All born and raised New Yorkers (aka from the city) understand the stereo-typical description of New York City. I blame Sex in the City, Gossip Girl and every single movie that takes place on these streets. New York has become a place to drool over, a place to make it, buy pizza by the slice, ride the subway, ignore/avoid the countless crazy homeless people on every street corner, party until 4 am.....
Wait... back up, what?
The idea of homelessness in New York City goes hand in hand with the dirty water hot dog venders only tourist pay full price for and bodegas that sell beer at 7 am. Does no one see the problem with that?
Homelessness is not something to romanticize about New York. In fact, homelessness needs to stop being considered a "fixture" of the New York skyline, thrown into every single article I read about "the beauty of making it in New York", and start being seen as an actual HUMAN problem.
Here are some basic facts taken from coalition for the homeless to inform you about the homeless population that has been tossed aside as an inevitable after thought for tourists, bright eyed newbie New Yorkers and New Yorkers alike:
- Homelessness has reached an all time high since the Great Depression.
- June 2015, there were 58,761 homeless people, including 14,031 homeless families with 23,692 homeless children, sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system.
- That staggering number only counts the people actually sleeping in homeless shelters. A recent City surveys significantly underestimate the number of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers.
- The large majority of street homeless New Yorkers are people living with mental illness or other severe health problems.
- Many suffer from drug addictions, yet those are habits hard enough to kick when you have financial, home, and family security. Try having nothing and then start judging.
The point that I am trying to make isn't that you should feel terrible. It is true, the homeless community is a huge part of New York City, but romanticizing it as an essential part of the New York City feel isn't ok.
No one pisses or sleeps on the streets because they want too. No one chooses to be homeless, especially in a city that has under-kept homeless shelters, not enough mental health facilities and freezing temperatures by the time Thanksgiving comes around.
So do me a favor when you come to New York City, to tour, to live, to work, or to just spend the day. See New York City for that it really is, a city with a wage gap that is almost painful and tens of thousands of people who just need a bit of human compassion.
Keep granola bars in your bag, give a dollar, or offer to buy them a meal.