Homeless in Newport News

The homeless set up their sleeping area under this downtown bridge daily. The light smoke helps to keep the bugs away. (Joe Fudge, Daily Press / August 24, 2009)

Homelessness looks different in many ways people don't see — or don't want to see. This five-part series offers a glimpse into the daily challenges of being homeless and what's being done to help people caught in this difficult situation.

Part one in a series

Jerome Kidd of Hampton led the typical middle-class lifestyle for over a decade. He was a successful insurance agent, a member of city civic groups and a proud father.

And then problems and setbacks struck in succession.

"Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong," Kidd said.

The fallout of 9/11 wrecked his financial portfolio and the sudden death of his father and a failed marriage contributed to a suicidal depression.

Today, the 48-year-old is among a growing segment of people on the Peninsula — the homeless. Volunteers and relief agencies say they are seeing more and more people like Kidd because of the economic downturn — people who were professionals or who had been in successful jobs; people who formerly lived in houses or apartments of their own but who are now living under bridge overpasses.

"I'm a little bit different than what people expect from the average homeless guy," he said. "I think people are really afraid of what it looks like now."

"I definitely fly in the face of what people think a homeless person is," he said. "There's no doubt."

A path to homelessness

Many people are closer to being homeless than they realize, Kidd said. It might be the loss of a job or an extended hospital stay.

According to the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, for every 10,000 Virginians, 13 have experienced homelessness on any given night.

"This is what happens when you don't have a paycheck," said New York native Greg Foster, who is homeless in Newport News. "You could be here."

Foster was part of a construction firm that remodeled area Food Lion grocery stores. When the work was done, so was his employment.

"I had a good job," he said. "A lot of us would love to go to work."

Work, whether you have it or not, is the key, said James Robinson, who has been homeless on-and-off since 2000, when he separated from his fiancee.

"It's terrible being a have-not," the 40-year-old from Newport News said.

Robinson is constantly on the hunt for a job. He keeps a positive attitude despite his current situation because "the moment you accept defeat — you're defeated," he said. "A lot of these people accept defeat."

"It's a sad plight," said the Rev. Jim Rudisill of Hampton, who has advocated for the rights of the homeless for nearly 30 years. He and his wife, Mary, have stayed overnight numerous times at makeshift homeless camps across the Peninsula to get a feel for what people endure. The Rudisills also have visited bridge overpasses, shelters, graveyards, woods near train tracks, churches and abandoned warehouses and buildings where homeless people frequent.

"The people we deal with seem to be the people some miss," he said. "It's been an eye opener."