By Cameron Zohoori
Mao Kang is a streetworker at UTEC. On a day-to-day basis, his work consists of reaching out to young people across Lowell, responding to violent incidents, and “planting seeds of peace” in the city’s youth. But Mao’s specialty is homeless outreach. Having been homeless himself for many years in his youth, he feels a special connection to the homeless of Lowell, and an awareness of the stigma attached to it. “What are the images that come to mind when you hear the word homeless? I ask a lot of people. They say, ah, some guy, the bum kicking a can, drug addict, long overcoat, have nothing better to do, beggar. You know, I say, that could be all of it. But you don’t know the rest.”
Young people can be particularly vulnerable to homelessness, as city shelters require parental consent for underage residents. “But if they’re 18 and older, they’ve got their own choices. Sometimes they’re on substance. And if you’re not clean you definitely can’t stay. So where you gonna go?”
“Our motto is, we never give up on anyone. Sometimes you have to call up your family like, honey, I’m going to be a little bit late. I don’t know what time, but I got some young person that got no place to stay. So there’s nothing I can do.”
Mao’s commitment to chipping away at the problem of homelessness in Lowell goes beyond the youth who come to UTEC for assistance. He frequently visits shelters and other hotspots around the city, checking in with previous acquaintances young and old, offering basic hygiene products and food supplies, and making new connections. For some, home is found in semi-permanent collections of tents near rivers, woods, and bridges around Lowell. These tent cities, many of which have been or will soon be removed, have been home to some residents for many years. Now many sites lie abandoned, the residents having left ahead of city efforts to clear them out. A walk through these partially abandoned homes reveals images both sad and uplifting, everyday and sublime: a trampoline with a gorgeous river view; partially charred family photos; pet rabbits in orderly hutches, with an extra constructed for donation to the animal shelter; and ingenious repurposing, recycling, and reusing.