TWO FACES OF HOMELESSNESS
THE BED D7K3024epgfs 12X9 Eric Parker . https://flickr.com/photos/ericparker/13602609864
There are almost 79,000 homeless people in New York City. They are visible everywhere. Have you experienced caring for someone you don’t know? Well, in the past three years, two homeless men have touched my heart.
John (not his real name) sat on two, stacked US Mail cartons for about three years outside my office in Lower Manhattan. He created signs with cardboard and markers, which said: “God Bless You,” “Thank You For Your Help.” He endeared himself, and many of us gave him food, clothing, and mostly money. He almost always had a smile on his face and was grateful for being alive.
During the third year, he got into Bowery Mission, one of the best Men’s Shelters, located near the Lower East Side. He told me that he loved it there: He saw films, ate popcorn and discussed politics in groups. John made light of the difficulties of dealing with some of the other men. Bowery Mission helped John transition into an apartment. He was so happy; I was too. I asked him to request counseling and job support.
From time to time, John would come back, sit on the US Mail cartons and ask for help to buy toiletries, etc. I don’t see him anymore. I pray that he is working and moving on with his life.
Mark (not his real name) is a Marine veteran of Afghanistan’s long war. At 26, he was shot six times, shrapnel still lodged in his body. He was awarded a Purple Heart. Mark lived on the street for a year in Park Slope, Brooklyn, as the Veteran’s benefits were not forthcoming. When he couldn’t bear street life any longer, miraculously, he was given a room – very near to my home. Many of us helped him, buying groceries to augment a pantry he was entitled to visit, buying work boots when he got a nighttime job at Lowe’s. He was hit by a van, which added to his difficulties as he could not work. During the accident, he lost his ID cards, including the food- pantry voucher. A law firm took his case. He walked on crutches, and I would see him on the street, begging for money for food and toiletries. Eventually I didn’t see Mark anymore.
Again, I pray that he is working and moving on with his life.
Both John and Mark allowed us to demonstrate love and compassion, and to know that we are truly connected in a sea of chaos. Through the alchemy of caring, perhaps the group of us who assisted these two men were able to usher in a calm in the midst of turbulence because we dared to move past our comfort zone…
I’ll speak to you again on November 4th
Peace and love,