The Rough Reality of Being Homeless in NYC
They say that it takes 15-21 days for something to become a habit. But it took me almost 2 years to realize that waving at someone hi & bye or just occasionally giving someone a dollar had become a habit for me. Ever since I moved to Woodhaven, Queens there was always this homeless man camped in the corner of 91th street. He would be there in the morning on my way to school and on my way back home. But one day out of nowhere the street corner looked empty and wider, the man that stayed there had passed away according to the deli corner store owner. That’s when I realized that I was so used to seeing him there that it had become a routine of seeing each other. So this got me thinking why he didn’t get help before or why didn’t he go to a shelter. On the news you hear that the city is creating new programs for homelessness but then residents of NY go out to the street and see a lot of homeless people, so then the questions start, are the programs really real and efficient.
In movies they portray NYC as a luxurious city where dreams come true and for some reason everyone can afford an apartment in Manhattan and they have a fancy life, but the cameras hide the ugly truth which is homelessness throughout NY. And the homeless rate is only increasing and with the rates increasing it becomes very difficult for every homeless person to get help since the city can’t help everyone. According to a Fox News article written by Nick Givas it states that “Issues with New York’s homeless population have made headlines over the past two years, with many incidents occurring on the subways or near underpasses, where encampments have emerged”. This shows that the rates are increasing and there aren’t enough shelters around so people have to find shelter in the MTA. Also, it shows that whatever programs the state creates is not as helpful as they say it is. So with poverty and homelessness increasing in NYC,what are the city’s programs really doing to help control the increase and help people get back to stability?
When walking down the streets of NYC or taking the train (MTA) there are people laying in the street asking for change. So when a new yorker sees this so often, the only question that comes to mind is who is helping them. What is the city/state doing to help them out of their situation. According to an article by Politico ‘The city has several existing programs to help tenants on the brink of eviction’. This shows that the city wants to avoid more homelessness which is good because the homeless rate will decrease, but the city needs to help the people that are currently homeless to make our city better. NYC is great at creating programs for the less fortunate, like free education for all, many public and free parks and pools, free lunches for children during the summer, public housing for people with low income etc. so what exactly do these programs or aids provide to the homeless? According to the ACE a program for the homeless, they provide people with jobs by giving them job training and work experience. In the article “Why Some New Yorkers Choose Streets Over Shelters” by Greg B. Smith, the writer interviews a homeless man on what it’s like to be homeless. During the interview the homeless man mentions that he has to wait a whole year in the street because a homeless aid worker had to observe him for a long time in order for him to qualify for help. This comes to show that it’s difficult for people living in the street to get aid because the process of approval takes time and work. So, Yes the city’s programs are efficient but if the homeless rates are going up every year and it takes a year to help one person at some point the amount of homeless people in the streets get too out of hand for the city. And the city’s answer to stopping homelessness is creating anti-homelessness architecture. When walking in a public place in NYC like Central Park or Grand Central Station for example, did you notice that all the benches there have armrests now? The armrests that divide a bench into four seats are not for you to have personal space from the other person or for your arm to rest, but to avoid homeless people from laying there and occupying the space, because according to small business owners it makes them look bad. When a problem has become so big that people use spikes on their floor to avoid homeless people, its makes me question how the whole homelessness outburst starts. And if it could have been avoided.
Some people might be wondering what leads a person to becoming homeless or living out in the streets. There’s actually a lot of ways a person could lose everything but being homeless doesn’t always mean that the person is poor or a drug addict. For example women escaping domestic violence only way out is to go to a shelter. Other contributions that add to the homeless rates is the lack of affordable housing, rents in NYC are too expensive, and I think that we all agree with that. Also the fact that there aren’t enough jobs and the jobs that are available pay minimum wage which is difficult to make a living with $15 an hour and pay $1,800 monthly rents. People also end up homeless because they are bankrupt, either it’s because medical bills got out of hand or the credit card bill was too much. So when society labels homeless people as drug users and addicts, it’s a bit unfair to look at them as less, because it could happen to anyone.
One downside of public shelters is that they are unsafe and people don’t feel comfortable enough to spend the night there. During the interview in “Why Some New Yorkers Choose Streets Over Shelters” by Greg B. Smith, it states that “Three of four people questioned had spent some time in shelters, with 38% saying the main reason they left was their concerns about personal safety”, this leads to more people living in the streets and in the subway stations, one can say that the whole system is messed up because no matter what kind of help homeless people get there’s always going to a disadvantage side. The good side of this is that there’s shelters in every borough throughout NYC and if communities come together and help out the homeless rates will probably decrease. What NYC lacks is their residents giving back to the community and volunteering. As New Yorkers we are considered rude, ignorant, self centered and always rushing. But if a few people go and volunteer at the shelters just for a few hours, it could make a difference. Also donating food to your local shelter and clothes also help out with the changes of seasons, for example during winter there’s the coat drive where people donate their coat for the poor. It’s the small things that matter and that make a big difference. Even though helping out and advocating for the homeless isn’t going to be enough, when we face reality NYC is a rich city that is only growing economically. So poverty and homeless people living out in the street are here to stay, yes we could contain the rates and numbers low but there’s always going to be homelessness.
At the end of the day, there’s always going to be little things that make up New York City, and that make up a New Yorkers daily routine. And maybe for me it was seeing that homeless man in the corner of my street or maybe for someone it’s that other homeless person in the same train station. But they are still part of our community and we have to help them in order to see changes. Also by signing petitions, and avocading for the homeless and pressuring the government for more budgets for shelters and more aid, will help nyc look better and feel safer. If anyone wants to help there’s a lot of websites that give information about how to help or how to seek help.
Smith, Greg B. “Sleeping Behind The Bronx Zoo: Why Some New Yorkers Choose Streets Over Shelters.” THE CITY, THE CITY, 5 Apr. 2021,
Chadha, Janaki. “New York Is Facing a Potential Explosion in Homelessness.” Politico PRO. 30 June 2020. Web. 06 Apr. 2021.
Givas, Nick. “Homelessness in New York City: Here Are the Statistics.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 21 Feb. 2020. Web. 06 Apr. 2021.