By George Capsis
The Times recently gifted Tamara Hutchinson, a “Neediest Case” person, $1000 to buy furniture for her new apartment and also recorded her 10 years as a member of the 50–person group which lives in Penn Station (they call themselves the “Penn Station Nation”).
What I found remarkable about her account was how accepting she was of living in a waiting room. “Sometimes you forget you’re homeless until you want to go home.”
Hutchinson always had a boyfriend, many in fact, since “traveling in pairs kept everyone safer.” They always slept in groups and, when she could not find a group, she would check into a homeless shelter. She showered at churches and after shows or games at Madison Square Garden, begged for money or food, and took advantage of gifts from charitable organizations.
“Most of the time, you could not tell we were homeless.”
The Times reports that Hutchinson was diagnosed with schizophrenia and that she is good about taking her medications. However, the condition ended her song-writing career and placed her two-year-old daughter in the care of the child’s father. She then became pregnant with a second daughter, which her aunt and uncle agreed to take in.
A persistent cough ultimately revealed that Hutchinson had HIV (many sexually active people in the Penn Station Nation have HIV). Fortunately, the HIV/AIDS Services Administration could get her transitional housing for which the Times donated the $1000 for furniture.
As I read of this permanent Penn Station colony, I thought of a CBS report with pretty much the same story at LaGuardia Airport. The report showed a man in a wheelchair who had been living at the airport for years. Like Penn Station, the homeless count is around 50. When asked about the quality of life at an airport, he aggressively asserted that it was not much different than living in his own apartment since he was able to watch television all day.
The Times article began by quoting the now oft-repeated statistic that we have 60,000 homeless every night; as the weather gets icy, the number increases.
Fortunately, Hutchinson was able to contract HIV, which is better funded than most diseases; she got a nice new apartment and escaped being one of the 60,000. She makes $733 from Social Security and $13 in food stamps per month; her apartment costs $971 a month (I am sure that she has other government or charity funding). So, she is now, at 46, safe and snug in her apartment for the rest of her life.
Well, the problem is not just putting people in public housing and keeping them alive—it is the quality of that life.
We have to graduate the children of public housing into wanting a better life and having the educational tools to get it (but that is the subject of another essay).