New York Today

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Every day, I see more and more people sprawled on the street. A scene like this is typical: life going on while a guy is flat on the ground. Often, the blankets, boxes and bedding around the figure suggest they are homeless. Less often, the person looks as if they’ve collapsed on the spot–I assume intoxicated with a substance, as appears to be the case with this man whom I saw a couple weeks ago at the corner of 9th Avenue and 43rd Street in Manhattan.

What’s unusual in this photo is that a police officer is on the scene, although the situation doesn’t necessarily call for police intervention. A representative from a social service agency would be ideal. I suppose in the old days (whenever they were), a stranger might have offered a helping hand.  Did such days really exist? Perhaps in a small town people were (and are) willing to lend a hand, when  requests for help come infrequently. But in Manhattan, where there are  people begging on every other street corner and bodies and blankets squeezed into doorways and along sidewalks across Midtown, stopping to help does not feel like a viable option.  The problem is too large for any one good Samaritan, and even stopping to give a quarter or a sandwich isn’t a solution (although perhaps it is a solution of the moment, for one person’s fleeting need).

Each person I see provokes a series of questions: Who are they? How did they get there? Are they in any way responsible for their current unfortunate situation or are they entirely victims (and why do I feel the need to assign blame anyway)? Aren’t there social services that can help them? Why are there so many street people? Why don’t they rise up and demand change? Why don’t they travel to a friendlier environment where they can sleep on soft ground and not cement? What was their life like 10 years ago? What will it be like 10 years from now?

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