Homeless people in New York City

«The winters in New York are very cold. I couldn’t fall asleep because of the cold. I was afraid of death if I fell asleep on the street at night. If I wanted to sleep in those days, I would never wake up. (…)

You don’t know what it is to be cold. What it is to be hungry. It is difficult to stand up after four or three days without food. I used to lean against the wall. I was dizzy, my stomach was empty. My eyes couldn’t see the street but the most incredible feeling was people couldn’t see me either». The saddest feeling that a homeless people can feel is loneliness. This anecdote was my first conversation with Dale. Dale Williams was homeless for three years, between 1988 and 1991 in New York City.

There are more than 35.000 people on the streets in New York City. Why don’t we see them? Why are they invisible to us?
I was walking on Seventh Avenue one afternoon last summer. A freezng man was laying face-down between 19 st and 20 st. I stopped dead and I looked at the situation from the corner. The man couldn’t hold it and he wet himself. While the urine was crossing the sidewalk, a woman with a pet stroller jumped the puddle. At that moment I asked myself: “Could we find a balance between spending $375 on a pet stroller for a dog and being able to make a call for help for that man?” “Isn’t our society out of control?” New Yorkers are animal lovers. However, what about taking care of human beings? I couldn’t sleep on that night because of the story which happened before. I decided to learn more about this issue in New York City. So, I collaborated in The Midnight Run Organization and I met Dale Williams, the founder of the Organization.
My first night in Midnight Run was one of the most amazing nights of my life.

A warm, masculine and deep voice spoke behind me: «Hi, how are you doing today?» When I turned around, I saw a handsome guy: green eyes, white teeth and big smile, tall, African American and polite. I offered him soup and he answered me: «If you made the soup, I will eat very gratefully” and he laughed. After he ate the soup, we had a long and friendly conversation. His name was Ben. Ben lives in Park Avenue behind the Church, near Bill Cosby’s house. “I used to see Bill Cosby many days ―Ben pointed the sentence―But he doesn’t want to see us. He is rich, you know? Ben had met John F Kennedy Junior too. Kennedy Junior used to go to the church on Park Avenue and he had helped Ben a lot. At his funeral there were many homeless people outside the Church. I remember how amazing it was listening to all the stories from that black guy. But, Dale Williams came to me and told me: «Carmen, come on! We have too much work to do in many places».

The two of us didn’t want to finish our conversation but I had to continue with the job. I told him good bye. He answered me saying that that week would be his last week as a homeless person. Ben would fly to San Francisco and he would start a new life. (I didn’t believe him; I thought he was dreaming about another life). When he was giving me a hug a couple pushed him, they didn’t apologize to him. Again, he was invisible to them. This was my first day helping homeless people at midnight in Midtown, Manhattan.

After a couple of months I went back to Midtown, I went behind the Church looking for Ben. It was before Christmas and I was planning to spend the holidays with my family in Spain. So, I went to invite him for a cup of tea and to continue with our conversation. Unfortunate, I couldn’t find him. I’ve never seen him again. Maybe it is not unfortunately because he could have started a new life in San Francisco.

We shouldn’t make generalizations about the homeless. Some of them lost their jobs. Some of them are immigrant looking for a better life in this country. Maybe this is because where the immigrants are from, they cannot survive. Some of them decided on this style of life. However in every case, we don’t have an excuse to convert them into invisible people. We are not human beings when one of them is laying face-down and we don’t make a simple phone call to the police. All of us must review our principles when we spend a lot of money in our dogs and cats and we don’t have any feeling about people. I am so sorry but I can’t see any sense.
I was reading the newspapers on the Internet this morning, when I read an article about 26 year-old guy who lost his job in December. Nowadays he is moving from internet cafes to “capsules” hotel (New-Business, 3). This is happening now in Japan. Today we are sitting in this chair at New York University but tomorrow we might be on the street. I am sure none of us wants to be invisible.


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