By Randle Loeb on Mar 30, 2010 | In Caring and Surviving, Citizenship and Stewards By Randle Loeb
- NEW YORK/REGION -
Times Square's Homeless Holdout, Not Budging
By JULIE BOSMAN
Nonprofit workers say the man known as Heavy is the last
person living on the streets of Times Square.
Commentary by Randle Loeb, The People's Leadership Council
"Tim Marx executive director and Roseanne Haggerty founder of Common Ground think that they have this man who they name, Heavy,” figured out. They are thinking of having an out reach worker follow him around all day, because their MISSION is to have the last homeless person in Mid-town Manhattan come inside and indeed, Roseanne suggests that he has come inside. Then she says that his being out there is a fascinating experience for the last person who is chronically homeless on the street there in “her” turf. Tim Marx on the other hand is saying that the woman who he calls, “Mama,” is irresponsible in some way because people like her have provided comfort, blankets, clothes, food, coffee, and most importantly community for this person for decades.
Let’s analyze what we know, which is minimal about this man’s life. He is present and has a purpose outside. All of us need to belong and be respected, as my son Lael puts it, “feel me.”
I think one can safely say that this man is felt and understood. He feels that he belongs. Who can say when it is time to come in and rest, take off your shoes and feel at ease closing your own door? For many people who are homeless the community that they experience in their world of soup kitchens, street connections and safety is enough and they are not ready and in many cases interested in coming inside. This is not a measure of their lack of anything other than for the time being this is not their choice. I see many people every day that will find themselves inside and say, “I cannot stand being here.” “Where my friends, my connections, and my place are is with my family.”
What business is it for the commerce and industry to decide how and when a person is complying with the public good? What is troubling are the glib responses to a complex social issue of trust and belonging that cuts through the compassion of social services and the public’s need for people to be protected. In Geel in Holland, a town embraces its transient and suffering with housing in each person’s home and in the businesses by providing a safe place and a sanctuary for all who come to share their community. When a caretaker provider dies another family member steps in and holds the person as a sacred trust. There are no strings attached to this commitment and no lack of respect and dignity for their vulnerable neighbors. Everyone finds a way to care for the person just as with the man in New York’s Time Square.
We need to think about this the next time we see a person like the one described in Julie’s article below and tap into our reservoir of caring for our neighbor as ourselves. Tim and Roseanne you would not be in business if the commonweal embraced everyone. In my mind the community is where my family is and where I am accepted. It is also where we feel we have a place and a purpose. Who among us is as loved and cherished as the people who we engage daily who remind us that we all are the same."
“One Last Homeless Holdout in Times Square” New York Times March 29, 2010 By Julie Bosman
As long as there have been homeless people sleeping in Times Square, there have been social workers and city officials trying to persuade them to leave.
Enlarge This Image
Michael Appleton for The New York Times
The homeless man Heavy slept in a cardboard box on Sunday as a worker from the Times Square Alliance swept 48th Street.
In the past, the homeless were offered a free ride to one of the city’s warehouselike shelters. These days, workers for nonprofit groups help people move into apartments, keeping track as the number of the chronically homeless in Times Square goes down.
According to their records, by 2005, there were only 55. Last summer, it was down to 7.
Now there is one.
His name is Heavy, and he has lived on the streets of Times Square for decades. Day after day, he has politely declined offers of housing, explaining that he is a protector of the neighborhood and cannot possibly leave, the workers who visit him every day said.
Yet they are determined to get through to Heavy, the last homeless holdout in Times Square.
“I just have this dream that all of a sudden something will snap, and he’ll say, ‘I’d love to have housing,’ ” said Amie Pospisil, an associate director at Common Ground Community, a nonprofit organization that conducts street outreach. “I don’t rule out that it could happen.”
Little is known about Heavy, even his full name. Heavy is a nickname, part of his last name, a fact he surrendered after more than a year of daily visits from workers. He declined to be interviewed.
According to neighbors and social workers, Heavy is a gentle presence, a quiet man who does not harass passers-by or panhandle aggressively. They say he may be mentally ill, as many of the chronically homeless are. An employee in a deli on Eighth Avenue said that he usually gave Heavy a few pieces of bread at lunchtime. Neighbors give him hot coffee, loose change, and warm clothing in winter.
“He is a sweetheart,” said an 82-year-old woman who gave her name as Nanny and stopped to talk near her home on 48th Street, where she has lived for 44 years. “He sees me coming and says, ‘Hi, Mommy,’ and I say, ‘Hi, honey.’ And I give him his quarter, and I go on with my business.”
The most recent annual estimate of the number of homeless people sleeping on the streets of New York showed an increase, but Times Square has been an exception.
The exact count of homeless people in and around the area on any given day can be subject to wanderings, the time of year, even the weather. But for years, outreach workers have done rigorous, round-the-clock counts of the people who are sleeping there every night, and they are confident they know who is there and who is not.
Heavy is the last member of what they called the Times Square Seven, the only homeless people remaining last summer out of the dozens they had been placing in housing for years. Of the seven, three men were regularly sleeping on the steps of churches.
All of them had been homeless for a long time — on average, 17 years.
One by one, from last September to January, the men were persuaded to accept housing. Except Heavy.
“I think it’s fair to say that we gave all seven people the same attention and effort,” Ms. Pospisil said. “Heavy is still there.”
The outreach teams had long since memorized his location and his habits. For a long stretch, he had been camped out on Seventh Avenue, until a city sanitation crew disposed of his belongings. Then he found a new spot nearby, under the fire escape of a theater. Now he is usually seen around the corner of 48th Street and Seventh Avenue, a block or two from the heart of Times Square.
By day, Heavy is typically seen wearing a red knit cap, sipping coffee and smoking a cigarette, sitting on a makeshift chair near his black and red suitcase. At night, outreach workers often find him nestled in a thin cardboard box, near the scaffolding of a building under construction.
Heavy was far from alone on the streets of Times Square in the 1990s, when he began sleeping there frequently in the midst of a roiling mess of drug dealing, prostitution and crime.
“Times Square has always been this signpost for whatever’s going on in New York City, for good or ill, and when there was a very heavy homeless population, it all contributed to a larger perception that New York City had lost control of the public realm,” said Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance. “I think there was a time at the very beginning of the homelessness issue when it was like, let’s squeeze the balloon and get them out of the way.”
But tactics changed. Nonprofit groups began sharing information about the homeless people who were anchored in Times Square, gathering names, ages, medical conditions and the personal issues that might be keeping them homeless.
The street outreach teams from Common Ground and the Goddard Riverside Community Center, both nonprofit groups that hold contracts with the city, began maintaining close ties with the Times Square Alliance and the Police Department. More units of supportive housing and specialized shelter beds were opened up to the chronically homeless, as an alternative to the intimidating and sometimes unruly general shelter system.
And the more commercial, safer and more tourist-friendly Times Square slowly became less comfortable for the street homeless.
“Whether by accident or not, certainly over the last 10 or 15 years, the cleaning up of Times Square and the street traffic in Times Square may have been an issue,” said Stephan Russo, the executive director of Goddard Riverside. “It can be a little daunting for them.”
The area still attracts panhandlers, and a few emotionally disturbed people who occasionally draw the attention of security employees of the Times Square Alliance. This month, they intervened when a man began tearing flowers out of a planter.
The social workers at Common Ground said they had no intention of pressing Heavy to leave the streets. But Tim Marx, the executive director, said neighbors might not be helping in the long term by giving Heavy food and clothing.
Directors at Common Ground are considering posting one of their outreach workers to stay with Heavy all day, study his habits and movements, and talk to neighbors about what is best for him.
Rosanne Haggerty, the president of Common Ground, said she had known Heavy since at least 1990, early in the days when she was working to end homelessness in Times Square. In those days, there were more than 70 people sleeping in the area on a typical night.
“He’s kind of iconic,” Ms. Haggerty said. “He would leave for periods and then return, and some days we would actually succeed in getting him inside. But he has this fascination with the life in Times Square.”
A Thief is a Thief By Eric L. Wattree
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