I’m volunteering today at Christmas in July at Grace Park. There are about 300 people gathered for the party. We will be handing out bags with toiletries, socks, underwear and much more. The Kona Ice truck is handing out shaved ice and the Retro Dog truck is serving hot dogs. John Myers with Event DJs is blasting music and there are people dancing. There’s a tent with stylists giving haircuts and beard trims. Santa and Mrs. Claus are here.
I see a man smiling and talking with friends. Then I see his dark glasses and white cane. I ask him if it’s scary navigating the city this way. He laughs and tells me, “Yes! Some people can be jerks.” He tells me a story about how he was walking from the hospital. He stopped to cross the street. He didn’t hear any traffic, so he stepped off the curb. All of a sudden, a car horn blared and a man yelled, “What, are you blind or something!?”
Home state: Pennsylvania
Lisa: What brought you to Akron?
Kevin: I came here looking for my uncle. I found out after being here a couple months that he had passed away.
Lisa: What is your occupation or source of income?
Kevin: I get disability Social Security. I’m blind.
Lisa: Why don’t you have a job?
Kevin: I was a nursing assistant. Two years ago, I had cataract surgery in Pittsburgh. They did something wrong and blinded me. I’ve seen doctors here that told me that doctor should have never done the surgery on me. I’ve been blind ever since, so I couldn’t work as a nursing assistant anymore.
Lisa: How long have you been homeless?
Kevin: It’s going on seven months now, since around Christmas.
Lisa: What lead you to homelessness?
Kevin: Well, it’s really hard to find a job when you can’t see. I was living in Cleveland with my fiancé. We had a friend in Akron that said they could help us out [with] finding a place and stuff. It just didn’t work out.
Lisa: Do you have family?
Kevin: I don’t have any family around here.
Lisa: Where did you sleep last night?
Kevin: I slept in a tent at Akron’s Tent City on Broad Street.
Lisa: How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
Kevin: I usually get about four or five hours.
Lisa: Do you usually have three meals a day?
Kevin: I don’t really eat that much.
Lisa: Do you feel safe?
Kevin: Yes, at the tent city I feel safe.
Lisa: What is your biggest fear?
Kevin: That I won’t be able to get off the streets.
Lisa: What can people find you doing during the day?
Kevin: When you are staying at the Tent City, you have a job. Everyone there helps. I’m in charge of laundry. Any homeless person can come in and wash their clothes, even if they aren’t staying in the tent city.
Lisa: What are some of your daily struggles?
Kevin: I can’t really do much. I don’t have a lot of money, so it’s hard to do anything. When I first came to Ohio I was working. This is really different and hard for me.
Lisa: What is the hardest thing about being homeless?
Kevin: Everything’s hard. Just trying to find a place to live is the hardest thing.
Lisa: What words would you use to describe being homeless?
Kevin: (Laughing) It sucks!
Lisa: What do you think is the leading causes of homelessness?
Kevin: I think a lot of times people get to the point where they just give up.
Lisa: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the homeless?
Kevin: That they are being lazy and don’t want to have a job. People look for work so much that they start to give up. It’s really hard finding work for some people. Look at me — I’d love to go back to my nursing job, but could never do it not being able to see. I’ve tried to get work in restaurants or a plant of some kind. I can’t do anything like that now.
Lisa: How do you think people who have never faced homelessness or talked to a homeless person view them?
Kevin: This is the first time I’ve ever been homeless. I never thought something like this would happen to me — that I would be “one of those homeless people.” My view has changed. It’s still hard for me to even talk to other homeless people, people who have been on the streets longer. I’ve met people who have been homeless for years. Like eight or 10 years.
Lisa: Do most people show you kindness or treat you rudely?
Kevin: It’s about 50/50.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series. Click on the links below for more Faces of the Homeless.
Lisa Kane is on the board of the Akron Snow Angels and frequently meets and talks to the homeless community in Akron.
The Akron Snow Angels are a volunteer-run charity whose mission is to spread the warmth. Volunteers help the most vulnerable in Akron by providing basic essentials, like hats and coats, along with fostering compassionate friendships. Learn more at AkronSnowAngels.com.
(Cutline: Kevin at the Akron Snow Angels Christmas in July event at Grace Park. Photo by Lisa Kane)