Sunday, November 2, 2008

If you have never been to New York City, you have surely seen movies or TV cop shows, and got a glimpse of NYC's homeless. Visiting the City is so much a part of my childhood, I have no memories of the first time I was there. I say, as an adult, "we stepped over homeless people as if people sleeping on cardboard over subway grates was the most natural thing in the world." Well, all those NYC sights were "natural" or simply life in the city. No one said: he's homeless or explained why a man would be sleeping on the street in the cold winter time. Perhaps someone called them "bums". The narrow streets and alley's reeked of urine.

It is probably an accurate guess that my first trip to NYC without my parents (other than school supervised class trips) was with my friend from across the street. It would have been her idea, my other would protest that I was still too young, we may have been 15 or 16, we would have taken the train and she would have led, I would have followed. Perhaps we went with other savvy classmates, to shop. All I recall is it was exciting and grown-up. I doubt that even then I connected street musicians and men standing at the entrance to subway stations to homelessness.

NYC is the city that never sleeps. There are always crowds of people walking fast, going somewhere or groups talking or hanging around. All those trips to the big city, it would be hard for me to pick out homeless youth or homeless woman. My awareness probably came when my oldest daughter moved to Brooklyn. My middle daughter, later, attended dog grooming school in the City. Spending a weekend with them, showed me another look at the town. People actually did go home and go to sleep! Streets got quieter (except for traffic) and streets got empty of people. Yet I was probably still only marginally aware of the homeless population, especially the youth and the women.

NYC is full of colorful people. I am a people watcher and drawn to characters. I am sure my eyes followed many a homeless person around as we wandered the sidewalks of New York. Spending time on the Internet, I find so many people are as clueless as to the reality of homelessness as I was back then, even as I saw many first hand. "That beggar in the street could be Jesus in disguise," was pounded into my head by priests~and I truly believed Jesus could take human form to test us~so I always had a quarter to give to one of those street people who asked for spare change, even though my budget was always so tight, I seldom had a spare quarter to share.

Why Greyhound routes service from Allentown to California through NYC is beyond me. Yet as I left Allentown to return to the streets of Long Beach, I had a four hour layover at Grand Central Station. By August 2006 I had seen many people sleeping on the floors in bus, train and airplane depots. It was easier to tell who were travelers with cancelled flights or delayed bus connections and who were homeless, say in the Los Angeles bus depot than the Newark airport.

It is not polite to stare at people, so I only glanced at a homeless woman in a corner of the Grand Central station building. There were two cop cars stopped on the corner, the officers chatting. I wondered if they noticed the squatter. New york, I thought, is so full of homeless people, I guess the cops look the other way, not rousting the homeless. During one of my pacing stints I notice a stream of water running down the sidewalk, realizing the homeless woman was urinating where she stooped next to the building. I could not look to see if she had pulled down her pants to empty her bladder.

I have seen a lot on the streets. It seemed to me, she could have went inside the building to use a restroom. I could not understand how she could publicly urinate in plain view of hundreds of walkers. I imagined the NYC residents are used to seeing this, because it seemed I was the only person that noticed it. (l0/31/08)

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