Waiting on the World to Change

ByABC News
January 24, 2007, 3:12 PM

Jan. 25, 2007 — -- Abandoned homes, empty lots, gunfire, police sirens.

These are the sights and sounds of Camden, N.J.

Camden has been named America's most dangerous city twice by City Crime Rankings, an annual reference book. During the 2005 Christmas holidays, there were four slayings in 48 hours, all too characteristic of a place with a murder rate more than seven times the national average.

A typical morning in Camden, detractors say, could see 33 drug busts in less than three hours. Crack, heroin and marijuana are the currency of the streets, making up by some estimates a $43 million industry.

Imagine trying to survive in this environment. Now imagine being a child, struggling to thrive.

Three young citizens allowed "20/20" to document their lives for 18 months: 6-year-old Moochie, who promised to get straight As in school; Billy Joe, a teenager determined to be the first in his family to graduate high school; and a homeless 4-year-old, Ivan, who had one big dream: "I want my room, and I'm never gonna get it."

In a park, the "20/20" team met Ivan Stevens; his mother, Precious; and his little brother, Imere. Sometimes they spent the whole day dirty, hungry and homeless, with no place to go.

The owner of an illegal boarding house occasionally gave them a place to sleep. He padlocked the refrigerator to keep them from taking food, and all three of them slept on one chair, surrounded by clutter and roaches.

Ivan wished he could be Superman and fly on someone's back to find his family a home. "Superman" had also heard of kindergarten.

"I wanna go to school so bad. I wanna read," Ivan said excitedly on the first day of school.

On the way to school, though, reality set in, and Ivan realized that for the first time he'd be without his mother's protection. He was also afraid that the other kids would be mean to him, and he started to cry.

"It's alright. You can be scared," his mother said. "But you gotta be a big boy. I'm not going to ever leave you where you [are] not welcome."