Signs for the Homeless

An exchange project for homeless people
by artist Kenji Nakayama & Christopher Hope

The mission of signs for the homeless is to raise awareness and help for the homeless through exchanging hand painted signs, and sharing the narratives of the homeless around the World.
March, 2013, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

Name: Susan J.

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in East Boston, MA, and I have lived with my family in Cambridge for the last 20 years. My husband is from Cambridge so we decided to raise our three sons here. My family is myself, my husband, and our three sons (two of which are under 18 years old). The oldest is 26 years old and he has developmental issues.

 How old are you?
46 years old.

What was it like growing up?

It was great coming from East Boston. I came from a strong family of nine siblings. I come from a working class family. My mom was a caterer and my father was in construction until he had an accident on the job. Our mother was truly the backbone of our family. When she passed, all of the siblings scattered and we have been disconnected ever since.

How long have you been homeless?

We have been homeless for 18 months.

How did you become homeless?

My husband lost his job (truck driving) around the same time I was diagnosed with breast cancer and a cancerous tumor in my neck. I was a stay-at-home mom. We had a house, two cars, and two motorcycles less than three years ago. We now only have each other.  

How do you get through the cold winters?

This past winter we slept outside with lots of blankets and cardboard. We try to stay in shelters when at all possible.

What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

Finding a safe place to lay my head and shower. You don’t realize how you take the small things for granted like a toilet or a shower. 

Also facing the stigma. One of my sisters saw me out in the streets in Harvard Square three times and did not say anything to me. It hurts a lot because I have always looked out for my family and no one is helping us.

Feb. 2013, Central Square, Cambridge, MA

Name: Angela Douyon-Previlon

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Boston, MA.

What was it like growing up?

It was very hard growing up in poverty in Boston. I have three siblings on my mother’s side and twenty five siblings on my father’s side. I was in the care of my family until I was nine and then I was put into social services until I was twenty-one.  I stayed in a group home until I was fifth-teen and then bounced from family to family until I was twenty-two.

How long have you been homeless?

Four years.

How did you become homeless?

I just got tired of living under other people’s rules. I was staying with my sister. However, my sister was very abusive and stabbed me in the head during a fight. Obviously, I could not stay with her so I am now on the street.

How do you get through the cold winters?

I always try to find a safe, warm place. There is a safe haven in Cambridge on Broadway St. I go there sometimes.

What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

Being depressed. I do not like this lifestyle. I try to stay positive because you could be depressed living in the streets.

Feb. 2013, Central Square, Cambridge, MA

Name: Rudolph West

Age: 63

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in North Philadelphia.

What was it like growing up?

I came from a poor family in a tough part of North Philly. My uncle and aunt originally came from Cambridge, MA. My core family is pretty large, with six boys and six girls.

How long have you been homeless?

Eight years.

How did you become homeless?

I have numerous incarcerations and no work place wants to give me a chance.

How do you get through the cold winters?

Friends & family.  I sleep in their homes.

What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

Money and shelter. I can’t gain employment because there are no jobs. My CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) holds me back in many ways.

Feb. 2013, Central Square, Cambridge, MA    * REST IN PEACE

Name: Dana Robinson

Age: 45

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Jamaica Plains, MA.

What was it like growing up?

I came from a middle class family. My family was very religious (Baptist Christians) so the Church played an important part part in my upbringing. I was real good in playing sports, especially basketball. As a child I remember wanting to be a professional basketball player.

How long have you been homeless?

Three years.

How did you become homeless?

I was arrested. I was never convicted of a crime, only arrested for it. However, it is on my CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information). My CORI is playing a big role in me being denied a job and housing. I am currently being denied housing based on my conviction record and am appealing this decision to get housing. I do not want to be out in the streets.

How do you get through the cold winters?

Friends & family members. I often “couch surf” from one place to another.

What is your biggest struggle being homeless?

Trying to knock down doors of employment and housing. Employers and landlords look at your CORI and deny you access without considering the fact you are trying to change your life for the better. I was never convicted but because I was arrested I can not get a good job. More and more it feels like I can’t escape my past.

Alberto, February 2012. Kneeland Street near South Station. 

He has been in Boston for almost 20 years, before he came to Boston, he was a homeless in Providence. He states ”Boston is a better place for homeless” 

Today, he spends most of his nights in a shelter.  

Jim, February 2012. Kneeland Street near South Station. 

Jim is 58 years old. He has been homeless since he was 16 years old. He is from Boston. 

Frank, February 2012. I-93 off-ramp near South Station. 

Frank is 74 years old. He has been homeless for twenty-two years in Boston, where he also grew up. Before living on the streets, Frank was in jail for theft. He says that since he has been sober, he “has been out of trouble.” When I told him I would stop by again soon, he told me that it wasn’t necessary—“you don’t have to buy a sign anymore!” He spends his days and nights near South Station. 

Chris, August 2010. Downtown Crossings.