As a native New Yorker, for a long time, I’d see homeless people on the way to a friend’s house, school, or work. At the time, I was a teenager. Back then, it didn’t occur to me that the misfortunate were people with stories that I’d soon identify with—ever. They, homeless people, are usually ignored. I’m guilty of it, too.
For a good while, I accepted that it was just the way it is—a learned behaviour. Over the years, I’ve watched pedestrians walk by and step over homeless bodies when the streets were congested. One day, in particular, I walked down Fifth Avenue and saw an older Black woman crying as she sat on the sidewalk. There was a new store coming into that space. I couldn’t just watch.
Moreover, the juxtaposition was uncanny. It wasn’t whining or a cry [that I thought] anybody could ignore. It’s abnormal for me to give money to people on the street. I did that day. She didn’t ask anyone for anything. She just wailed as various kinds of people went on about their day—professionals, students, and others of all races. I started to cry, too.
Before my (then) fiancé-in-Islam moved back to the city, I went to a homeless prevention centre in Brooklyn, New York. After sharing personal information about the intensity at home with the employee, I learned that I didn’t qualify for housing. That day, I felt defeated. From what I gathered, I had to be living on the street or registered at a homeless shelter before my visit. Perhaps, it is a city ordinance, but I don’t fully understand. Before then, I travelled to the one in the Bronx. Immediately, I learned it was out of my jurisdiction.
Homelessness happens to ‘good’ people, too. Not all homeless people are drug and alcohol addicts. Some of them are victims of domestic violence, and would rather be on the streets than to continue to fall at the hands of their abuser. (I was that person, prematurely.) Others are alone in a new city without friends or family who would take them in. Sexual preference is a huge one for LGBT teenagers. Unfortunately, their families disown them, so they are left to fend for themselves on the streets. Being down on your luck, or not finding a job after you’re laid off is another reality.
According to my research, over 100 million people are homeless worldwide. Most of them are men.
Subsequently, you never know what someone is going through—including me—and that brings me to the DHS’ wonderful work. It will conduct its annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) this month. HOPE 2018 is a citywide community volunteer effort to count every New Yorker sleeping on the street across the five boroughs during the coldest time of the year. If you’re in New York City, please register to volunteer on Monday, January 21, 2018, from 10 PM to 4 AM. You may help change a life. Help to make this large-scale canvass a reality. If you’re unable to attend, share the article with a friend or someone in your family to spread the message. Social media is powerful!
Finally, we have twelve more days to round up volunteers to comb through local parks, subways, and other public spaces to estimate the number of people who find themselves living on the street. We get a correct count, and the DHS will distribute their resources to the homeless.