New York City has a homeless crisis and it’s getting worse. According to The Coalition for the Homeless, there were 58,761 in city shelters per night during June 2015, not to mention the many who sleep outside and who cannot be accurately counted. Indeed, many homeless people choose to avoid shelters due to persistent violence and theft. Better shelters were a prominent concern, but foremost everyone interviewed stressed the critical need for improved care for the mentally ill.
Sibtaim Rahim, 42, a soft spoken-man sitting in front of The Bowery Mission in Downtown Manhattan said that “making mental health workers more accessible to those who are homeless in a more active way” would be an important step. Only a few blocks away on Prince Street, a few steps off of Broadway in Soho, a homeless man gripping a prayer card began to sob uncontrollably. He asked not to be named but pleaded for help for the mentally ill.
Even when services are available, there are still problems. Peter Thomas Diaz, 60, planted by a subway entrance on Grand and Chrystie Street, criticized shelter workers. “They need to really care about us…. Sometimes they’re just middle class people behind a desk,” he said. This disengagement is all the more damaging if Jonesie Quartey, a resident at The Bowery Mission, is right. “It’s a psychological thing,” he pointed out. Elaborating, he continued, “you have to break that membrane, that vibe or negativity…. so you can redirect your own life and destiny.”
This is hard to imagine in the shelter environment these homeless people described. Sibtaim explains that “most people, even if they have access to shelters choose to sleep on the street. There’s a lot of violence that goes on, and theft.” Peter shares the same observation and explains that he’s avoided the shelter system for years for those same reasons.