By: Gligor Tashkovich (United States)
This evening, a homeless couple that I have been helping (and trying to help) in a number of ways for the last two years were sitting on a nearby street corner in sub-zero temperatures hoping people would put a few dollars in their box. When I asked them why on earth they were subjecting themselves to these bone-chilling temperatures, they said they only had $4 and needed at least $5 to get on a heated subway car. It was a no-brainer to give them four more dollars so that they could get to the subway faster. The New York City shelter system has totally failed them because the system either requires identification or proof of homelessness — and they have neither. And apparently, living on the same street corner for two years — to which numerous people can testify — doesn’t count as proof of being homeless.
The problem that most of us can’t grasp is that when you are homeless, you care for little else other than making it through the day. In the case of the aforementioned homeless couple, on a warmer day this means earning $2.37 in spare change so that they can go to the local (overpriced) Duane Reade and purchase some macaroni and cheese, add water, and heat it in the microwave. So it isn’t necessarily the case that people don’t want to better their circumstances, but they do need to be rescued from the streets before (for lack of a better word) “cave man” instincts set in. This couple I’ve been trying to help is sadly not far away from that point. But it will honestly require a full-time case worker to help them — and this is not time that I have. I have spoken to lawyers, shelters, pulled down forms from the internet and printed them out for them, etc. But I am limited to 10-15 minutes here and there.
Before they became homeless, he was a driver for Pizza Hut and she worked as a cosmetologist. During Hurricane Sandy, they were flooded out of a basement apartment that their landlord had been illegally subletting to them. One hundred percent of their possessions were flooded. They had been living cash-to-cash and didn’t have a bank account. They paid their cell phone bill at the store, etc.
So now they have no paperwork to prove that they are homeless. The policy requiring people to prove this was initiated at New York shelters in 2011. NBC explained: “People seeking a bed at city homeless shelters will have to prove they have no other options. […] It’s part of a Department of Homeless Services plan to save $4 million a year in this cash-strapped city; officials say the new policy will reserve its shrinking resources for those who are truly the neediest.”
My thinking is that this is the reason why Mayor DeBlasio started his ID program — because one of the biggest problems of the homeless is being unable to prove who they are. There has been an enormous uptake/interest in this program so far.
I don’t have the last word on this, but my understanding is that religious organizations generally provide free food BUT — as you can read in the guides to free food many if not all of them require an identification too! Why? For what purpose? If some is clearly destitute, why would you refuse them food if you are there to give out food?
After spending about an hour calling around the Coalition for the Homeless and the Public Assistance office in Union Square, I typed up a detailed letter and attached maps from Google highlighting the nearby subway stations and street addresses of where they needed to go and in what order. I gave this to them last Thursday and I didn’t see them on the street corner today (Wednesday) for the hour I was in and out of my building for the first time. I hope this means that they followed my directions and everything worked as I wrote. (In my letter and in my clear directions to them, I wrote that if any bureaucrat told them something different than what I had written that said bureaucrat should call me. I’m pleased to say no one has called; so we can hope!)
What I hope they accomplished was: (1) Opening up a Public Assistance case for themselves. (2) Getting a special ID card issued by public assistance (3) Registering with the Coalition for the Homeless to use their mailing address. From there, with this Public Assistance identification card, they can go to the local Social Security office – and then get their birth and marriage certificates and start to rebuild their lives.
So what’s next for this couple? How can they go from looking for ways to make it through each day to getting the support they would need to put their lives back together?