This is Ramon
Ramon was sitting on the sidewalk on Broadway between 70th and 71st street with cup in hand, sans the usual cardboard sign asking for help. I asked if he was homeless. He told me he has been living in a shelter for the past three years.
Ramon, now age 60, was 28 when he left his home in Guatemala City. Life in Guatemala was very hard, with no work and many street gangs and drugs. Although his mother and father lived together, his father had many affairs and made no attempt to hide them from his wife. There were many violent arguments between them with objects being thrown and physical fights. Ramon felt that life would be better in the United States. He came to New York City and found his way to Suffolk County, Long Island. He eventually obtained working papers and for many years drove a forklift truck in a warehouse earning about $600 a week. That income permitted him to rent a room in a private home. However, he was being paid "off the books" which meant that he had no paid vacation or health insurance. There was a time during the '90s that he was addicted to drugs and spent 10 days at an in-patient treatment facility. He has been drug-free ever since. In 2017, he injured his hand, cutting it which lead to a serious blood infection. He could no longer drive a forklift truck, and he lost his job and rented room.
The infection spread to his right foot and he was hospitalized at Jamaica Hospital in Queens. The doctors thought he would need to have his foot amputated, but they were able to treat the infection and save his foot. The infection is still festering and painful.
Social workers at Jamaica Hospital were unable to find a shelter for Ramon in Queens or Long Island, but they did arrange for him to go to a shelter in the Bowery, in Manhattan. He has been living in that shelter for the past three years. He said he wants to work and earn his own keep. But until the infection is resolved, he will remain unemployed.
Ramon does not eat at the shelter - "the food is very bad." He stays away except at night to sleep. I asked him if he had eaten yet, and he had not. I got him a sandwich from one of the food trucks and he was very appreciative. He has no possessions other than what was in a small bag that he had with him. He keeps his one change of clothing in that small bag. He showers at the shelter, changes, and then washes the dirty clothes. He has no friends and no family. He has not been in contact with his parents since he left Guatemala and has no idea if they are still alive.
Ramon is hoping the infection in his leg will heal so that he will be able to work again. However, he knows the longer he is out of work, the dimmer his chances are of that happening. Although his pillow at night is not made of concrete, he considers himself a person of the street. Ramon has never given up the hope that he will work again, and afford to own his own pillow again.