By Carol F. Yost
On May 12, 2020, an op-ed appeared in the Daily News with the title, “Why I Slept on the Subways: They Were a Safer Refuge for the Homeless the Public Holds in Contempt.” It was written by Denis Dugan, who identifies himself as a homeless man.
One paragraph reads: “With too few resources and workers out there to help the homeless, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo are taking away the only safe place some people have at night. Everybody wants to talk about the ‘disgusting’ homeless population and how we are getting in the way of ‘essential’ New Yorkers, as if homeless people are expendable New Yorkers.”
As a person who’s come close to being homeless at least twice, I feel very strongly about this. Denis Dugan is not exaggerating. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my apartment.
I’m grateful to Yetta Kurland and the Kurland Group for saving my tenancy in 2015; before that, in 1976, I was lucky at the last minute to hear about an apartment I could afford after the Salvation Army kicked 220 of us women out of the Evangeline ladies’ residence hall because they wanted to change it into what they called a domiciliary care facility for senior women.
The possibility of homelessness is no joke. There was a time I was receiving food stamps; once, I applied for welfare and saw how disrespectfully many people at the welfare center were treated. Being poor is not a disgrace.
Look at all the luxury skyscrapers, and the dirt-cheap minimum wages for long hours of work (if you can find it), and ask how many people can find decent affordable housing.
A home can feel like part of your identity. It’s your own place. The loss of a home is an insult to your dignity, besides being intolerable and exceedingly dangerous. It’s easy to become homeless in a city that caters only to the rich.
How dare ANYBODY treat homeless people as subhuman? Not all have mental health issues (although it would be easy to lose your sanity if you had to look for a park bench you could sleep on and worry about the cold and rain or snow; and I recall a discussion at a community board meeting about a planned public space amenity near a residential building, with the specific proposition that the benches have dividers to keep the homeless from sleeping there). And what about those who have physical health issues?
The shelters are downright unsafe. You can contract COVID-19 or be physically attacked, robbed, or murdered. I heard of a man who had lost his job as an accountant and was living in one of the recesses under the Brooklyn Bridge.
The author of the op-ed is right about the possibility of hotels being used to house the people who don’t have homes they can afford. I’ve read that’s being done, only not for everyone yet. And if they’re luxury hotels? Good! The people forced to live on the streets or in mass transit areas have dealt with so much struggle and suffering that it’s high time they got nice places to live. They’re no worse than wealthy paying guests. They don’t need only compassion. They deserve respect.
Recall that Jesus was homeless and was born in a manger.
Once, years ago, I read an article about the owner of a luxury condo tower who was unable to find buyers and contracted with the city to house homeless people there. Up rose an outcry of “NIMBY!” in the upper-crust neighborhood. Mayor Bloomberg (I think he was the mayor then) hastened to reassure outraged neighbors that this was only temporary.
Be glad if it hasn’t happened to you—that you’re out on the street, still with your abilities, your gifts, your memories, the values you hold dear, and that cough that won’t quite go away.