In New York City
This is Bill
Bill, age 73, was sitting on the corner of 73rd street and Broadway with cup in hand. Because of his appearance and his cup, I made the mistake of assuming he is homeless. Wrong! Bill has been living in an apartment in Brooklyn for the past three years. The apartment is provided to him by a New York City service agency. He did not remember the name of the agency. Before that, he had been homeless-for fifteen years, which he described as fifteen tough years, including the time when someone tried to rob him. A man had stepped in and protected him by hitting the robber in the nose with a stick. Bill said that the robber did not have a gun or a knife-was just threatening.
Bill had been employed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) for 12 years before being laid off. It was the loss of his employment that was the initial cause of his homelessness.
He was born in the South Bronx and grew up in Harlem, an only child of a single mother. He left high school before graduating and bounced around from job to job before starting work at NYCHA at the age of 21. He never married and has no children.
Bill described himself as a loner but happy. He does not like being with a lot of people and does not reach out to make friends. His days consist of spending time alone in his apartment in Brooklyn, sometimes just taking a walk if the weather is good. He does not go out with his cup asking for money every day. I asked him if he ate today and he had. He does not shop in food markets and does not like to cook for himself so his meals consist of foods that he buys from food trucks, fast food places like McDonald's, or from a local bodega.
I asked Bill what it was like working for NYCHA. He said he felt good that he was providing a service for people. He felt that he had a purpose with self-esteem. Although he was very much a loner even when employed, he knew his job (keeping buildings clean and assisting in repairs and maintenance) was important and was proud of that. Being unemployed has made him feel as if he no longer matters to society.
Bill loves living in New York City and spending his days in Manhattan. The fast pace of the city helps him to feel alive. He likes watching people on the streets. Although he has little to no interactions with the people passing him by each day, it is a sense of community to him. He feels connected, even without personal interactions. He said it gives him a sense of security. He believes New York City is a place where you can make money. He could not think of anything that he dislikes about living here.
Bill has so little, yet feels fulfilled with the little that he does have. He is happy not to be living on the streets any longer and is grateful for the agency that has provided him with a permanent place to put his head.
Bill no longer needs a concrete pillow.