Casey Hunter, 61, hails from South Jamaica, Queens. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he was living in a homeless shelter in East New York, Brooklyn.
He’s an entrepreneur who’s working on growing his window washing business. Casey said he attaches his tools – squeegee, bucket, fluids and towels – to his bicycle to serve his clients and search for new customers. His clientele includes restaurants, such as Popeyes and Applebee’s. He also washes windows for truck drivers who compliment him on his work.
Casey has been illiterate for the vast majority of his life. “I was 57 years old when I learned how to read,” he said, adding that he suffers from dyslexia.
According to Casey, he taught himself how to read while serving a state prison sentence. He recalled that the facility was on lockdown for two months after two inmates broke out. Casey said he took that opportunity to sit down, with a notebook and pen in hand, and copied every word of a Nelson Mandela biography – ignoring punctuation marks until someone explained to him the importance of commas and periods, as well as other grammar basics.
“Not being able to read kept me destitute, homeless, jobless and an unproductive member of society,” he said.
Casey, who volunteers at a Brooklyn youth center, said he has a passion for helping people cope with their struggles. He tries to inspire the younger men at his shelter to leave the facility each morning with an agenda and purpose for the day.
It has been more than 20 years since Casey had his own apartment. During periods when he wasn’t living in shelters, Casey survived by living on the streets, subways – even in the cargo area of trucks parked overnight at U-Haul lots.
The thing that scared him the most about the COVID-19 pandemic was the turmoil people experienced from the abrupt, unexpected loss of life.
“How will families make it when a loved one dies suddenly?” he asked rhetorically. “Just like that (snapping his fingers), that person is gone. That scares me the most.”
Casey said he never felt afraid for himself at the height of the pandemic.
“I believe in the Lord. I just know, wherever I go, He’s got me. And that’s just my belief,” he said with unwavering confidence.
That faith helps Casey to maintain an optimistic outlook about the future.
“I believe things will improve,” he added. “That’s what keeps me going.”