Archive for the ‘Homeless’ Category

Service of the Fight to Fix Homelessness

Thursday, January 25th, 2024

Like most, I’m more concerned than ever about the burgeoning homeless crisis. There are so many charities pulling at our purse and heart strings that I fear the homeless get pushed down the list of priorities.

I wanted to learn what initiatives major players were planning for this year in NYC so I arrived at 7 PM the other night to hear a panel consisting of the executive directors of several essential charities and the NYC department of social services commissioner. After a few minutes nothing happened. Eventually we were told that the panel would begin at 8:00 PM and that the commissioner was expected at 9:30. A handout passed around later indicated that the event would run from 8:00-10:00. Why did the flyer I was given last week note a 7:00 PM event? There were enough people in the auditorium to indicate I wasn’t the only one to be misinformed.

So, I left and wasn’t alone. Another escapee said as he headed for the door, “It ends at 10 pm? Don’t they realize that tomorrow is a work day?”

Before I left, the audience was invited to take paper bags filled with a sandwich, juice and chips to hand to a homeless person on the way home. A symbolic gesture, if a drop in the bucket, and not a smart strategy for a woman like me, walking the streets alone at night.

I am concerned about a team that people count on to address a monumental problem that can’t get straight the time of a panel and is oblivious to the schedules of an audience.

Because I’ve already expressed my views about the homeless crisis in quite a few posts**, I’m sharing the thoughts of my cousin Deb Wright who lives in the Midwest. She reacted to my squelched attempt for enlightenment. Her experience underscores what we know too well: that sadly, the homeless crises is old news.

[**One idea I proposed in a prior post is worth repeating. Top, overly compensated executives who receive extravagant holiday business gifts from vendors should donate them to charities so that they, in turn, can regift them to their clients or sell them at auction to generate funds to support their outreach programs].

Deb wrote:

“It sounds as if the event was poorly organized.

Homelessness is a huge problem in our country; we have the very rich, also. Going to the symphony in San Francisco with my cousin a few years ago, I couldn’t believe the contrast. You had to step over these poor people to get to the marble stairs! One major reason that no one mentions is that Ronald Reagan as President closed all the halfway houses. We know that mental illness is a huge factor in the homeless population.

“I know in our town, [population around 40K], that there are people who clearly have no place to live. My daughter worked in a shop here all the way through high school and on college breaks. People would come in to keep warm. Often the owner had to call the police if they simply wouldn’t leave or were muttering, etc.  The policeman tried to get this one individual to a shelter and then on to social services. The man would have nothing to do with it.

“So mental health is part of the equation. I had a student whose family lived in their car… eventually they moved to Tennessee.

“In our land of plenty, it is hugely ironic. Drugs are in the mix too.”

Reading about the homeless on the San Franciso Symphony’s marble steps reminded me of the Clark Street, Brooklyn subway station where, decades ago, if you got home late enough, you’d thread your way through a floor full of flattened cardboard boxes laid out like yoga mats with a homeless person trying to sleep on each one.

Have you heard of or observed effective initiatives that help homeless people? Was the confusion in time and the obliviousness of running an event like this so late on a weeknight typical of charity-run events or a one-off?

Service of Living Underground

Monday, February 28th, 2022


Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

What happened last week was a one-off: The shower water turned freezing and I shivered rushing to clean away a head full of cream rinse.

The next day was the first of the war in Ukraine. I saw Clarissa Ward, #CNN #News, reporting from a subway in Kharkiv. It was filled with families fleeing bombing, most standing--at least where the camera captured them--as there wasn't enough room to sit. Others huddled in darkened subway cars.

And I grumbled about a dose of cold water?

Ward and many others equated the readymade shelter to London subways during the WWII blitz. One mother, sandwiched between her nine and six year olds, carried a quarter bag of what looked like chips which she showed Ward when asked “do you have any food?” Ward asked her why she seemed so calm. “For the children,” the mother replied quietly.

Subways are homes to many others around the world. David Meyer wrote “Hundreds of people are living in NYC subway stations and tunnels, MTA says.” According to Meyer in his New York Post article, a subway task force studying underground incidents recently uncovered 29 “homeless encampments” in 89 stations and tunnels–housing some 350 people.

Euphemisms are the language of civil servants. When a person is found on subway tracks–whether they are suicidal, fall, are pushed or for any other reason–they call it a “track intrusion.” According to Meyer, “Taskforce Leader Jamie Torres-Springer says that homeless tunnel encampments directly lead to track intrusions.”

Lisa Daglian of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee told Meyer: “Nobody should be living in the subway system, whether it’s in a subway car, whether it’s in a subway station, whether it’s in a subway tunnel. That is not a home. There needs to be sufficient housing for people to live.”

Do you find yourself complaining about minor mishaps or discomfort and then reprimand yourself when you compare them to real problems? Can you imagine looking to a subway for shelter during hostilities–whether as the result of an invasion or the war on poverty?

Service of Fair Wealth Distribution

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

A homeless man hangs out in a post office satellite the size of a small room that is unattended but has a self-service mail kiosk that I use frequently to weigh and mail packages. I’m afraid to be alone with him so I walk by with package in hand. He’s there on my way to and from work.

A few blocks away I found myself in a Godiva chocolate store earlier this week with a friend who was making a purchase. I noticed the handsome Swarovski luxury box [photo above], priced at $125 or $2.08/per chocolate. There are millions in the city who would relish such a gift to share with family and friends but I don’t think that they will be the recipients. I envision the executives and business owners who will receive it who may wince at the calories or put the box out at the reception area or not even bother to take it out of its gift bag.

All the talk about the one percent got me thinking of something that has always been true: The people who don’t need and often could care less about expensive gifts receive them. This goes for taxes, benefits and holiday presents.

Which led me to think: I wish that there was a City Harvest for holiday business gifts. City Harvest rescues food from restaurants and other venues with leftovers in NYC and distributes it to the hungry. This hypothetical organization would scoop up unwanted or unneeded executive gifts and redistribute them to those who would appreciate them.

However, the concept wouldn’t work because corporations send notes to vendors asking them to restrict gift-giving to a modest sum, maybe $25, or they forbid gifts altogether. Executives receive their gifts at home. And they can’t admit to receiving expensive gifts as they aren’t supposed to get them so how could they volunteer to give away something they shouldn’t own in the first place?

Some businesses send electronic holiday wishes noting that they donate to charity the money normally spent on cards and postage. I hope they really do.

I don’t mean to pick on Godiva or other purveyors of luxury treats and manufacturers of gifts like chef’s knives, drones and wireless headphones. It just seems that giving fancy business gifts to the wealthy is like bringing diamonds to Amsterdam.

Similarly, does it make sense for the wealthiest to benefit from the tax plan that’s about to be voted on in Washington, causing a deficit for the poorest and middle class to shoulder via paltry tax reductions and reduced Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits?

If you were giving a gift to a wealthy client, what would it be?

Service of Canaries in the Coalmine

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Homeless in NYC

I am seeing more beggars in my travels around NYC and increasing numbers of people sleeping on the street such as the men in the photos above and to the right. They are hard to see in these poor images taken within a few days of one another. One is tucked beneath steps in Katharine Hepburn Garden on 47th Street off First Avenue and one is on steps up the street from my office on East 45th near Second Avenue.

One panhandler who disappeared for years reemerged near Grand Central Station the other week, much plumper than her younger self but with a similar cardboard sign asking for help. Was she OK all those years or hanging out elsewhere?

I was astonished by a man in his 60s who was also begging one rush-hour outside of Grand Central. He was well groomed, wore a gray business suit, white shirt and necktie and held a sign that said he was going on job interviews and was looking for work and to please help. Who knows whether he was in trouble or a creative conman? Tragic whether he so desperately needed money that he resorted to the streets or was taking money from kind people who couldn’t afford to help but did anyway.

homeless in NYC 2To confirm my anecdotal observations I looked for statistics but was unable to come up with the number of panhandlers in NYC [or anywhere else] at any time.

I found a recent one about homelessness in a New York Daily News headline from an article by Harry Stevens and Greg B. Smith from February: “Thousands of New Yorkers living in dangerous ‘cluster units’ as homeless population tops 59,000, a record high: The homeless count represents a 10% jump during Mayor de Blasio’s first year in office.”

So that addresses why I’m seeing more people sleeping on the street, but it’s not proof of an increased number of beggars. Michael S. Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, Inc. and clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School wrote: “Contrary to common belief, panhandlers and homeless people are not necessarily one and the same. Many studies have found that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandle, and only a small percentage of panhandlers are homeless.” Scott’s article, “The Problem of Panhandling,” was on his organization’s website.

Editorial written by people involved with charities that help indigent citizens urge the public not to give money to panhandlers but instead to donate to legitimate organizations funded to address ways to earn legitimate income and where to get food and shelter. I’ve always heard this.

Have you noticed more panhandlers and homeless people lately where you live or work? Does this situation indicate an economy more troubled than publicized or that charities have fewer funds to help people in need or that your city or town isn’t doing its job to help the underserved?

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