The model-actor asks Congress to take action regarding the plight of teens

By Susan Mandel
Updated April 30, 2008 10:45 AM
Credit: Susan Walsh/AP

Djimon Hounsou may now be enjoying Life in the Fab Lane with girlfriend and reality TV star Kimora Lee Simmons – but life wasn’t always so glam for the In America and Blood Diamond Oscar nominee.

In the early 1980s, when he was in his teens, the African-born future model and actor was a homeless youth in Paris.

“I lived on the streets for some time – fighting for survival, searching out nothing more than my daily necessities for a meager existence,” Hounsou, 44, told a U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday.

In the “wintertime, when I didn’t have enough warm clothes to sustain the harsh weather outside, I was sent to a juvenile prison to spend the night. It was three or four years before I was discovered on the street by a fashion designer [Thierry Mugler] and my life started to turn around, eventually.”

Hounsou urged Congress to reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which provides funding to local organizations that help the two million adolescents living on the streets in America. “It’s a tragic problem,” he said.

Remains Sensitive

Although so long ago, Hounsou’s own experience remains a sensitive topic. “I try not to talk about it,” he told PEOPLE after the hearing.

“It’s not something I think about every day, thank God. But it’s something that oftentimes hits me again,” he said, adding, “It’s good to think about it sometimes, to remember where you came from.”

Yet was it difficult for him to tell Kimora, the queen of luxe, about his past? “Well, she knew about it before we got together,” he said. “So I didn’t have to.”