I hadn’t seen J. in more than a week and that was concerning.
It always worries me when one of my “regulars” vanishes. Often, this situation has resulted in me eventually encountering them and getting updates about illnesses, hospital visits, and/or surgeries. Whenyour mission is offering food, clothes, supplies, and more to New York City’s homeless women, you quickly learn to accept an erratic routine.
As for J, she’s Latina and probably in her 60s (FYI: half of homeless people nationwide are over the age of 50). I most often find her on subway platform benches — sitting alone, listening to her old school transistor radio. Initially, it took a while for me to approach her. I just couldn’t gauge her vibe. I’m glad I stayed with it and we eventually connected.
The first time we spoke, J. asked me if I was from Italy. I nodded my head yes (I’m half-Italian and my father was born there). She smiled with palpable pride and declared: “I can always tell!” We shared a laugh, a bond was created, and I promised to keep checking on her. I’ve kept my promise.
Maybe a week or so later, I found J. and handed her a bag of mostly food and snacks. As I do with women who are comfortable with conversation, I asked if she needed/wanted something specific. She replied in her very low voice: “I’d really love a cup of coffee.”
Now there was a request well within my skill set! Off I went back out to street level to buy my friend a cup of joe. However, an unlimited Metrocard won’t let you swipe right back into the same subway station (cruelly designed to prevent people from sharing the card). So, I had to stand just outside the turnstiles and wait for the pre-determined 18 minutes to pass before swiping back in and finding J. — hoping the coffee didn’t get cold and she didn’t get on a train.
But there she was, really savoring the peanut butter cracker sandwiches I’d given her. Her facial expression appeared to be genuine surprise that I truly meant it when I told her I’d bring her coffee.
J. waved me closer and asked: “What organization are you with?”
“No organization,” I replied. “I’m out here on my own.”
She raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Well, thank you.”
My day was made and I hope I brought a little glimmer of light into J.’s life, too. Which brings me back to not seeing her for more than a week. I found her again on a ridiculously warm Easter Sunday.
“How have you been?” I asked.
“I’m listening to my radio,” she calmly replied.
But she was so happy to see me. In fact, she had me lean closer so she could touch the top of my head as if giving me a blessing. A few seconds later, I was grateful to have worn my trademark bandana because I could see she had a bad skin condition. Her right foot was elevated and the skin on her calf/shin looked mighty angry. J. also showed me what looked like hives all across her chest.
(Studies show 73 percent of homeless individuals have at least one unmet, typically chronic health need. This may include any or all of the following: medical, surgical, mental health, vision, dental care, and unfilled prescription needs.)
Back to J.: She speaks roughly 75 percent Spanish/25 percent English to me. I understand (on a good day) 10 percent Spanish/90 percent English. I could see the palpable frustration on her face and hear the genuine exasperation in her voice. And why not?
How often she must have prayed for divine intervention. But some practical joker of a Supreme Being sent her an inept middle-aged white guy. Her eyes silently exclaimed: “Really, God? This guy seems sincere but, seriously?”
After some back and forth, I ascertained that J. needed some clean shirts and a new supply of cortisone cream. I knew I’d get both to her ASAP but… my eyes welled up as I walked away, pondering her vulnerability.
J. and so many other women like her need and deserve professional help and are left to rely on someone as woefully unqualified as me. (If only I could find a volunteer, Spanish-speaking female doctor to occasionally make the rounds with me.)
After a few days of looking for her, I finally found J. that Wednesday. She was sleeping on a subway platform bench with a fair amount of people standing around — pretending they didn’t see her. I inched closer and softly said, “Excuse me?” No luck, so I said it again but louder. This woke J. up and it also got the full attention of everyone in the general vicinity. New Yorkers interact so rarely with homeless people that I garner some truly astonished looks.
J. saw it was me and exclaimed such a loud and happy “hello.” Now the onlookers were intrigued, a few even smiling. I gave her some new shirts, a towel, a bottle of water, and a tube of cortisone. She was ecstatic! J. and I chatted a bit before I moved on. As I walked away, she yelled out: “Thank you!”
Everywhere I looked, I was greeted with shocked faces. Three women in particular were gaping at me with their jaws hanging. One them was tearing up. This is why I ordered business cards (bearing myGoFundMe link) so I can hand ‘em out in such situations. I don’t seek admiration but I do seek and need your donations. Even better, I hope onlookers will be inspired to speak with homeless women and ask them what they need.
Very recently, I was honored by PIX11 News as a “Change Maker.” Of course, I was asked “why?” It didn’t make it into the segment but one of my answers was:
“In activism, we like to imagine we’re standing up for the oppressed. Of course, we’re not above pretending we’re the oppressed. However, we just end up talking over the oppressed as we perform for each other. Now, I’ve chosen to directly ask the most oppressed group in the world — women — what they want and need and how I can help. And then I do my best to deliver.”
To help me help more women, PLEASE CLICK HERE AND DONATE NOW.
Mickey Z. is the founder of Helping Homeless Women — NYC, offering direct relief to women on the streets of New York City. To help him grow this project, CLICK HERE and make a donation right now. And please spread the word!
Who Cares About Helping Homeless Women? by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://worldnewstrust.com/who-cares-about-helping-homeless-women-mickey-z.