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This is Wayne


Wayne was standing at the apex of the triangle island between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues by the 72nd Street entrance to the subway.  He had a plastic cup in hand, animated and vocal as he jingled the change in the cup, calling out for people to contribute so he could eat.  It was 4:45 PM on a warm afternoon, and Wayne had not eaten yet.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Wayne is 63 and has been homeless since 2017.  He does have many friends and frequently is able to stay with someone for a day or two, sleeping on a couch or with some blankets on the floor, usually in the Bronx.  Though better (of course) than sleeping on the streets or the subway, Wayne is uncomfortable imposing himself on friends and self-conscious because he is usually wearing the only set of clothing he owns.

Wayne's parents passed away in their 50s, his father of a heart attack at the age of 55.  His mother had a stroke at age 56 and died shortly thereafter.  He has a brother and sister, both of whom live in New Jersey.  He sees them from time to time, but neither one can help him.

Wayne was an athlete, working in a gym in Newark New Jersey as a boxer and boxing trainer.  He supported himself living in Newark in a small, rented apartment.  He said, "never get caught with a blade."  When I asked him what that meant, he told me that he was stopped in a "stop and frisk" by the Newark police, and he had a switchblade.  He went to prison for 9 years.  It seemed extreme for only carrying a switchblade knife but he denied there was anyone else or any drugs involved.  Just a switchblade.

When Wayne was released from prison in 2017, he decided not to return to Newark and thought his life would be better in New York City.  However, because he has a criminal record, finding work has been impossible.  Even all the many gyms he applied for work, no one has been willing to hire him. Life after prison has been one of homelessness.  He is remarkably upbeat, despite living on the streets.  "Life is what it is."  He is neither sad nor angry.  People are generous, and he has not gone more than a day or two without eating.  He has not been harassed.


Wayne has a son and a daughter who live in Florida.  He has two granddaughters, but he has never met them.  He has only seen pictures of them.

For Wayne, the future does not look any different than the present.  He realizes that he is not likely to have a roof over his head, and he accepts that.

I asked him if he would like something to eat, and he asked if I would get him a cheeseburger and a vanilla shake from Mcdonald's, which was directly across the street.  Of course, I did.

Wayne's talents as a boxer and boxing trainer are wasted, a testament to the injustices of paying your debt and then being punished for it for the rest of your life.  Wayne's concrete pillow should have been replaced by a pillow in an apartment that he could afford by using those talents in a job that he loved.

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