Editor-at-Large: As I See It I Just Don't Get It
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
Meet your fellow citizens in cardboard boxes on any given night along fashionable Fifth Avenue. I was torn apart this winter to see men in their 'cardboard homes.' I didn't know how to help.
Panhandlers are back. It may be men out of a shelter collecting bottles, or an alcoholic needing spare change, or a man walking through a subway car with extended hands saying nothing. They need those quarters and dollars. They are back. Yes, there once again is a homeless problem or was it ever solved at all? Has it just been swept under the rug for a while?
I sat on a bench at Grand Central waiting for the number six train. A fellow next to me with swollen red feet ate fast food with his fingers. He had an odor, but I sat anyway. I assumed he was homeless.
As I sat, a woman gave a distinguished-looking African American with a well-trimmed, white beard a package of food. The man looked so familiar. Yet I couldn't place him. I knew him I was sure. It dawned on me as I rode home that we were on the same ward at Kings Park State Hospital. That was over a quarter of a century ago. He had not aged much at all, except his beard is now white. However, he still had his poise and sense of dignity.
That night is embedded in my mind. In twenty-five years, where has he been? What has he done? Has he worked? Is he in the revolving door? Does he have decent housing, an SSI or SSD check? Has he fallen between the cracks? Why was he accepting food? He was obviously very appreciative. I just didn't get it.
I do remember him. It's coming back. He called me the professor. I spent my time working in the library and brought books to the ward. One attendant called him the rabbi because he wore a skullcap and carried a Hebrew Bible. I thought of him as a Black Jew. He never confirmed nor denied my suspicions.
I ask: Why does society treat us so poorly? Why are we ignored when obviously help is needed? Why aren't we given what we personally want for our recovery? Not intrusively, but what we feel we need at the moment.
Why does society treat us so callously? Why are we so scorned and rejected? The city admits there are twenty-five thousand individuals and families in shelters. Enough is enough. Enough isn't being done.
Where is the money to help the homeless? Not-for-profit providers can only do so much on their own. Private donations can only scratch the surface. Money and a lot of it is needed for permanent subsidized housing with supportive services if wanted.
There are providers who help the homeless find a home and services. This costs money, a lot of effort and the persistence of talented outreach workers. It is not easy work. It takes a particular type of person. The homeless are your hardcore individuals, generally, who have been burnt too many times by the system. Society has failed them miserably.
I know I am beating a dead horse but I can't stand what is happening. It could happen to you or me. When the mentally ill or the public in general is forced out of their homes, the reasons can be numerous. In our society we have the wealth to alleviate the problem.
However, it takes the will that we don't seem to have.