Begging for Jobs Not Money: NYC Homelessness on the Rise

September 4, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , United States

Reuters photo



Olena Kagui



On my trip to New York last Christmas, I ticked all the popular tourist landmarks off my bucket list. In the end, what stuck with me wasn’t seeing the Empire State building from the world-famous Top of the Rock Observatory, but rather my unexpected encounter with an elderly homeless man.


He was sitting on the hard pavement with a shivering dog wrapped up in a dirty blanket somewhere in between the Union Square Christmas Market and Beyond Sushi where I was headed to spend $35 on fake fish. A lady a few paces in front of me had given him a steaming cup of Starbucks without a second glance. His useless coffee collection grew, and he now had the choice between Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s and a few others that my foreign brain didn’t recognize.


Inspired into generosity, I uncharacteristically gave the man $20 and an overpriced vegan cookie that I was saving as post-sushi dessert. But unlike the lady before me, I couldn’t walk away as he looked up to thank me. His entire face wrinkled brightly with evidence that his life had once been happy.


“This will help me pay for a place to sleep,” he told me, cradling the tiny mutt gently. “I can’t stay at a shelter or a shared hostel dorm because of her, so it can get expensive.”


Sharing his love for animals, I smiled back and wished him luck. I hesitated to leave, my thoughts racing with anger at the unfair choice these vulnerable people face. They are forced to choose between having a loyal companion and a safe place to sleep. Sensing my indecisiveness, the man brought his palms together as if in prayer, making me regret not leaving when I’d had the chance. I was ready to be firm and reject giving him more money when he spoke.


“I’m so sorry to bother you after you’ve already helped me so much,” he said with a pleading look in his eyes, “but do you happen to know anyone who would give me a job? Any job! I’ve had a lot of handiwork experience since leaving the army.”


The tension left my body and I felt completely helpless. I quickly explained that I was just a tourist visiting from China and that I didn’t know anyone in New York. I needed to get away before my voice quivered and I started blubbering in front of the poor man. He wished me a wonderful day and I left, reminding myself that my pity wouldn’t help him. Though that may be true, there must be organizations that do help. So why was this work-seeking veteran on the street?


There was another man who approached me at a different time during the five-day trip. I was alone on Brighton beach recording a vlog on my Go-Pro. He was barely older than me, joked about my earmuffs reminding him of Princess Leia form Star Wars. It was only after he left, $10 richer, that I realized how dangerous it was to be alone with a stranger in such an isolated place.


If that man on the beach had mugged me in desperation, the police would have gotten involved immediately. But what if they got involved earlier, protecting the people who need the most help? Turns out there are many organizations in New York that offer food, shelter, medicine and rehabilitation to the homeless.


The ultimate goal of non-profits such as Ali Forney Center, Bowery Mission, BronxWorks, the Doe Fund, New York City Rescue Mission, Picture the Homeless and Women in Need, just to mention a few, is to give these people the tools to let them lead normal lives. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, an all-time record 63,495 men, women and children slept in local homeless shelters each night in 2017.


With so many different organizations and volunteers, why are thousands of people still sleeping on the streets with nowhere to go? Does the problem lie with the shelters that are stretched too thin to successfully reintegrate the homeless into society? Do employers choose against hiring people off the streets despite their skills and past experiences? These questions and ways to solve homelessness should move to the top of New York City’s To-Do list.





Olena Kagui

Hello, I’m Olena Kagui and I am passionate about writing. I write articles about politics, travel, fashion and more. I can do interviews in 5 languages (English, Czech, Ukrainian, German and Russian) and I enjoy blogging. Recently I have been doing more creative writing. Right now I am trying to publish my romance novel manuscript and I am constantly looking for new opportunities to contribute to newspapers and magazines.

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