On the streets: The Homeless of New York

Image – My own.

It has been a few days since I arrived back from my New Years trip to New York. I’ve been to the city twice before, so seeing the homeless is not a startling sight for me or a fresh revelation. One would think the most inspiring thing in the city are the lights of the Empire State Building, the view of the skyline from Dumbo, or the deafening silence of Central Park. I do think all these things are inspiring to the human brain, a mind that hasn’t been poisoned by the pollution of cynics. But one moment changed things for me and the outlook on my own financial situation. Credit card bills, overdrafts, a car running out of petrol at every moment possible, these annoyances that occur in my daily life are trivial compared to the homeless of New York, shackled with their situation and unable to conjure hope for the future simply by looking up at the city lights. For some inhabitants of New York, there is no way up.

The day that I began thinking about this, and dismissed the usual thinking of other opinions where people wonder if the money you give is going on drugs or alcohol, was the day I stepped on a subway train down town with my friend. There was an elderly black homeless man sat on the subway car, head down in an honest shame, huddled over the remains of a meal in a near empty Tupperware box. He spoke to no one, looked at no one, and rode the subway for a few moments of warmth during that particularly cold day. I didn’t think of what he sacrificed to afford those fleeting minutes in a stuffy subway car, whether it was a meal or a hot drink, he lost something that day.

On January 2nd, NYPD arrested a man charged with arson after he set fire to approximately 12 Christmas trees in the Tribeca area in order to keep warm while temperatures plummeted over the New Year. There have also been links with mental illness and the homeless adults in the city. There are approximately 33,000 homeless in New York City, with almost 11,000 being considered as mentally ill. Attention was brought to this issue after Erika Menendez was charged with second degree murder after pushing a man in front of a subway train in Queens. The good news in all of this is that the shelters of New York, such as the NYC Rescue Mission and The Bowery Mission, work hard to feed and shelter the homeless, The Bowery Mission also offer rehabilitation programmes and educational services.

I’m not talking about the homeless who actively stalk subway cars and loudly announce their starvation, I’m talking about the voiceless. The ones who sit on the sides of the street or silently seek refuge in the city underground, or the homeless veterans sat with signs and dogs who don’t bother you as you stroll past them on the street. I saw one veteran sat on the side of the street somewhere in Midtown Manhattan, and his dog sat next to him. The dog sat with a sort of pride of survival as he guarded his master, while the veteran looked defeated with every new person who walked by without acknowledgement.

“There’s nothing we can do about it.” That’s what most of us say, but we can at least look them in the eye and offer a moment of sincere understanding. Some are alcoholics, some are drug addicts, and some might not be mentally stable, but most of them are just void of any feeling of hope. Unless it’s one of those people who are badgering you for money for a bottle of cider on the streets of Cardiff, then you have my permission to not be as patient with them.

The issue of poverty is on everybody’s doorstep, we see it and walk past it every day. But there’s something about Manhattan which holds your eyes wide open to the situation. Doorways and subway stations are dominated by the ghosts of hope for a better life. What if New York were the solution to your problems? What if you could make it there? But what if you couldn’t?

Side Note: Don’t even get me started on homeless animals, I’ll cry for a week.

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