On The Coast: Homeless Man Seeks Work Amid Year Of Ups And Downs (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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On The Coast: Homeless Man Seeks Work Amid Year Of Ups And Downs

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Time now for On The Coast.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:07
Our regular segment in which Bryan Russo brings us the latest from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Coastal Delaware. And today Bryan catches up with a man he interviewed last November.

KENNY

00:00:17
I'm capable of working. I'm a good painter and drywaller, but, like I say, when you get turned down for a dishwasher's job, minimum wage, it hurts your pride. I'm still capable of working. I want to work. Somebody give me a break.

SHEIR

00:00:30
Kenny is 61 years old, a Vietnam veteran and he lost his home a few years ago when the housing bubble burst. When Bryan first met Kenny, it wasn't long after Super Storm Sandy swept through the region, a storm Kenny weathered in a tent in the woods.

KENNY

00:00:44
I spent Hurricane Sandy in just what you see. And it was standing up because I didn't go into Diakonia until last Thursday.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

00:00:51
Wow.

SHEIR

00:00:53
Diakonia is a homeless shelter in Ocean City. And that's where Bryan caught up with Kenny again. Kenny now lives at the shelter, but as he tells Bryan, he's done a lot of bouncing around over the past year, including living in the woods and on a houseboat.

KENNY

00:01:06
I'm in Diakonia right now reworking bathrooms and fixing drywall. And I'm not young enough to hang it every day anymore, but as far as that paint brush and even glazing old-fashioned windows and stuff like this, down in the historical districts, I know how.

RUSSO

00:01:22
How long were you living on the houseboat and when did you have to come back to Diakonia?

KENNY

00:01:28
I was down on the houseboat for about 90 days. I didn't come back to Diakonia. I went back in that woods. There's more campgrounds and tents set up. And yeah, they'll weather them storms. I know how.

RUSSO

00:01:38
We've talked before about how difficult it is to find gainful employment in this seasonal economy. During the summer season, as you said, you had some work.

KENNY

00:01:49
I did.

RUSSO

00:01:49
But then when that dried up again, I mean, you and I have talked before and you mentioned it briefly a minute ago, about the competition for these jobs that you find yourself applying for. Not only do you find yourself on kind of the older demographic of people applying for those jobs, but even though, as you said, you're willing to work cheaply, there are other people that are willing to work even cheaper. And they're the ones that end up getting the jobs. Tell me a little bit about the plight of trying to find work at your age, going through all the things that you've been through.

KENNY

00:02:20
They just don't want a 61-year-old man, no matter how physically capable I am, they think a younger guy is faster and moves faster. Well, for those employers out here in Ocean City, and I'm not going to name any names, I still move with the best. I might be 61 years old, but -- I'm a little over 61. I can work with the best and this, that and the other.

RUSSO

00:02:45
What was the kind of work that you were doing? You mentioned that you were, you know, kind of fixing up and renovating the houseboat that you were living on. What was some of the other work you were doing in amusement parks? Was it painting? Was it maintenance?

KENNY

00:02:57
Running the rides. When I say it, everybody knows who I am. I was running the Happy Swing on one of the amusement parks. I won't name the name. But we can always get the kids to laugh and play. You've got to have a -- I don't know -- a gracious way.

RUSSO

00:03:12
Did you find yourself, as you were interacting with families and kids that were on vacation, when you were working that ride, you know, how did that make you feel to be doing, not just that kind of work, but just work period?

KENNY

00:03:26
When I think about rides, I think about my own kids. They're kind of a-ways away from here. Makes me remember that it's been awhile since I've seen my own children and my grandchildren, because I ain't got money enough to go.

RUSSO

00:03:41
What's your plan for the next several months? I know winter's coming up and you've got a bed here at Diakonia. I mean, once winter passes, you know, are you going to try and find a new place to live or are you going to go back to the woods? Is your next play just trying to find work again?

KENNY

00:03:58
Yeah, it's just work. Well, I got one more shot. When I turn 62, I can get some kind of Social Security. That's the only thing I've got to look forward to.

RUSSO

00:04:08
You know, as we sit here and talk about all these things that you have gone through and lived through and you served our country, you have been a huge part of this community in the way that it looks, you've painted homes, you are a master of your craft, do you harbor any sense of like bitterness that it didn't turn out differently?

KENNY

00:04:33
No, not really. It is what it is. It's life. No need to be bitter. Maybe, well, if certain things hadn't happened, I might be in better shape. But it's life. Why need to be bitter?

SHEIR

00:04:57
That was Kenny, a 61-year-old painter, speaking with Coastal reporter Bryan Russo.
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