[Jean came by again yesterday and raged on our intercom to the effect that we had deceived her "in 1953 when we first met," that we were really secret powerful Klan operatives based in Louisiana. Having delivered her message she went on her way again -- happily the weather not being as frigid as it has been and will be again.
Jean is a homeless African American woman who has been wondering our city streets since we in fact first met her -- she had been working at the Central Park Ice Cream Cafe where one of our teen daughters had had a brief summer job several decades ago. Jean told us that she was an NYU grad and was at that time deeply upset that a NYC hospital had diagnosed her as being schizophrenic. About that time we also met her mother when Jean brought her by -- a fine and intelligent person obviously deeply worried about Jean's wanderings about the city. Jean also has some siblings who, one gets the sense, do not welcome Jean's occasional appearances and requests for money.
For a time we tried to help Jean. We spoke to a therapist who had treated Jean briefly and then given up. We contacted the Catholic priests' residence in Far Rockaway where Jean would occasionally arrive in the wee hours and demand a ham and cheese sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes "and don't forget the mayo." Later Jean told us that they had had her arrested for disturbing the peace.
Somewhere down the line we gave up on trying to help Jean directly. She wanted to move in with us, but her rages and our lack of space would have made this impossible. After that Jean turned her anger at us and started sending us every magazine subscription for which she could find a free mail in form. Our daily mail routine became to return to sender unwanted bills for same with the notation (taught us by the post office) that this was "mail fraud."
We did seek advice as to how provision might be made for housing Jean in a room in some public facility? We were told by experts that such was unlikely as one had to start that process as a bottom feeder and work one's way up -- but that angry ones were not welcomed into the system.
We are glad that Jean is still alive and moving along. She must be in her late fifties or early sixties now. We did not see her yesterday, but on most occasions she looks healthy -- except one time when she must have been badly beaten up in some encounter.
There was a time when Jean would have been held in one of our state mental hospitals. But those have mainly been closed down now with a promise of their replacement with local facilities which was not kept.
We see any number of homeless on our prosperous streets in Morningside Heights where all the SROs that used to provide some shelter for the homeless have been replaced by co-ops and condominiums. We are now a gentrified world which is largely owned by Columbia University which leases to neighborhood stores and restaurants at rates which have converted them more or less to luxury outlets. Columbia is also moving in on lower West Harlem -- 17+ acres where it hopes to build a money-making biotech center, displacing people living and earning their income there by eminent domain procedures -- and in the surrounding neighborhoods which will also become "gentrified" and affordable only by the well off.
The only local places for our homeless to sleep now are: 1) on the steps of a local Presbyterian church (which, I gather, takes in about 6-8 a night also), 2) our subway stations at the far end away from the entrances, 3) the train tunnel running under Riverside Park (or on occasions in improvised shelters where a tree has been uprooted in a woodsy part of the park). As we live facing the river we can smell the smoke of trash being burned in the rail tunnel on relatively calm nights when it is not being dissipated by the cruel west winds blowing in from the Hudson -- now filled with floating ice.
They tell me that Jean is lucky to be a women. Were she a man, she would by now have been incarcerated in a NY state solitary confinement cell where we house many of our mentally ill 23/7. These jailings, needless to say, finish off the mentally ill and drive them fully into psychotic insanity where they can only rage against the sound proofed walls of their cells. Some commit suicide (See below). They do not often obtain the medications that might have relieved them from their madness -- except in cases where states are eager to execute murderers during a brief interlude of medically induced sanity.
If you meet Jean give her whatever help you can. Usually a few dollars will allow her to get on with her travels. Hopefully she will not end up in one of those hospitals described below which will dump her out when she is least able to cope with our cruel world.
‘Dumping’ of Homeless by Hospitals Stirs Debate
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
Prosecutors in California are hoping a bill introduced in
the State Senate will give them stronger legal firepower to
charge the hospitals that leave homeless patients on
“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)
Ed Kent 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]