Like everyone else in Central New York, my homeless acquaintance James has been riding out a ridiculously long and bitter winter. He’s considered “hardcore homeless” because he refuses to go to a shelter, no matter how cold it gets.
Every time I cut short one of my visits with him because of the cold and retreat to the warmth of my car — and then home — I marvel at how anyone could stay outside 24 hours a day in such conditions.
There’s been renewed attention given to the homeless in Syracuse after a 42-year-old homeless woman froze to death in late February, on a night the windchill was 8-below-zero. Hana Leon was the fifth homeless person to die in Syracuse over the past two winters.
An editorial in The Post-Standard newspaper this week challenged the community to do something to ensure that Hana is the last homeless person to die in our city.
The editorial cited the success of other cities that have taken bold steps to get the homeless off the streets. A national movement, 100,000 Homes, wants to find that many apartments for the homeless by this summer. The organization points to studies showing it actually saves taxpayers money to get the homeless into apartments.
“100K Homes” cites numerous successes, while admitting some failures. I told James about the national program and asked him if Syracuse signed on, would he be interested in an apartment?
“Sure,” he said. “But they talk about a lot of things and don’t do them. This isn’t a big city.”
James said he’s had apartments before, but he would get evicted because he wouldn’t buy drugs from landlords. “And guys find out where I live, and they come and steal my food and my toilet paper,” he said as he sat in the doorway of the abandoned building where he sleeps.
The newspaper editorial said the city of Syracuse, which started the adult literacy movement and is well-known for welcoming refugees, must end chronic homelessness in its midst. Collaboration is needed among elected officials, charitable organizations and (especially) developers and landlords.
The editorial said the community must “see the homeless as people. People who have lost. People who once lived in homes, who once had jobs and who once had hopes and dreams for the future.”
In James’ case, I find it fascinating that from the abandoned doorway where he lives, he can look across the street and see — quite clearly — Syracuse’s City Hall and the State Office Building. I wonder if anyone who works over there has ever seen James?