Text and photos by REBECCA SANCHEZ
It was mid-afternoon on a Thursday at the Union Square McDonald’s, when I sat with Jessie Kennard, 24, who introduced himself as “Aussie”. I bought him a meal as he explained that his friends had given him the nickname because he moved to New York City from Australia just over a month ago. Eating the first of his two sandwiches, he began:
“I decided to come to America because I wanted a better job, a better life,” he said. “You know, home of the free and all that, where everyone is rich, everyone is wealthy and all. That’s what America tells my country. Now I’m homeless. Sleeping on the streets.” He’s also bipolar.
So as not to disappoint and upset his family back in Australia, Aussie has constructed an elaborate fantasy of his life in New York. He tells them he works as a mechanic, and lives in a small apartment in Astoria with three roommates and a dog. The only mode of communication he has is a mobile phone, which his father still pays for. He takes photographs of friends’ apartments and pets and sends them to his parents, claiming they are his own. Only later in our time together did Aussie reveal to me that he came to New York to help his younger sister, who was “having trouble with her landlord.” After helping her get into a “program,” she gave him $40 and a train ticket to the city.
That $40 lasted him about a week. Now, with little to no money for basic needs or a return to Australia, Aussie spends most of his nights trying to survive on the street.
He has developed a routine—a series of places he can bounce between, never spending more than an hour in one place. From sitting at McDonald’s where he is friendly with the night-shift security guard, to using the display computers or watching TV at Best Buy in Union Square. From piercing himself at McDonald’s to squatting in empty apartments on St. Mark’s at two, three, four, five o’clock in the morning. On Saturday nights he goes to church.
On some nights, Aussie attempts to get arrested in an effort to get some shelter and a meal. He roams the city kicking over garbage cans, lighting smoke bombs, spitting on bank windows (in protest against capitalism), stealing Seven Eleven flags, smashing glass with a bat, stuffing police cars with trash bags, or parading around in his underwear. Finally, at 5:30am, he hops the turnstile into the subway and sleeps on a train until 7:00am.