“I think my first experience with homelessness was when me and my mom and my sister got kicked out of her ex-boyfriend’s house after living there for about three or four years.”

“He gave us a few hundred dollars and told us that we have to find a new place. We ended up finding a place down a couple streets from where he lived.”

“My mom didn’t have a job around that time. I was around maybe eight or nine.”

“But there was a time where we hit rock bottom with money, and the landlord was constantly telling us we had to go. We had to go. We had to go. And I think the third or fourth time he came and he just kicked us out.”

“We went to a police station because we just didn’t have any place to go. And they ended up taking us to a place where they keep homeless until we either find a place, housing or a shelter.”

“There was one time where me and my friend, we were homeless, and it was the wintertime, and we literally would just be out trying to find some place to go, you know, like a place to sleep where we could put our heads down and stuff like that. And it just sucks. Because throughout that process, we’re basically waiting on the waiting list. And we’re couch surfing. We’re living in motels, anywhere we can sleep.”

“And a lot of people don’t understand when they see homelessness, they only see it in one way.”

“They don’t understand that a couch is a way of being homeless. Double stacking up in the house is being homeless. And then being outside is being homeless, and not having a house.”

“Being African American and being homeless, people look at you different. They see you just like walking around asking for change. So, they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s gonna use it on drugs.’ Or, ‘He’s gonna probably use it on this and that.’”

“You might dress a certain way because you don’t have clothes. You might look dirty, so they think that you’re probably gonna rob somebody or such and such.”

“A lot of people only look at it in one way when they see somebody downtown. They are walking, shopping and everything and they see somebody asking for change. They think that’s the only way of being homeless. They don’t know.”

“There’s a lot of kids in these high schools that I know personally, that are sleeping on someone’s couch and they don’t know that they’re homeless, you know? Because they just feel like, ‘Oh, I got a place to live.’ Like, ‘I got a place to sleep. That’s not being homeless.’”

“[When we were in the shelter my mom’s] friend, he ended up giving us a place on the South Side of Chicago on Ashland Street.”

“It wasn’t really the best spot to live. The water really didn’t work. There were holes in the roof. It was really rough living there, so like it just felt worse than the shelter. But it was somewhere to live, and we didn’t really complain that much because, like, it was ‘whatever’ at that point.”

“I kind of branched off because through my high school years, sophomore through senior year, I was in high school, and I ended up meeting this coach who was my guardian after.”

“I did track to stay motivated. They lifted and stuff like that and even then, it’s hard when you’re not sleeping enough and don’t have a good diet and stuff, you know?”

“I was super skinny. I didn’t have clothes. I didn’t have really much to work with. And I think that’s the reason why my coach, she picked that out. She’s really good about doing that. She looked into my files. She realized that I lived at this address. She knew about the homeless shelter. She wasn’t really forceful with her help.”

“She helped me get into college. She helped me fill out scholarships. One was for the [Chicago Coalition for the Homeless] scholarship. She basically got me off the street and everything like that.”

“I didn’t understand a lot until I started actually paying attention to my mom’s conversations and stuff like that. From what my understanding is like, [government programs] helped a little bit. It wasn’t a lot. Like, the shelters could only do so much.”

“My experience with being homeless and with the government, is they really didn’t help that much. They still made you feel like you have to have the same quality that anybody else that’s not homeless.”

“It was really hard to where they made it hard. It’s like you have to split up as a family, or you just have to settle for living in the shelter or having to do the extra steps. More steps than a normal person went through.”

Dontay Lockett
Chicago, Illinois

Photo by Kate Liddy