For Cherie King, paid employment doesn't bring shelter

The working homeless
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  March 7, 2012

Cherie King
HARD WORK Multiple part-time jobs haven't saved Cherie King from homelessness.

Cherie King, 36, has been living in and out of shelters since August 13, 2011. She's homeless because she dropped everything to care for her mentally ill brother and bedridden mother, the latter of whom died last year. In her work as a homeless advocate with Occupy Boston, King has made it a point to bring light to her story, and to those of more than 1000 other Boston adults who are in the same predicament. She's also quick to dispel homeless stereotypes: King doesn't drink or use drugs, and she works as many part-time jobs as she can land. According to a 2011 survey by the US Department of Mayors, Boston's homelessness rate is in moderate decline. Still, the plight of the working, struggling people on the street remains a real one.

ACCORDING TO PAST SURVEYS, ONLY ABOUT 30 PERCENT OF THE HOMELESS POPULATION IN BOSTON IS FEMALE. WHAT MAKES IT ESPECIALLY HARD TO BE A WOMAN ON THE STREET? There are not enough beds for women in any shelters. At the same time, there are less services to help men. I came across a single father of a 12-year-old boy; the mother, who is also homeless, is out of the picture totally. There are very few services are out there to help this man keep his child.

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT IT'S LIKE TO SPEND A NIGHT IN A SHELTER? [Recently] I arrived at a city-run shelter after 9 pm, which was lights out. I had to go through a metal detector, and they made me throw out unopened canned foods. I was given a top bunk and had to put everything I had in my bed. I went to the bathroom, and the toilet seat was so burnt up from putting cigarettes out on it that at first I thought someone had a mess. I was so nervous that I barely slept — I was afraid that someone would steal my stuff. Wake-up is at 5:30 am, and you have to be out of the dorm by 7 am.

WHY IS HAVING SOME SORT OF TECHNOLOGY SO IMPORTANT FOR THE HOMELESS POPULATION IN BOSTON? I had a laptop stolen from me in November. Since then, I was given a replacement, and have online access through friends or public WiFi. Every homeless person should have equal access to the Internet and cell phone services. People don't realize that without a phone or access to one, you kind of fall off the face of earth. Many people who are homeless have no family to turn to, whether the fault is theirs or not. It's up to us to reach out to those people and help them get out of a bad situation. We can do it, if we have a heart.

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