No Relief

Giuliani's New York: The View from Below

He said, "They won't give me my check. I don't have money for my medication. They won't give me my check and I'm not leaving this hospital until I get my medication." Then he corrected himself, "I mean office."

If the man lying on the floor was ripping off the system, he had a bizarre way of celebrating the fact.

After four hours, I was sent to the building 10 blocks away with the form and told to wait for a new card. Unlike the old cards, which contained images of tired, expressionless people, the new cards have only a name and a series of numbers. The new cards are faceless.

After four months of waiting, I didn't receive Medicaid. I did receive permission to buy $250 worth of food, for which I'm very grateful. I bought non-perishable food that will last for months.

I may never receive food stamps again. I hope I never need them. The system may change again in August. Everything is unknown. I bought a few bags of apples for the homeless in my area. On the scale of things, these apples are worthless. The problems of the poor, the working poor, the homeless, are of such magnitude they require immediate assistance— from everyone.

This week I walked to a library with computers for the public, signed a waiting list and, when my turn came, walked to the terminal.

A man was seated in front of it, right hand covering his face. I touched his arm and he jumped. He'd been sleeping. He picked up a cloth bag, then awkwardly gathered bags hidden beneath the table. He was wearing two jackets and three shirts. He was wearing all of his clothes simultaneously because his body had become a hanger.

He was a homeless, middle-aged man, sleeping for 30 minutes at terminal No. 1, and I was about to uproot him, so I could read about the hungry.

He apologized without looking up. He apologized for being exhausted. For being in the chair. For having all these bags. He apologized for everything. His body was filled with shame.

There's a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is: I made a mistake. Shame is: I am the mistake.

Tonight I received a letter from a friend. She asked, "Where are the homeless? I don't see them anymore."

The homeless are hiding between cracks in buildings, behind dumpsters in cardboard boxes. They're 60-year-old men with paper cups filled with pennies. They're 70-year-old women wearing worn-out felt hats. They're men who've gone crazy. They're in Orange County being arrested for drinking a Sprite. They're standing on subway platforms pretending to have destinations.

The homeless have no soap, no towels, no toothbrushes. They have no money, no food, no shampoo. They have shopping bags, memories, and newspapers.

They have nowhere to wash, nowhere to sleep, nowhere to stand. They have nowhere to sit, they have to keep moving. They try to vanish.

The homeless and hungry and sick are being ignored, abandoned, and stepped over.

A system responsible for this needs to be torn apart before it explodes. Needs to be transformed, before it destroys everyone.

The willful neglect of one part of society will have a domino effect.

There's an old saying: "In hell, the chopsticks are very long, so long people can't reach their mouths and they starve to death. In heaven, the chopsticks are the exact same length, but in heaven the people feed one another."

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