A few weeks ago, I met a kid named Alex (pictured below), a 22-year-old boy, who came to New York City five months ago full of hope that he would find salvation here. After a month of staying with friends, he ended up penniless and homeless, a state of being he’s known since he was 16 when his mother kicked him out because she didn’t want a “kid like that” in her home.

The morning I met Alex in Times Square, it was cold and rainy. Perched under a little awning on 42nd Street, I saw Alex sitting there, looking beaten down, with a sign that said it all: “Might as well be invisible.”

I had a couple of our backpacks with me, so I approached Alex and offered him one. When I asked if it was okay to sit down and talk to him for a little while, he got very emotional.

“I’m invisible here. I might as well be dead. You don’t matter to anybody. People don’t look at you. They look above you, and next to you. But never at you. They refuse to see you,” he said. “

I asked him if he considered going to a shelter, and he said he did. “It’s not safe. They stole my wallet and my shoes. You have to sleep with one eye open. It’s safer to sleep out here,” he told me.

I don’t know what will become of Alex. Before he cames here, he got his GED, and did 60 days at a drug rehab. He was filled with hope, of which he has none left. I gave him our number. He’s called a few times, and we’ve tried steering him to places for food and shelter, and even offered to meet up to take him to sign up for services like food stamps and shelter.

“Nobody cares what happens to you. On the street, you hope you’ll wake up in the morning. But you fall asleep knowing you just may not. Sometimes, it’s all you pray for.

Homeless does not need to mean hopeless. We know that a backpack isn’t going to end homelessness. But the compassion and kindness that comes with it will give them hope. And we can then help find a sustainable solution.

That’s why telling these stories, as heartbreaking as they are, and as angry as they make me is so important. These kids MUST NOT be invisible. Not now. Not ever.

For more info on how you can help, contact: info@backpacksforthestreet.org.

 

We can do better. We must.

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