Would you give ‘Hardcore Homeless’ James an apartment?

James on his rounds on March 6, a sunny but cold morning. He collects returnable bottles and cans, and puts them in his shopping cart next to his sleeping bag and other possessions.

James on his rounds March 6, a sunny but cold morning in Syracuse, NY. He collects returnable bottles and cans, and puts them in his shopping cart. James sleeps outside every night.

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.

James on his rounds on March 6, a sunny but cold morning. He collects returnable bottles and cans, and puts them in his shopping cart next to his sleeping bag and other possessions.

James on his rounds on March 6, in a commercial-residential area in Syracuse. His shopping cart holds all his possessions.

“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?


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in Homeless, hunger, Irish Investigations, poverty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Would you give ‘Hardcore Homeless’ James an apartment?

  1. markbialczak says:

    I hope governmental programs can do much better for the homeless, Jim, than they are doing now. I am still unsure if James would ever trust any such program. Tough situation, and one I think speaks for part of the problem, a great mistrust for many things between so many of the folks on both sides of the problem.


  2. Jim McKeever says:

    Agreed, Mark … the apartment concept won’t work for a lot of homeless, but the evidence is there that it does work for some. And if the studies are correct, it’s not an extra “burden” on the taxpayer. Would it work for James? Only one way to find out.


  3. So much more needs to be done. An apartment might not help James without other resources available. But for every person it can’t help, there are dozens that it could. Thanks for writing this.


  4. ermigal says:

    Thanks for the post, Jim–do you know if Syracuse will be using the 100,000 Homes model? I think many of us would get involved in such a movement. I noticed on the website map that there is only one site using this concept, in Western NY. we can do better than this.


  5. Steve says:

    A key thing to remember is that 100K places folks in supervised housing, where they are monitored and helped to get back on their feet. Ermigal, the folks in Syracuse are taking a serious look at all options, particularly housing first.


  6. I work in a job where I often work with someone who is homeless. And there is no way to encapsulate all of the reasons why someone is on the street. Some would truly benefit from a program like this. And some would not even want it. For some, the mistrust, or the insecurity they feel being around others or other varied reasons, keep them from feeling safe in any housing. It’s difficult to understand. But it would sure be wonderful if we had a home for every human being who wanted/needed one. The options are scarce.


  7. Jim McKeever says:

    Thanks Colleen, and you are right that this won’t work for all. The 60 Minutes segment by Anderson Cooper does show that, but it was encouraging to see the success stories. I honestly don’t know if James would thrive in a supervised apt., but the conditions he lives in are just awful. Jim


  8. It’s disappointing to hear people assuming the homeless to be ignorant and indolent. And people bully, not necessarily those who pass by, but those he had to deal with in the past–those who try to persuade him to do make bad decisions, those same people who find him and steal his belongings when he did reject temptation in the past. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen James out and about, asleep in the doorway. I did work across the street in that State Office Building.


  9. Jim McKeever says:

    Chris, you are correct — James is quite articulate and reads newspapers (plural) every day, from what I can tell. There’s still so much about him I don’t know. Jim


  10. kathe32 says:

    James needs a tiny house. He needs to be alone.


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