In New York City
This is Mike
Mike was sitting in front of Trader Joe's with a plastic cup and a cardboard sign asking for donations. There was very heavy foot traffic on a narrow section of sidewalk directly in front of the store. This made it a bit difficult for me to sit in front of him for a conversation. I put a dollar in his plastic cup and sat down on the sidewalk. Pedestrians had to walk around us as if we didn't exist, not untypical of how New Yorkers deal with homeless people.
Mike is 48 years old, and although he is not homeless at the moment, he has been homeless on and off for the past 12 years. He described himself as not being homeless. He is living in various shelters in the Bronx and Manhattan. As I was about to take a photograph of him, he moved the cup with the money and his cardboard sign out of the way. He did not want to be seen as begging for money on the streets of the city.
Mike grew up in a Bronx housing project with his mother and stepfather. Both were New York City school teachers. However, Mike seemed to have difficulty with school. He said he was not a good student that he struggled with math and reading and despite getting lots of help from his mother and stepfather, he was failing.
Mike dropped out of school in the 9th grade. Smiling, he laughed at himself, and said "I know, I know, I should have toughed it out and gotten a high school diploma." But, it was just too difficult for him. His mother died 9 years ago and his stepfather 8 years ago which is when he first began living on the streets in the Bronx and Manhattan.
Mike has one sister, with whom he has cut off all communications. When his mother died, she left some money and some possessions to him but his sister refused to give them to him. He doesn't know why.
Mike's work history is unclear. He spoke of being hit by a truck while crossing an avenue in the Bronx. He had a broken arm, some broken ribs, and a broken leg. He said the injuries from the accident left him with little ability to be financially independent. He has no source of income and is dependent only on the money that passersby provide each day. He is usually able to collect enough money to purchase one meal a day.
As we were talking, a man wearing a shirt with a security label and a Trader Joe's logo on it came out of the store and handed Mike a plastic container with a grilled sandwich in it. He was very grateful for this generosity and said that this may be his only meal for the day.
At this time for Mike, he is not sleeping on concrete pillows each night. However, his nights do not feel safe or comfortable. Grateful for the generosity of the people of New York City that provide him with a daily meal, he has no idea what his future holds.