Randolph had been expelled from elementary school for bringing a knife to class. With his mother deemed unfit to care for him, Randolph lived in group homes that were like prison, he said.
After another run-in with the law when he was 14, Randolph was ordered by a judge to move in with his stepsister and her boyfriend, who lived in Florida.
Randolph and a friend began robbing fast-food joints and drug dealers. When they got caught, Randolph shot at police officers.
At age 15, he was locked up in maximum-security, where gangs ruled.
I was stabbed in the head and the left thigh, Randolph said, pointing to a scar visible under his short hair. Because I was white, I was supposed to join the Aryan Nation. But when the guards found out I was a Crip, they put me in the cell block near [other Crips]. The Aryan Nation was like, Why dont you like your own kind?
In the years he grew up in prison, Randolph earned a GED, studied culinary arts and took part in three prison riots.
After his release in November, he graduated from the Chapman Partnership Homeless Assistance Center, has a job and no longer lives in subsided housing.
Maricela Castillo, 45
With a baby boy suffering from a serious heart condition and a teenage son to support, the only thing that stood between Maricela Castillo and homelessness was the kindness of a landlord. He let her stay rent-free for a year in Kentucky as Castillo nursed little Marlon back to health and struggled to pay the bills for her and her older son, Rigoberto.
But at the end of that year, she had no place to go. Castillo and Marlon moved to Miami to live with a friend, while Rigoberto stayed behind in Kentucky. The friend eventually split town, and mother and baby spent a few terrifying nights on the streets before she found a shelter.
I couldnt sleep at all, she said. I was so worried for my son.
In the past three years, Castillo and Marlon have stayed in three shelters and a rent-subsidized apartment. Now, Castillo has a modest, one-bedroom apartment in the Villa Aurora building of Carrfour Supportive Housing, an affordable-care community.
She has a view of the Marlins ballpark, a home filled with donated furniture and the assistance of therapists who help Marlon with speech and other developmental skills. Rigoberto has since followed Castillo to Miami, but he, too, is struggling with homelessness.
He cant stay here because this apartment is only approved for me and my younger son, Castillo said. He can come here to bathe and eat, but if they find out hes staying, theyll kick us out.
Castillo said she has had to make hard decisions about how to allocate her meager resources.
The other [son] is a man. He can take care of himself, she said. I want him to get into a program like we have, but Marlon is the one who needs me right now.
Miami Herald staff writers Elinor J. Brecher and Charles Rabin contributed to this report.