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Personal Perspective
Street Work

By Kevin Bowman

Winter 2008/2009

Personal Perspective: Street WorkI grew up in Colorado. I was in a foster home at the age of 16 because my parents were getting a divorce and I was acting crazy -- so my father placed me in a psych hospital for three months. When I was released he told me I could not come back home because I was "uncontrollable." So I moved into a foster home with a really nice family. I spent a year there and then I got moved to another family. When I turned 18, my father said I could move back in but only if I got a job. I got a job at the airport, and then at Taco Bell.

I saved up and was about to get my very first apartment, when two of my friends asked me to move to New York City with them. Having been in foster care, I felt disconnected from my family, and they always talked to me negatively, so there was no point in staying just to be with them. We wanted to better our lives and make our dreams come true.

I didn't use drugs at all in Colorado. But when I came to New York, I started with weed and then tried coke a couple of times. Later, it really got out of control. It was easy to find, and cheap -- $5 a hit. I always said I had control over it and I knew what I was doing, but then it became unbearable -- people could see changes in my personality, my behavior, and my body. I was losing weight.

My friends wound up moving back home, leaving me by myself. I had money when I got here, but used it up staying in hotel rooms. I wound up homeless and had to go to Covenant House. That was scary and I didn't want to be there. I'd never slept in a room with 15 people before. Then I turned 21 and couldn't stay there anymore.

I got into prostitution when a couple of trans girls I knew asked me if I wanted to learn how to make quick money. When you're homeless you feel like you don't have anything, so the quickest way to make money was to prostitute. We found clients online. They were older, professional men, willing to pay a lot for me to do things I thought were weird, like playing with urine, handcuffs, whips, things like that. It was never at their homes, always at a hotel room. They never asked about HIV, so I never said anything either.

Six months after coming to New York, I found out I was HIV positive. I was shocked, but inside my head, I knew what I had done as soon as they told me. I had set myself up for it by having unsafe sex. I was young, not listening and wanting to do my own thing. I thought I knew everything.

In Colorado, there was no education about HIV in school. I learned everything I knew about it in New York, through presentations at the shelter and at drop-in centers I went to. I think it was too late, though. I had already had unprotected sex in Colorado, with my boyfriend, a guy that people said was positive. I didn't listen to them because I didn't really know what it meant or how you got HIV. I asked my boyfriend about it a few times, but didn't get a response.

I was 17 and he was 23, and we met at club. We slept together the first night and used a condom, but when but when we became boyfriends, we stopped using them. I think if they had had education about HIV in school it would have made a big difference. I try not to think about my boyfriend and what he did, because I would want to go back and fight and ask a lot of questions.

On the outside I pretended that prostitution didn't affect me, but on the inside it affected me so much that I went and used drugs. I put myself in a box I couldn't get out of -- I was trapped. At that point, I really didn't care -- when you're a prostitute it's just kind of, you do this for this amount of money, and nothing else is said. And then I punished myself by doing drugs.

But when I told my sister, she told my father and they really pressured me to stop. I also found people who were willing to help me without having sex with me. Covenant House referred me to Sylvia's Place, an LGBT shelter. When I walked into Sylvia's, it felt like a nightclub, with music and a lot of young adults who were dancing and having fun.

I went to rehab and Narcotics Anonymous, and my life starting looking better. Housing Works got me into its program, with case management and housing. It was good for the first three months, but then I got involved with the wrong people in the building, relapsed, and started smoking crack. I couldn't stay there because if I did I would keep using, so I went back to Sylvia's place until I got into an SRO. I went to find someone to sell me weed, but what I found was crack and I started smoking again.

So, I moved into Streetworks Overnight, where you can get a little more sleep than you can at Sylvia's. They helped me get into a residential program for people with the virus. They found me a nice, responsible, positive roommate -- a girl, because I don't want to mess my life up because of a guy.

I've had a very crazy life. I was killing myself day by day with the things I was doing. I'm hoping that with my new apartment, my job as an intern at ACQC, and I hope going back to school, things will get better. I now have two months clean.

I always wanted to be the center of attention, even negative attention. Being in rehab showed me that knowing and loving yourself and taking care of yourself are the best gifts you can have in life. I know I only have one chance to live and I don't want to mess that up with drugs and sex. I've learned that you can be the center of attention in a positive way and leave a legacy.

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