December 2, 2007
The Neediest Cases
Defeating Hunger and Homelessness, Step by Step
By ALEXIS REHRMANN
Three and a half years after he was evicted, David Joseph still remembers the shock of coming home to a chain on his apartment door in the Bronx. He was 18. He had never lived on his own before.
“Paying rent — I never had to ever worry about that,” said Mr. Joseph, now 22. “These things were new to me. My mother taught me to be responsible and pay certain bills, but at that time, I was so out of touch with life in general.”
Mr. Joseph’s mother died on July 17, 2003, of throat cancer.
Mr. Joseph had lived with his mother and two brothers in a three-bedroom apartment near the Bronx Zoo. After her death, the apartment was too expensive for them to keep, and in the upheaval and pain of their loss, the brothers went their separate ways.
Mr. Joseph rented a studio in the Bronx for $400 a month. He found a job as a messenger but was too depressed to keep it. “I try to be strong and focused, but depression got to me,” he said. “I was so messed up.”
He was evicted in February 2004.
“I was bouncing around to people’s houses for a little while,” Mr. Joseph said. He wore out his welcome sleeping on other people’s couches and eating food that he could not afford to buy. “Eventually, people were like, ‘I can’t do it, I’m sorry.’ What’s the other substitute? You’ve got to kind of go where you could go.
“I was doing the park bench thing,” Mr. Joseph said. He slept in Central Park and Pennsylvania Station, on subway trains and at McDonald’s.
The distance from his brothers continued. “I didn’t really tell them, ‘I’m homeless,’ ” he said. “They probably got like, little hints. I’d probably meet up with one of my brothers and say, ‘You got some money?’ or ‘Could I leave my clothes there for one night?’ ”
This went on for about a year. “It is a long time,” Mr. Joseph said. “It is no joke at all. It wasn’t a game. It was rough.”
One morning in August 2006, a woman approached Mr. Joseph in Penn Station and asked if he was homeless. She told him he could find help at Covenant House, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless youths learn skills to live independently.
Mr. Joseph remembers protesting to the woman that he was not homeless and did not need help. She left — but he went to Covenant House in Manhattan.
He laughs now, telling the story: “I went right away. I was hungry!”
He lived at Covenant House for a year. He learned budgeting and discipline, got his general equivalency diploma and found work. Covenant House requires youths to have a job if they want to stay long term.
Today, Mr. Joseph has a job and an apartment. In September, he enrolled at Interboro Institute and is working toward an associate’s degree in business administration.
Covenant House is affiliated with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, one of seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Last winter, Mr. Joseph received $250 from the fund to buy a winter coat and other warm clothing.
In August, Mr. Joseph moved into a Jersey City apartment. He paid his security deposit with money he had saved. He pays $700 a month in rent and works in the mailroom of an investment bank, where his take-home pay is about $300 a week.
At night, after classes, Mr. Joseph pursues his passion for music. He broadcasts a radio show on the Web and works as a D.J.
“I didn’t have the perfect direction, step by step, how to get where I wanted to get,” Mr. Joseph said. “So, of course, I didn’t get there yet. I will. I’m working on it now.”