One man's disillusionment with the American dream, and his transformation from successful magnate to a homeless person, to a passionate advocate for New York CIty's homeless population.
Rob Robinson was the first person in his family to graduate from high school and college. In 2001 he then went on to make $90,000 a year at ADP, a payroll company, in Miami. But four months later he lost his job. After two years of living off of severance pay and his savings, Robinson found himself homeless. He never told his family.
“I was always leaned on as, quote on quote, the ‘smart person’ in the family, the one who made it,” Robinson said, “I thought I’d be looked upon as a failure.”
Robinson spent two years wondering the streets of Miami before traveling to New York City. He then spent 10 months in the city’s shelter system. Living there was unbearable.
“Guys would get up and fight over the shower in the morning, and maybe a guy before he went to bed dropped a piece of paper on the floor to say he was first in time,” said Robinson.
These conditions inspired Robinson to write a letter to the executive director of Urban Pathways, a not-for-profit that provides services for the homeless. Rob said the executive director was so impressed with his suggestions on how to improve the system that he paid him a personal visit. One suggestion involved finding ways to give homeless people permanent housing, so they don’t spend months in and out of the shelter like Robinson.
Robinson continues to help homeless people as committee member on the New York City Coalition on the Continuum of Care. They make sure that the money the shelters get, which comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides homeless people in the shelters with what they need.
“Going through homelessness transformed me,” said Robinson. Because of a hip injury, he was able to get on disability. Currently he has a one-bedroom apartment at 700 Rosewood St. in the Bronx.
He was labeled the best- dressed guy at his former job at ADP. “I don’t care about that stuff anymore. It means nothing to me.”
Links to related information:
-Urban Pathways homepage: urbanpathways.org/
-NYC Coalition on the Continuum of care homepage: nychomeless.com/html/home/index.htm
-link to article by Robinson for the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative: nesri.org/news/2012/08/community-supporting-community-becomes-a-reality-in-sunset-park-brooklyn-the-rent-strike-goes-on
Behind-the-scenes story- While filming with Robinson I tried to gain access to inside his apartment. He said that he lives with only what he needs. Robinson expressed discomfort when I asked if I could film inside his home. "I don't want this to be another sad story about a homeless person," he said. I assured him the story was more about his empowerment as a formerly homeless person. Eventually he compromised with me, showing me around his apartment building, but not inside his home.