An illusion of electricity surging through his body, his arms contort and twist in a single, fluid motion as if he were made of only of water and rhythm, no bones. His eyes closed and body focused, he listens to the beat in his head, only audible to him.
“Teach us!! Teach us!!” demand the two children sitting at the table alongside him. Instructing them to watch closely, the only adult at the kid’s table, 27-year-old, Eugene Jenkins proudly repeats the dance move he perfected at the age of 6.
One of about thirty homeless LGBT individuals, Jenkins regularly attends a weekly Sunday dinner at the Metro Baptist Church, organized by New Alternatives, an organization designed to increase the self-sufficiency of homeless LGBT youth. Within the two hours he spends on Sunday, he is able to receive a warm meal, a new supply of clothes, and various toiletries. “I’ve learned how to survive without money,” Jenkins says. “I’m not miserable; I know exactly what I am doing.”
In recent years homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression in the 1930’s, according to The Coalition for the Homeless. Over the course of the 2015 fiscal year, over 109,000 different homeless men, women, and children spent their nights in the municipal shelter system, not even accounting for the unsheltered homeless populations. New York organizations, such as New Alternatives and Coalition for the Homeless, dedicated to providing resources to the homeless, have multiplied to combat the growing percentage of homeless individuals throughout the city. Jenkins, always quick to take advantage of the program’s generous contributions, holds a positive outlook on his identification as a homeless New Yorker.
After graduating Beach Channel High School in Queens, Jenkins left home at the age of 20, ready to abandon the childhood memories he so wished to forget. Recalling adjectives, such as “stupid,” “dumb,” and “retarded,” which his mother used to insult him during her fits of anger, Jenkins claimed the emotional abuse started when he was 9, after the death of his father. “I remember I was cutting my pancakes with a fork and knife unlike my other three siblings,” Jenkins recounted. “She began to criticize me, swearing I am trying to be better than everyone else.”
Now, seven years later, Jenkins still refuses to speak to his mother, unable to forgive her for the berating he constantly endured throughout his childhood. “I don’t like to think much of my childhood,” Jenkins said. “Now, I’ve found my true community.” As he refers to this new community, his mood ring gleams dark blue, as if it is truly revealing the “mood” of relaxation the blue shade claims to portray.
He is referring to the friends he has made since he decided to leave home those seven long years ago. Spending the majority of his day in the New York Public Library to use the free Wi-Fi, Jenkins hangs out with his friends as they play games on his phone. Jenkins, unable to disclose the location for fear of exposing his friend’s whereabouts, met one of his closest friends as he searched for a sidewalk to sleep on one summer afternoon. “I rarely get lonely,” he adds.
On cold nights, Jenkins claims he never worries about the weather. “I’ve got the library, Penn Station, and free bathrooms,” he boasts. After he gets his 7 A.M. breakfast handed out across from Penn Station, the L-Train also provides Jenkins shelter and warmth, as well as a stage in which he can do the single thing he loves the most: perform hip-hop.
Although he performs on the train for money, Jenkins refers to dancing as a passion rather than a source of income. Equating dancing with life, he prides himself on always making time for dance. “People always have the excuse of not having time to pursue their passions,” Jenkins said. “To me, dancing is everything.”
While making use of the programs resources, such as hot meals and clothing, Jenkins ensures he always has time for dance, a hobby he claims that does not rely on money. When asked if he desires or foresees a permanent residence or job in the future, Jenkins replies with a confident “no.” “I have friends, and I have dance,” he added. “And these are everything.”