Our Town: How Reporting on Homelessness Became Personal

In 5280's November issue, we explored the issue of homelessness in Denver. One reporter reflects on how her life could have turned out different. 

November 25 2015, 12:09 PM

Kevin Person —Photo by Mary Clare Fischer

I stood in the living room of my childhood home in Michigan, clutching my sister’s hand as my parents screamed at each other in the adjoining kitchen. I was maybe five years old; my sister was two. My mom’s eyes bulged as she wore her voice hoarse. Dad seemed stern and collected, in a condescending way. This—one of the many fights that would lead to their divorce—is one of my first memories.

I’ve thought about that day often while reporting “Our Town,” a year-long investigation of Denver’s homeless resources, particularly during the day I spent with 24-year-old Kevin Person. Just a few years apart in age, we were born into similar situations even though we were 1,200 miles apart. He, too, dealt with his parents’ divorce as a young child and likely experienced similar tantrums to the one I witnessed. Multiple family members describe him as a bright, energetic, and eager kid. He felt he was both ignored and privy to adult experiences far too early. Although I’m close with my mother now, she frequently apologizes for those same kinds of circumstances, which she believes hindered my social skills. (For the record, Mom, I now make my living talking with other people.)

My path certainly diverges from Person’s—I was never abused, I graduated from the University of Maryland with dual degrees in journalism and government and politics, and I made the kind of decisions that led me to a stable position here at 5280. Yet I sometimes wonder how my life could be different if a few more situations had turned sour. Without my strong support network of friends and family, without my faith in my own ability to succeed, I might not live in Colorado today. I might not even have a job. Or a home.

As Person says, the primary reason he became homeless was that he didn’t know how to love himself. And, wow, do I know what that feels like. When you read “Our Town,” remember that these men and women are, in some ways, no different than you. They may, in fact, be more intelligent, resilient, witty, or gracious than you’ve ever needed to be. Yet they’re struggling to find a semblance of normalcy while you’re browsing the Internet. Thank you, Kevin, for helping me learn what it means to have a home—and how close I could be to needing one myself. 

(Learn more about homelessness in Denver in "Our Town")