Jamie has wide eyes and an other-worldly smile. He speaks slowly.
“Originally from Newark,” he starts. His mouth hangs open during pauses while he thinks. “Things weren’t working out for me because I was heavily into drugs, sleeping in the streets...you know. Taking chances.”
He smiles. “I came up with a plan, hustled up enough money, came to NYC.”
How did you get here?
“Project Renewal gave me their card, they picked me up. I became a resident here, been here almost 15 months. I’m in the last stage, where they help you look for apartments.”
But why NYC?
“I tried in Jersey to see if they had anything, but they didn’t have any programs, I talked to my Mom, told her they have a lot of help in New York. Thank God I was able make that first move and come here blind,” Then, to further explain: “I used to have one jacket, now I have several.”
What about work?
“I’m not allowed to work, because I suffered an injury in my back, which is deteriorating. The bones never fused back together. I have osteoporosis in that area, 3 fractures in the lumbar region. They’re either going to put a plastic insert in or hope that my body doesn’t reject a cadaver donor...THEN I’LL BE ABLE TO WORK!” He nearly yells.
Then he goes quiet again. “Because of the therapy, I can’t lift anything over 10 pounds. Sometimes I bend over to pick up something and the sciatica kicks in.”
A wry smile forms.“I play handball even though I’m not supposed to.”
“I like to watch the soccer games that they play at the park - or the tai chi, it’s like a dance or karate or something. These men and women are older, way older, but they’re so lively…”
He stares off into the distance with his mouth partially open. His face shifts. He turns back to me.
“I came into drug scene late,” he reminisces. “In my 20’s, I made a lot of mistakes. I just turned 46. As I look back, I wish i didn’t make those mistakes, but in helping others and giving back to the community...I feel good.”
He smiles again. “It’s working out.”
How are you helping give back?
“I’m just a regular guy, trying to help out. I try to be the voice for them, be the voice for what they need.”
What do you mean?
“I’m Puerto Rican, so I help out with the Spanish translation around here. I help the staff out a lot. I’m probably the eighth person who’s been here the longest. I know everyone’s name. At outpatient care, I set up the chairs, get the coffee going, pick the morale up.”
He gives a final grin. “The guys look up to me as one of the older guys here.”
There are tens of thousands of homeless people living in New York City. Many of them have stories just like his. It’s our hope that, through the Why Are You Homeless? campaign, more New Yorkers will come to understand that anyone can become homeless.
You can help people like Steve. Project Renewal runs, in part, on donations, but we appreciate it just as much if you just sign up to learn more about us or like us on Facebook. Check back next week for another eye-opening story about homelessness in the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes and heart open.