“I’ve been in this work a long time,” says Ed Norton, social emotional director at College Bound Dorchester. “And it always amazes me…”

The phone line drops silent. Ed’s choking up. He apologizes, swears that he’s “stone-hearted Irish,” and regroups.

“It always amazes me that the kids at the bottom are so willing to be there for each other. I keep thinking about this kid.”

Program participants work at the Seaport Boat Shop.

This kid is Carl. In January, he started showing up at the program’s Seaport Boat Shop with his friend Damian. As the guys picked up new wood-working skills, Ed got to know them better and learned that Damian was couch-surfing. Turns out, the 25-year-old had been doing it most of his adult life.

Ed wanted to get Damian into stable housing. But in order to get on the state’s list for affordable housing, he would need to check in at a shelter first. Damian bristled at the word “shelter.” Again and again, he refused.

Carl, who had spent some time in shelters himself, stepped in. He assured his friend that the shelters weren’t so bad; he should go. Still, Damian resisted.

Finally, Carl said, “If you want to do it, I’ll go in with you for a couple of days so you can get used to it.”

The offer stunned Ed. But Carl’s rationale was simple: “Everybody’s basically homeless.”

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Ed has stayed in regular contact with Damian. The virus has only made him more wary of shelters, and his housing situation remains elusive. Ed can’t help worrying him.

“We were his spot,” Ed says. “We were the only place he ever showed up.”

But he also thinks about Carl. The outside world might see him as a gang-involved kid. But his observation has never been wiser: When we’re all in a hard spot, that’s all the more reason to help.

* The names of the participants have been changed for their privacy and safety. *

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