On the Streets, the Square’s Homeless Tell Their Stories

This is the fifth article in an occasional semester-long series on homelessness in Harvard Square. Read earlier installments here, here, here, and here.

Justin Newton and Lauren Canon

Justin Newton sits on a plastic crate next to a crosswalk on Massachusetts Ave., holding a sign that says, “Pregnant with Elvis Presley’s Alien Love-Child. Please Help.” A passerby stops and talks with him, asking if he actually knew Elvis, and Newton explains that the sign is supposed to be a joke.

Justin
Justin Newton, 33, panhandles on Mass. Ave. Newton, who has been homeless for over two years, said he tries to make creative signs.

He and his girlfriend, Lauren Canon, try to keep a lighthearted tone in the signs they use while panhandling in the Square. They say that they try to catch people’s attention and make them laugh rather than inspire pity.

Newton and Canon recall some of their favorite signs. “I hold a sign that says ‘too ugly to prostitute’ and she holds one that says ‘too proud to pimp,’” Newton said.

These dual signs are still fairly new for the couple; Canon, 21, moved to Cambridge from Vermont less than two months ago. A Michigan native, she first became homeless in Detroit when she was 18, after she left her abusive husband. Three months later, Canon decided to leave the state in order to avoid her ex-husband, and chose to move to Vermont because it had more job opportunities and homeless resources.

“What I did was I compared all 50 states,” she says. “I took unemployment rates against crime rate, narrowed it down to lowest unemployment rate and lowest crime rates.”

She met Newton, who was also homeless at the time, in Burlington, Vt., while he was travelling through the state. The two eventually started dating, and Canon decided to join him here.

Canon says she hopes to find a job in the area soon, although getting and holding down employment while not having a permanent place to live can be difficult.

“Everyone wants ‘the bums’ to get jobs, but no one will hire someone who’s homeless,” she says. “And if you don’t have an actual physical address when you fill out a job application, they’re going to glance and move on.”

Despite these difficulties, Canon says she prefers living in Cambridge, finding  the police and residents more friendly than those of Detroit. “I found home. This place is great. I love it here, and I love being with this pain in the butt,” she says, nudging Justin.

Jade Hosie

Jade Hosie, 22, used to be a landscaper in Buffalo, N.Y. After her mother fell ill almost two years ago, they lost their apartment, and came to Cambridge for better homeless services offered by the city.

“I’ve hit so rock bottom it’s not even funny,” she says, sitting outside of CVS on Massachusetts Ave.

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