On Monday during Sandy I worked a 19 hour shift for OEM (medic like stuff) at the evacuation shelter for medical needs at John Jay College west side in the 50s – didn’t handle many many people but there were so so many supplies, tons and tons of everything – food, water, med supplies, personal hygiene stuff, blankets, everything, pallets and pallets of the stuff.
And some school shelters serving as evac centers turned into and remain real homeless shelters for a real hardcore dysfunctional homeless population; same problem I wrote about last year during Irene no-seinfeldian-glee-temporary-storm-shelter-john-jay?page=all (okay I suck at a lot but I’m good at a few things, this being one, so I single handedly was able to clear the whole homeless population from Norman Thomas high school last year so it could open the next day). That’s not a policy, that’s one guy with street charisma on a mini martyr trip who happened to be volunteering. And non homeless folk are not going to want to share evac shelters with serious homeless people during a future disaster, even on just simple hygiene issue problems. Evacuees were faking illness this year to move into the nicer med evac center area rather than stay in general population.
On Thursday I went to the Lower East Side/Chinatown on my own, by Jacob Riss school, Catherine Street, near the East river (supposed to be an evac center but it never happened, not sure why, no Tues it’s still closed, presumably because of damage).
Insane – hundreds and hundreds of people lined up (Chinese and black and Latino folk from the nearby Smith projects) for promises of food and water for hours and hours, holding buckets and pots for water– they had nothing, little children and old people filling up and drinking out of fire hydrants, small children half naked using the streets as a toilet, old Chinese women burning newspapers in large flaming cans in the streets — absolutely no one there (volunteers, OEM, FEMA, city – FEMA had one big truck elsewhere in Chinatown, all they had was a power strip to charge phones for people) — nobody there to give them anything or tell them anything, know one knew anything – only a huge police presence at the distribution center and one man from the Salvation Army doing nothing (all those supplies from John Jay and likely the same supplies at many other evac shelters in upper Manhattan that didn’t need them – they could have easily been positioned or sent down there to LES/Chinatown if there was any proper or good coordination).
Up by blacked out 1st ave and the 20s in Manhattan where I live here was a one legged man in a wheelchair seemingly disoriented in a traffic. Turns out he was three days without the heavy methadone dose he takes daily (think he said 150 mgs) and also Xanax – withdrawing, weak, freaking out, crowds of people he couldn’t navigate through. He said he needed to get to Bellevue for the methadone; I pushed him like 12 blocks hard to even push him through all that chaos and when we got to Bellevue he saw the people who run the program in the lobby – they told him the program was shut. What do I do he asked? Um, I think you have to go up to Metropolitan hospital (in Harlem) and I think their meth program is working, they said. 100 blocks and many avenues. How am I going to get there? He asked. The clinic people, health care professionals said, “Um maybe you can find someone who’s going and get a ride with them.” Yeah, right. No handicap transport van, no transport ambulance offered, The guy was screwed so bad. I asked him if he wanted money for a cab and he said no that’s alright and I left him there as he was talking to them about how anguished he was and how much he hated himself.
There is an attraction to the street life: those moments when you’re curled up on the pavement, freedom gear slung over your back, cocky in your rebel-as-loser pose. You’re the outsider who can sit on the sidelines and laugh at the misguided straights rushing by with their ridiculous attempts at charity (go ahead, try and help me), and at the parade of journalists, urban anthropologists, volunteers, caseworkers, clergy who are somehow dependent on you. If he, on the street, were to take the next step up and, say, get a job sweeping the footbridge instead of playing homeless on it, all the power and attention he commanded would dissipate and people would likely pass him by without a word.
But there’s also this side: he, that man on the street I was talking about – – When I last saw him he told me he was going to steal a van and seek out a community of witches in Wales and eventually fix up a derelict cottage to live in.
We became very alright with each other. Before I left England I gave him my poncho and a tartan overshirt and we exchanged addresses. Less then a month later he died in his flat of a drug overdose. He lay there for three weeks, his dog barking inside the apartment, before his body was discovered.
The whole story is on my website JournalismWorksProject
at the link:http://www.journalismworksproject.org/simon-titlepage.html