My last Christmas on the streets - Homeless man attending Heart Trust/NTA to secure his future
Christmas 2015 found 27-year-old Horatio Brown the same place it did last year, making merry with the homeless among us whom he has accepted as his family ever since he started living on the streets nine years ago.
After years of roaming, Brown finally found a temporary home at the Marie Atkins Night Shelter in downtown Kingston. He wandered there last year December after being attacked on the streets, and has spent the last year religiously attending classes at one of the HEART Trust/NTA College of Beauty Services, where he has just completed Level Three in barbering.
It's a feat which he is still celebrating and hopes to capitalise on.
"This Christmas is here so it a go ketch me, because is here so I trim and I don't have a family to go among like for a Christmas dinner. The only Christmas dinner and sorrel and cake that I am going to get is here," Brown told The Sunday Gleaner on the eve of Christmas.
Brown's mother had migrated when he was just eight years old, and he has not heard from her since. He was told that his father was an army official who had died off-duty overseas, but he had never had much of a relationship with him.
Brown has no siblings, and although his mother had left him in the care of a friend, he eventually had to go on his own at 11 years old and has led a very nomadic life since, going from one friend's house to the next.
By the time he was 18 years old, he started sleeping on the streets. But Brown is too busy planning for a better future to spare the time for self-pity. Now that school is out, he has been plying his trade as a barber.
Thanks to him, some of the homeless on the streets of downtown Kingston were properly groomed for the Yuletide season, as he offered his services for just $100 per person.
"Trust me, the realest people are some street people. I don't know if it's because they feel it, they are so kind and they look out for them one another. For me, once you have one other person with you, then that's your family, and to me, they are my family," said Brown.
"Regardless of what anybody might want to tell me, like say you don't live anywhere and you are broke or whatever, when I am among the street people, they deal with me good. If they get something, they leave it for me. I can get a food. They are just kind, they look out for one another and when I get it, I look out for them," he explained.
But the loyalty among the people is essentially the only thing that is nice about the streets, and so Brown hopes 2016 will see him even closer to his dreams of having a steady income and a place of his own.
"You see with life now, I'm just doing my best every day. I am trying to work on my barbering; I am trying to look a job. Whatever comes, I'll work with it. But life let me know to accept every day.
"Yes, you must aim for your goal, but I'm not going to say next year, I am going to do that, or that, because I didn't plan to be homeless. I didn't plan for most of the things that happened in my life," he said.
Before taking up the barber trade, he sold snacks such as peanuts and chocolate, and last week a friend gave him the opportunity to use his barber shop to trim customers.
But given the measly sum he makes from his hustling, he often goes to bed hungry.
Although street people are generally fÍted around this time of the year, Brown finds that his age places him at a disadvantage in getting help, so he always has to ensure that he has some form of income.
"Like when they come with food and I go in the line for food, they say, 'you must come out of the line,' or they say, 'you not getting none,' or they say 'you are not homeless'. I get that a whole heap of time," said Brown, who noted that other street people always come to his defence and tries to help him prove that he is indeed homeless.
"They would say, 'you can get a job, man', but at the same time nobody not saying, 'let me give you a job'," lamented Brown, who had completed Level One and Level Two in barbering at the Young Men's Christian Association before starting his Level Three studies this year.
"As street people, sometimes people might say, 'a AIDS him have', or 'him mad', or 'him take coke'. Is not anything good they say about street people," he noted.
Brown said he does not believe in begging or stealing to get ahead. At least one of his cousins has managed to make a living from barbering, and he hopes to do the same as soon as he is able to build up his clientele and secure other tools.
Currently, he has only a trimmer and a second-hand clipper which he bought from a classmate, but he hopes to make do with what he has until he can get additional supplies.
"It's just here (at the shelter) until better come. Better must come for me because I am working for better, but right now I just accept this," he said.