This is Malcolm
Malcolm was sitting on the sidewalk at 58th Street and 7th Avenue, calling out in a booming voice "help feed the homeless, help feed the homeless," over and over. I handed him a dollar and asked if he had eaten today. It was now 1:30 in the afternoon and Malcolm had not had anything to eat yet. I also asked if we could talk a bit. He said "we can talk all you want as long as you pray for me." I told him that I would.
Malcolm is 58 years old and has been homeless for most of his adult life. He was born in the South Bronx and raised as an only child by a single mom. He lived with her until she died when he was 19. They had been living in public housing in the Bronx, but with her passing, he was on the streets on his own. He described himself as a "child of the streets." He did not attend class in grade school often and dropped out in his second year of high school. He said that he had mental health problems as a child. He was hyperactive and got into many scuffles both in and out of the classroom. As an adult, he continued to have difficulty getting along. He blamed it on the violent people who live in the Bronx. He believes it has recently gotten worse. He feels much safer in Manhattan. He has not been back to the Bronx for the past 10 years. He has no friends and no family other than his mother's sister who lives in North Carolina with whom he has not spoken since his mother died.
Rikers Island is well known to Malcolm as he has been in and out on three occasions. The most recent was in 2019. He said he had been in one of the men's shelter at the time when someone stole food from him. There was a brawl and Malcolm was arrested and sent to Rikers. It seemed a bit of a stretch that he would be sent to Rikers because he was in a fistfight, but he said "that is what they do to people like me."
Malcolm has applied for Social Security Income. But, he needs an address to apply and to apply for work. He is able to use the address of the social service agency, Housing Works, which has been helping him. He mentioned his mental health issues several times. He said he is taking Prozac and Wellbutrin, antidepressant medications that are provided to him free at Housing Works.
While I was talking to Malcolm a young man came up to him and handed him two brown shopping bags filled with food and toiletries. I asked the young man what agency he works for. He works at Mary's House. They provide food for the homeless. They go out on the streets with food looking for homeless people. I asked if he knew that Malcolm was here. He said no, he just left the kitchen with the food looking for someone to give it to. Malcolm was a little overwhelmed with the generosity and very grateful.
Although Malcolm told me he wants to work and believes that he will be able to find work, it seems that it will be an uphill battle for him. Many of the homeless people I have spoken with over the past three years of this project have been on the streets for a long time. Some, just for a few months, and some for as many as eight or ten years. Some are resigned to this life, while others hope to get back into an apartment or a room. Malcolm has been living on the streets of New York City for most of his adult life, except for the times he was incarcerated. He continues to hope that he will find work. I believe that hope for the future helps manage despair, as is the case for Malcolm, no matter how unrealistic that hope may or may not be.
At least for today, Malcolm won't go to sleep on that concrete pillow with an empty stomach.