being homeless than they realize, Kidd said. It might be the loss of a job or an extended hospital stay.
According to the
Coalition to End Homelessness, for every 10,000 Virginians, 13 have experienced homelessness on any given night.
"This is what happens when you don't have a paycheck," said
, who is homeless in Newport News. "You could be here."
Foster was part of a construction firm that remodeled area Food Lion grocery stores. When the work was done, so was his employment.
"I had a good job," he said. "A lot of us would love to go to work."
Work, whether you have it or not, is the key, said James Robinson, who has been homeless on-and-off since 2000, when he separated from his fiancee.
"It's terrible being a have-not," the 40-year-old from Newport News said.
Robinson is constantly on the hunt for a job. He keeps a positive attitude despite his current situation because "the moment you accept defeat — you're defeated," he said. "A lot of these people accept defeat."
"It's a sad plight," said the Rev. Jim Rudisill of Hampton, who has advocated for the rights of the homeless for nearly 30 years. He and his wife, Mary, have stayed overnight numerous times at makeshift homeless camps across the Peninsula to get a feel for what people endure. The Rudisills also have visited bridge overpasses, shelters, graveyards, woods near train tracks, churches and abandoned warehouses and buildings where homeless people frequent.
"The people we deal with seem to be the people some miss," he said. "It's been an eye opener."
A lifestyle unraveled
Kidd is a former top-ranking insurance agent with Allstate, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, and former president of
. "9/11 was probably the most painful day financially in my life," he said.
He called his broker the following day and was told that about half of his portfolio was lost.
"For me, that was close to $60,000," he said. "That wasn't part of the plan. There was no contingency."
Kidd had more liquid assets on hand, but losing that much money in one fell swoop "changes your lifestyle," he said.
He said his wife at the time did not understand the pressure he was going through — which, in part, led to him "drinking more than I should have."
"There was a lot on my plate," he said, including a new job at Hampton insurance firm Morgan Marrow, trying to reinvent Bay Days, and dealing with marital issues.
Then his father died.
"And my life began to fall apart."
Dealing with the aftermath of the sudden death of his father to a
2003 and not properly mourning the death of his mother three years earlier sent Kidd into a depression. He tried to commit suicide twice.
"It was just miserable," he said. "I don't wish what I went through on anybody."
Kidd was stuck in a destructive cycle. To better himself, he underwent counseling and took prescription medication.
He says that he is now drug- and alcohol-free, involved in church, eating a cleaner diet, working in business consulting and is engaged — all while being homeless, although he doesn't refer to himself as such.
"I refuse to claim that status," he said. "I am without mortgage or rent."
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the two leading factors for the rise in homelessness are an increase in poverty and a decrease in affordable housing.
Unemployment rates in the state and nationwide have been on the rise in recent years. According to the Virginia Employment Commission, the state's
was at 6.5 percent in August 2009, up from 4.3 percent the same month last year. The unemployment rate for
was at 6.6 percent in August 2009, according to the commission. The commission has not released figures for September. Nationally, the rate is 9.8 percent in September 2009, up from 3.6 percent during the same month last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A study by the National Coalition for the Homeless points out another problem: Despite rising incomes on average, the value of wages is falling.
Poverty rates have increased as well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in 2008 was 13.2 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 2007. According to the
, the poverty line in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia for:
• one person is $10,830
• a family of two is $14,570
• a family of three is $18,310
• a family of four is $22,050.
With the value of wages decreasing and poverty rates increasing, housing has been put out of reach for many people as housing costs are growing faster than incomes.
In every state, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, more than the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is needed to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment as rent accounts for a high proportion of monthly income.
At least 3.5 million people are likely to experience homelessness during a year, according to the group. About 80 percent of those people face a housing crisis because they cannot find affordable housing; more than half are women and children, with the mother working.