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2 Tales of Life on the Streets of Des Moines

September 01, 2002|ROBERT E. PIERRE | THE WASHINGTON POST

DES MOINES — Born in Minneapolis, Gretchen Kogold, 20, moved to Des Moines with her father when her parents separated. But she left because he beat her, she said.

While on her own, she was seriously hurt when a car hit her. Later, she became pregnant. Her 18-month-old son now lives with her mother in Minneapolis, and she sees him about twice a month. She is more stable now, but small things remind her of how her life is better.

"You got your own keys," she said. "Room keys, a mailbox key. It feels good."

While she left home out of necessity, Kogold said many kids leave home because they don't want to follow the rules. "I have a friend who is 14," she said. "She chooses not to go home. She just doesn't want the rules. She's content sleeping in a camp. It's an old boxcar where at least five or six other people live."

Braden Adair, 20, has lived on the streets before too. A native of Des Moines, he left home at 16 because he said his stepfather was mentally and physically abusive. Adair said he once drove to Virginia in a friend's car and slept on the streets as a last resort when he couldn't find a friend to share living space.

Now Adair lives in his own place that his grandmother helped him get. He has a steady job and makes $9.50 an hour, and he's trying to get custody of his year-old son.

"I've got life insurance, health insurance and rental insurance," he said, wearing baggy shorts and a Starter jersey, clutching a cell phone. "I've got so much and it costs me so little.... I knew I didn't want to stay on the streets and with family and friends."

Kogold and Adair still stop by on Thursday afternoons at the "drop-in center" across from Des Moines' downtown Marriott, where homeless children, some with their parents, gather each week for a free meal. Adair watched as families with small children and adolescents lined up for spaghetti and meatballs, and the children screamed and played as late afternoon turned into night.

"I've been coming down here since I was 13," he said. "If you need information, they'll help you. If you need a ride, they will give you one or come pick you up if it's important."

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