Billy Cotton was in his 20s, newly arrived in Manhattan in the early 2000s and coasting on a cocktail of youthful exuberance, weed and amphetamines, when a fire consumed his apartment in Chelsea, and with it, his sense of a future.
The blaze had confirmed his worst fears. “I’d always thought on some level that my life would fall apart,” Mr. Cotton said.
Slowly he picked up the pieces, settling in a series of makeshift quarters and relying on grit to pull through. But he could hardly have envisioned the way his life would take shape.