The Road Back to Dignity

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Kevin McKenzie spent years on the streets. But like so many of the homeless, he had a life before the hard times and he wants people to know that poverty need not rob a person of their dignity.

On a hot summer day in 2008 I found myself standing on the corner of my upper middle class neighborhood in Santa Rosa. My life-long struggles with chronic depression, Complex PTSD and addiction had come to a head. In a perfect storm of madness and financial ruin, I realized that, at age 51, I would be destitute and homeless. I looked back down the street towards my five-bedroom home, where my soon to be ex wife and two daughters lived. Then, with tears in my eyes and fear in my heart, I embarked on a horrific decade-long journey into the underbelly of American society. I would soon learn that a nation of benevolence and care for the disenfranchised did not exist. I was alone, very alone.

But when I heard Trump blame the homeless of San Francisco for polluting the bay with dirty needles, toxins and disease, I flipped. I will not stand in silence any longer.

For close to four decades, I worked as a classically trained professional chef. My entire career revolved around service to our country’s elite, feeding them the finest and freshest products to be found. Now, I have learned to swallow my pride and be grateful for food banks and any help I can get.

I am here to say that the human being on the street holding up a sign asking for money is a small fraction of our homeless population. There are thousands of upstanding people in our communities, from the severely disabled, to single mothers, the elderly, kids and even urban professionals and veterans, reduced to poverty. Homelessness is not really about having a roof, it’s about retaining dignity and safety as a human being. I believe it is way past time for the richest of our country, many of whom I used to cook for, to come out from behind their electric gates, and help patch our fractured society together. Then and only then, will America become great.

It is not a crime to be poor or homeless, and we need to learn to love everyone for who they can be, not for who we think they are.

With a Perspective, I’m Kevin McKenzie.

Kevin McKenzie is a writer, chef and budding activist in the North Bay.