“It Gives Me the Strength I Need”

Stephen, a highly-educated twenty-nine year old, has been homeless for almost two years. Securing the steady career track he expected with a college degree has been a challenge in the post-recession economy, one that Stephen has faced with humility and hard work, and one which the soup kitchen has played a vital role.

Originally from Detroit, Stephen has called New York home since his days in college. With a Bachelor’s degree in English and a few credits shy of a Master’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College, Stephen stopped out to get ahead on expenses. Instead, he found himself falling behind.

He found rewarding, but temporary, work where he could use his education to make the world a better place. “I taught English as a second language in China for a year,” he says. “When I came back I worked for the mayoral campaign.”

When the election was over, however, Stephen found himself searching for a steady paycheck once again, and falling quickly behind on his bills, including his student loans and rent.

“I didn’t want to, but I had to apply for public assistance,” he recalls, “And part of that is a requirement to be in a Back-to-Work program.”

It was there that Stephen learned about the soup kitchen. “The program isn’t too far from here, and an instructor told me about the soup kitchen, that I could get something to eat between classes.”

Meanwhile, despite piecing together temporary and part time jobs when and wherever he could, Stephen ended up living in a Bronx shelter, just a few miles from the college where he had studied just a few years before.

“With wages as low as they are and with no real opportunities to actually get a real job, homelessness is virtually impossible to overcome,” Stephen observes.

 Stephen finally secured a permanent full time position at Access-a-Ride. “I make reservations and trouble shoot..It’s still minimum wage, but I just got my second pay check,” he says.   

“I still come here almost every day on my break, the food is really good, and it really does help me save money and get by,” he states. “It gives me the strength I need for work, too.”

It’s important to Stephen to keep plugging away, to stay hopeful about his future. While our social services team offers a variety of resources, Stephen has found one simple program that has been essential to his personal dignity and professional goals: “The haircut vouchers. They’re indispensable,” he says, finishing his meal and smiling.