This is Charlie
Charlie was sitting by himself on 125th street and Morningside Avenue. Although he did not have the usual cup with change and a sign, he did appear to be homeless. I went up to him and asked, and yes, he has been homeless for the past 5 years. He talked about life on the streets. During the warm weather, he sleeps under bridges or overpasses. At times, the police harass him, forcing him to move. During the cold weather, he stays in the subway for warmth. But this frequently poses a problem. If he is sleeping on the concrete platform, cops will force him to move, or go to a shelter. Charlie, like many of the homeless people with whom I have spoken, is afraid of the shelters. There is no privacy, and theft is a common occurrence.
Charlie is 42 years old, born in Newark, N.J., and the third of 4 children. When he was still in diapers, his mother moved the family to Chicago to be with her sister and mother. Charlie had a close relationship with his mother who still lives in Chicago. He spoke lovingly of her and he tries to call her when he can. He does not have access to a telephone, nor the money to call from a pay phone. He mentioned his father only once, saying "don't get me started. He is a no-good S.O.B." His oldest sister was a nurse. She died. His tone and demeanor changed as he described her death. She was shot once in the chest and once in the head, and the
medical examiner claimed that she died by suicide. "But how can someone shoot themselves twice?" He has lost contact with his two other sisters. He thinks they may still be in Chicago but he is not sure. Charlie has a 20-year-old daughter who lives with her mother in Mississippi. Charlie and his daughter's mother never married but they have a good relationship. He did not see his daughter until she was 3 years old, and when he did, he immediately felt attached to her. He cried for joy. He hasn't talked to his daughter for 2 years. He is sad that he is so disconnected from her.
I asked Charlie what brought him to New York City. He said he was in love with a woman who wanted to live in New York so he came with her. He was working as a welder and supporting both himself and his girlfriend. They had a dispute and she threw out all of his clothing, tools, and everything he owned, including all of his identification -his driver's license and birth certificate. He continued to work as a welder until 5 years ago when he got laid off due to a lack of work during the winter. He survived for a period of time on unemployment insurance and when that ran out, he was on the streets, with no identification and no job.
The future will be very difficult for Charlie. He is motivated to get back on his feet and have a roof over his head. He has two major goals right now.
The first is to get identification, then a room. From there, he thinks he can find work as a welder. One of the problems I have heard over and over from people living on the streets is not having an address. This becomes an impediment in job hunting because there is no way a future employer can get in touch with the person seeking employment. Additionally, homeless men and women do not have ready access to a computer where potential jobs are listed. Charlie told me he has made a connection with a social services agency called CASES, and they are permitting him to use their address to give to employers when job hunting.
Charlie is hoping that he will soon have room to call his own, a job, and to sleep on a soft pillow. Until then, he is surviving using concrete pillows on the streets and the subway.