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On Their Own

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A LIFE OF LOSS

STACIE JOHNSON, 20, NEWARK, N.J.

I went to live with my mom when I was 13. She’d been a crack addict; she’d left me with my grandmother when I was 2. I didn’t feel my mother loved me. I started drinking. She kicked me out. I slept on trains, in abandoned houses. My mother died of AIDS last year. I wish she knew I loved her.

STAYING ALIVE

MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM, 20, AND LEANDRA HOLLOWAY, 18, DENVER

MICHAEL: I have been homeless about a year—a little more, a little less, I don’t know. Time blends together. I’d been a foster kid since I was 6. She grew up in the system like me. We wake up, go to stores, get whatever food we can. We get really bored. Really stressed. Death is a promise. But we’re trying to stay alive.

SHELTER IN A TREE HOUSE

COREY GUMMELS, 19, ST. LOUIS

I bounced around for nine months, [stayed] in jungle gyms, a friend’s neighbor’s tree house. I currently go to school. I [hope to go] to community college and then a university. Hopefully.

TO BUILD A FIRE

KRISTIN “CUPCAKE” BARBEAU, 19, DENVER

I’ve slept in cars, gutters, tunnels. It gets cold. You have to make a fire. You have a knife, a lighter, lighter fluid, a sleeping bag, a tent. The baby always has a place to sleep. She stays at my street mom and dad’s [people she knows from the street] Section 8 [housing]. My dream: a place for my daughter to grow up in.

STAYING STRONG FOR HER DAUGHTER

ANNE MARIE JOSEPH, 22, NEWARK, N.J.

My mom gave me up at birth. My dad was ill. I had [a relative] who beat me with a shoe. I was sleeping in the subway when I came to Covenant House. I have a beautiful daughter, Arianna. I graduated college as a dental assistant. I’m pursuing my goals.

BACK ON HIS FEET

JESSE SHARP, 21, ST. LOUIS

I had three jobs when I was in high school. I couldn’t keep up. Then I got quite a bad drug problem. Soon I was homeless. I went to Covenant House. Now I’m working downtown [as a cook]. I’ve been living on my own for two years. I’m working on my GED. I’m doing great.

HELPING HOMELESS YOUTH

On his 19th birthday, Michael Cunningham aged out of foster care. “They told me where the nearest shelter was,” recalls Michael, now 20 and a veteran of Denver’s streets. He’s one of 350 young people featured in the photo collection Do1Thing. The portraits, shot by top photographers with the support of Covenant House and other shelters, aim to draw attention to the country’s more than 650,000 homeless young people and inspire donations of money, clothes and other necessities, says Najlah Feanny Hicks, the project’s cofounder. Says Hicks: “This might just give these kids a second lease on life.” http://www.do1thing.org