At the precise moment that Donald Trump was taking the oath of office in Washington, Kourtney McLean was sitting on a duffel bag outside a T station at the corner of Haverhill and Causeway streets.
The duffel bag contained the blankets she uses to sleep outside at night.
“It’s not that cold today,” she said, pulling the gray hoodie she was wearing tight around her face, “but try sitting out here for six or seven hours and it gets pretty cold. The cold goes into your bones.”
She used to head across the street to warm up, to the North Station commuter rail station at TD Garden, but she said she got beat up by one of the security guards there and they kept brooming her, throwing her out.
I told her that the policy had changed after the Globe published an expose about the way homeless people were being humiliated and brutalized by security guards, that people were no longer going to be ejected from North Station simply because they were homeless. I told her she could go back in, but she was in no hurry to go across the street to warm up.
“He’s still there,” she said. “He’s still working.”
He is the security guard she says punched her last July. A different guard was arrested last week after the Globe reported that he had beat a 52-year-old homeless guy with the poor guy’s own cane. But the guard who Kourtney McLean says hit her denies everything. He is still working, and she can’t bear to see him.
Last summer, after she spilled a coffee in the North Station concourse, the security guard called her a “junkie homeless bitch,” she said. That hurt. The punch that followed, leaving a black eye, hurt more. But what hurt the most was what he told her when Kourtney said she was going to report him.
“No one will believe you,” she says he hissed.
Then, she says, he dragged her out of the building, putting her out like a bag of garbage.
Kourtney McLean is 26 years old. She and her boyfriend, Nick Evans, have been living on the streets together for the last five years. The only money she has is from panhandling, or stemming, as many of the street people call it.
Like a lot of homeless people, she and Evans have been arrested. They are not model citizens. They have struggled with addiction. And they have struggled mightily to maintain their dignity.
“Being homeless is like being invisible,” she said. “People bump into me, and it’s as if I’m not there. They don’t see me.”
She and Evans are friendly with Mikey Hathaway, the homeless man whose beating led to criminal charges being filed against a guard who works for Allied Universal, the private security company contracted by TD Garden. Mikey often sits with Kourtney outside the T station, stemming.
On Friday afternoon, Mikey was off, God knows where, as Donald Trump took office and Kourtney McLean sat holding a cardboard sign that read, “Homeless and struggling. Have a nice night. Thank you. God bless.”
The lunchtime crowd streamed past Kourtney McLean. Few noticed her. Fewer gave her anything.
Dr. Jim O’Connell, who runs Boston Health Care for the Homeless, has been working on the streets for 30 years, taking care of the most vulnerable people in the city. He said such blatant, violent attacks on homeless people by quasi-authority figures, like the ones at TD Garden and North Station, are rare.
But he says the bigger picture is that, in recent years, particularly since the abrupt closing of the Long Island shelter and treatment facilities in 2014, private security guards have been putting homeless people out of the places where they used to sleep or congregate, like South and North stations, and Logan Airport.
“Ever since Long Island closed, the city’s been more crowded with homeless people, and the public spaces for them have gotten smaller,” O’Connell said. “It feels meaner out there.”
Back on the sidewalk at the corner of Haverhill and Causeway, Kourtney McLean was scanning the passersby, looking for someone to take pity on her. It was slow going.
She doesn’t like shelters. She almost got raped in one, developed a skin infection at another.
“I’d rather just stay outside,” she said.
She has the instincts of a frontiersman, knowing how to find a spot where structures conspire to block the wind.
She looked across Causeway Street and her eyes met those of one of the security guards, who was standing at the top of the lane that leads into the Garden.
“He’s one of the supervisors,” she said, looking away.
She said most of the guards are young and many of them are mean. She said there is an older guard, a man with gray hair, who’s nice.
The guards in question make a little more than minimum wage. They regularly tussle with people who make no wage, in the bowels of a building where millionaires play games at night and where working people go to and from their jobs every day. It is a searing confluence of urban humanity, of utter destitution and ostentatious wealth, of ordinary people just trying to make a living, of desperate people just trying to live.
Nick Evans said they were talking to a lawyer, but Kourtney worries they have no case because her injuries weren’t as severe as Mikey Hathaway’s and she didn’t go to the hospital after she got beat up. She just licked her wounds and found a place to sleep outside.
“I didn’t pursue it like Mikey did,” she said, her voice trailing off.
Some 439 miles from the corner of Haverhill and Causeway, the new president stood on a grand stage and promised that things were going to be different.
“The forgotten men and women of this country,” he said, “will be forgotten no longer.”
But it didn’t feel like that on the sidewalk where Kourtney McLean sat.
A woman, finely dressed, walked by, holding the hand of a small boy, maybe 5 or 6. The boy’s eyes, at the same level as Kourtney’s, locked on her as they walked past. The boy turned his head, looking over his shoulder, back at her.
She wasn’t invisible. He could see her.
And then he disappeared around the corner.