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This is Nathaniel


I saw Nathaniel sitting on the corner of 83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue on a warm June day. When I approach someone sitting on the sidewalk (often on a milk crate), I usually ask if they are "homeless." But this time, I decided to ask differently. I said, "Do you have a place to stay?"  "Yes, I have been living on 85th Street near Broadway for a year and a half."  But, as we spoke, it became clear that Nathaniel is living on the streets and does not have an indoor room with plumbing and electricity.  But he sees it as his home.

Nathaniel is 63 years old, born in Florida, the only child of a single mother raised by her and an uncle.  His uncle and cousins are the only family he has now, and he is close to them.

When Nathaniel was 14, he dropped out of school and floundered with little direction.  He didn't have any idea what he wanted to do, but said that he was determined to stay off drugs.  He had many friends in the neighborhood using crack and cocaine and saw what it was doing to them.

Nathaniel never used drugs.  A year after he dropped out of school, his uncle decided it was time to move to Savannah, Georgia, with his children and Nathaniel.  He had relatives there and thought the opportunity for work would be better for him.

Living with his uncle and cousins, Nathaniel worked entry-level jobs as a messenger, a food service delivery person, and a security guard in a small department store.  When he was 20, his uncle said he had had enough of the Jim Crow South and needed to move North.  Again, Nathaniel followed his only family, and they all found a place  in Brooklyn, New York.

Brooklyn was good for Nathaniel; he found a job in a meat processing plant, and for the next 10 years, he held a steady job.  However, the pay was always either minimum wage or just above minimum.  He lived with his uncle and cousins and contributed to the rent and grocery bills.  He could neither afford to move out nor did he want to. This was his only family, his only network of support. But, at the age of 55, in 2016, Nathaniel was laid off from his job, a result of a slowdown in business.


Nathaniel decided not to continue living with his uncle and cousins. He did not want to be an economic drain on the family. They wanted him to stay, but he did not feel he could do that. He has been homeless since then.

Homelessness has not been easy for Nathaniel.  The police frequently harass him, and many people have been not kind.  He is lonely but wants to be left alone.  He has a painful blood clot in his leg that needs attention.

It was 1:00 PM, and he had not had anything to eat yet.  I made sure he had some funds to buy lunch.  He told me he would head directly down the block to McDonalds.

I asked what he sees for his future.  The only thing he sees for himself is getting this blood clot fixed.  He is in pain.  He said he doesn't care about dying.  "We all must die sometime; if it is soon, so be it."  Until then, Nathaniel will make do with a New York City concrete pillow.

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