Seeing Someone Cold and Homeless

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Svetlana Sforza
Campus News

As another 30-degree day descends upon us, I only hope that my heat and hot water work in my basement apartment.  I wake up, wrapped in my down comforter, counting down the days until summer returns.  Once I quickly look at my thermostat, I know that 68 degrees feels a lot nicer than this.  Do I really have things so bad? Well, I wonder how others might feel under these conditions.  Not that I will spend the night just in my backyard, encountering the bitterness of January, but I shall certainly investigate this matter and see exactly how are the homeless in New York City dealing with the cold.
I just recently visited Penn Station, wrapped in my brown, fuzzy jacket drinking a healthy smoothie (apart from the usual pizza and beer I consume there) with a smile on my face.  All I thought about was going for tea with my friend.  Then, an older man approached me.  Of course, I could not hear what he was trying to say, since I donned my headphones.  I took them off, but then realized he was asking for spare change.  He looked kind of sick and dirty, so I said, “Are you hungry?” He obviously replied, “Yes, very.”  So I asked him what he would like to eat, and he just wanted a piece of chicken.  We proceeded to the nearest vendor selling that product, and I fed this man.  He was extraordinarily grateful and offered me a lamp shade in return for my kindness.  I replied that I had no lamps, and we laughed, then just spoke about life in general.  Treating him with dignity, and not judging his life decisions, I bid him farewell and gave him the last 2 dollars on my Metrocard, so he could see his brother.  Well, I saved that receipt from the chicken purchase, and now feel proud looking upon that.
Why choose this alternative to shelters? This is a crowded, open place, with access to millions of people (tourists and natives alike), bathrooms and warmth.  But many helpers at shelters take their vans to look for homeless on the streets at night, and try to convince them to come in from the cold.  Extra effort is particularly paid during these months of frost and bitterness.  Assured they will not be victims to assault or harassment, those on the sidewalks accept.  They cannot be forced, unless their life is in danger.  But nowadays, individuals are not the only ones to fall victim to the homeless crisis; entire families encounter this hardship.  There is no shame in avoiding hypothermia and frostbite.  If you should witness symptoms such as shallow breathing, discoloration of skin and slurred speech, you may contact 311 as a helpline.
No strangers to these occurrences, New Yorkers lend helping hands when and however they can.  Giving away old jackets and warm clothing is a big step, or even just leaving a warm blanket for a person currently residing in a cardboard box.  If you want to handle things in a more professional manner, there are always outreach centers.  For more information on how you can help, please visit these websites: www.coalitionforthehomeless.org, www.bowery.org, www.women-in-need.org, www.urbanpathways.org and the NYC Department of Homeless Services.  And now, you can think about donating some time and/or money to these shelters.  Not to sound cliché, but every little bit helps.
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