Sunday, November 16, 2014

New York's Dirty Little Secret

Several residents interviewed for Lisa Foderaro's New York Times article, "Tensions Over Park Behavior as Homelessness Rises in New York City," have managed to define utter disregard for humanity.

As homelessness skyrockets, some are asking why, while others are demanding something be done to stop it. What few are actually concerned with are those unfortunately left on the streets. 

If New York's early 21st Century can be summed up by Sex and the City, it's 2014 is starting to get disturbingly Dickensian.

What's most unsettling about the article is its considerable lack of empathy for a very real epidemic. While hoards of transplants followed Carrie Bradshaw to the Big Apple, fueled by an affinity for runny eggs and bottomless mimosas, some of them apparently left their compassion back where they came from.

While one Brooklyn resident said that she felt compassion for the homeless, noting that the shelters may not be "a place that they want to go," that compassion seems lost on others, even Foderaro, who opted to discuss homelessness as a problem while ignoring the problems that lead there. 

Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services, Jody Rudin stated that they've talked to the homeless, asking why the shelters are not an attractive option. Without delving into why each individual is homeless, the right questions aren't being asked.

Conducting the same survey a guest receives after three nights at a Hilton isn't going to get to the root of a very complex set of circumstances. And those circumstances differ from homeless person to homeless person, because they're people.

The growing number of homeless in New York and around the country aren't members of a union with a spokesperson. For them, life is anarchy, a distopic nightmare full of untold rape and violence. 

Curfews and citations mean nothing in this lawless world. Before anyone can understand why someone would choose a park bench over a cot in a homeless shelter, the reasons each one of them is homeless needs to be understood. 

Then I would suggest that anyone who thinks homelessness is a "problem" akin to traffic or litter serve two tours in Iraq, watch friends get murdered and several villages burn, then return to a nation full of protestors who want to do the exact same to you. 

That might offer better insight into why some homeless people need much more than a bed and a bowl of soup.

Homelessness is incredibly harsh and too few people want to recognize that reality. Empathizing with something so horrid instills guilt, especially when walking a Welsh Corgi up to a park bench to shoo away a war veteran and enjoy a $5 latte. 

Two decades removed from the New York that now only exists in myths and legends, the city has managed to replace much of its diverse populous with ingrates completely out of touch with the struggles of socioeconomics. Likewise, its government has apparently been replaced with politicians and officials better apt to run Smallville than Metropolis. 

From public urination to drug abuse, the rambling Times article inadvertently exposes a city that sees homelessness as another form of blight. Blight is a problem, homelessness isn't that simple. It is a psychosocial condition that deserves sympathetic consideration. Watch The Fisher King. Read Tomas Young's "Last Letter." 

These are broken people who need help. While so many New Yorkers spend thousands on therapy to coach them through their upper middle class woes, many homeless people need sincerely reparative counseling. Those charged with "solving the problem" need to treat homeless people like the wildly diverse and dynamic anti-community that they are, not like a dysfunctional family with a one-size-fits-all solution.

That, perhaps, may be the entire campaign's most shortsighted flaw. These are not simply people from different backgrounds, races, and religions. They're people who have lost their families, their identity, and their faith. They are more diverse than anything one can fathom. To regard them as annoying would be akin to having a distaste for the universe. It's irrational, which is why so many residents are resigned to an annual donation and shutting their eyes. Understanding something so complex isn't just difficult, it takes you to a dark place.

Next time you turn a blind eye to the homeless person holding your door for change, visit the nightmarish reality they're dealing with all the time.

While New York's outer boroughs have awoken to new life full of community gardens and gastropubs, longtime residents have been priced out of their homes with nowhere to go. The strongest of them will survive New York's brutal winter while the elderly and sick will die on your streets, discarded in an unmarked grave. New residents who've taken their place are patting themselves on the back for improving neighborhoods someone else once called home. 

Others, shellshocked veterans who have been forced to self medicate with drugs and alcohol, are faced with a smugly idealistic public dialogue that knows nothing of the horrors of combat, a dialogue that has shamed many from returning to their families. 

Is it any wonder some homeless men and women trend towards being confrontational? They're stuck in a life you can't possibly imagine, and then you have the audacity to tell them they're not good enough to sleep on a park bench hours after you're in your king size bed.

Has America's once great melting pot become so superficially perfected that its heart has been buried under the pursuit of a utopian ideal that can only be met by discarding those most in need of the simplest sympathy and respect?

In a city that recently offered "ghetto" tours of its most blighted neighborhoods, exploiting its most unfortunate, can it ever recover from its own narcissism? People treat stray animals better. 

Next time you see a homeless person sitting on your park bench, if you don't feel threatened, join them. Share your Panera. Talk to them. They may not know where to find a shelter. They may be too proud to call their family. Offer them a shred of dignity. When the world treats someone like a sewer rat, that simple act of humanity may be exactly what they need. 

No comments:

Post a Comment