New York Homeless Crisis starts to hit home.
“My name is Akwasi, and I am from Ghana. I have been sleeping on the trains for the last two weeks. It's a long story but the summary is that my cousin, whom I was staying with, was thrown out by his girlfriend. According to her, my cousin was trying to sleep with her daughter.”
This is what this young man, who I kept running into almost every morning on the train, told me, as I noticed his features as definitely Ghanaian. Is this the American dream that he envisioned when he left Ghana for the United States? Did he have other relatives who could take him in? Was he saving his money by deciding not to rent an apartment because housing is usually the biggest expense from our paychecks, (Yes, some people actually do that to avoid paying rent) or is he really homeless?
President Trump recently called out the Mayors of California and New York on their large homeless populations, and it is obvious, at least here in New York City, that the homeless population has increased significantly.
In a city of more than 8.4 million people, nearly 1 in 135 New Yorkers is homeless. Every night, nearly 4,000 people sleep on the street, in the subway system, or in other public spaces, according to the New York City Department of Homeless Services.
I have my opinion as to why this is the case, and that would be forthcoming but the subject of this story, is not the why, but the who. Populations that not too long ago, were never homeless, are now seeing a significant number. It is quite alarming and that is, the immigrant population in general but particularly from West Africa.
Today when you ride most trains that run in and out of the Bronx, you are likely to see a homeless person no matter what time of the day. Some of them are clean, like Akwasi, but most are disheveled and often seem to have some type of addiction, drugs, alcohol or both. And as in the case of Akwasi, who told me that he knows other Ghanaians who also sleep in trains, they often come together to protect each other while they ride, and even take turns in sleeping as well as protecting their belongings, as they are attacked by other homeless people, or by young people playing pranks on them, or shooed off the trains by the Police.
Back in the late eighties and early nineties, when there was a large influx of West African Immigrants into the United States, most of whom settled in the New York, it was common to see the early arrivals provide shelter and food for even strangers as long as they were Africans, or often from the same country. There was a sense of "looking out for each other". Familial relations among people not related, has been fostered as a result of this generosity. And anyone who has travelled outside the continent knows that whoever gives you food and shelter, is really an Angel to you and you must respect and appreciate them, especially if you are stranger to them.
Today, it seems like we are turning away from looking out for each other. We are leaving our brothers and sisters to roam the streets, instead of taking them in, like others did for us when we first arrived. There are some horror stories where people who have been provided shelter have turned around and betrayed their benefactors. But most people are decent, and just need a helping hand to get on their feet, in a land where, often, all they came with, is a dream and no plan. Today in New York City, there are several African owned places of worship, and they could easily house Akwasi, his friends and many more like him. But we shun them, turn our heads when we encounter them, and treat them like they are less than.
There is "Abdoul" from Senegal (not his real name) who is always roaming the streets in Harlem, where there is a bustling Senegalese community all around him. Obviously, "Abdoul" has some Mental challenges, but what happened to taking care of our own? Thankfully, in the case of Akwasi, we managed to guide him to some Agencies and organizations who helped him to find an affordable apartment. Today, he is doing well, and we hope that at least he would share his new apartment with some of his friends he used to sleep on the train with.
Our houses of worship, organizations, societies, as well as those who have managed to achieve "the American Dream" must help pull others up, so that no African immigrant would be homeless, unless they choose to.
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