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Discussing about Poverty and Homelessness in Manhattan Cafe, New York

Homelessness… is neither a diseases nor crime.. but a very serious problem – Timothy Pina.

By i.c Golina

It was a nice sunny Sunday afternoon, I was sitting along the side of the pool at home reading my favourite undercover detective fiction novel by Lee Child. As I was about to put the book down to shut my eyes for few minutes when I had a phone call from Hissy in New York. We talked for few minutes, than she mentioned to me that her husband of 60 years, Frank had passed away of heart-attack. After we parted from the phone conversation, I began to sob and absorb the sad news. I began to think and reflect of a time, few years back, when I was sitting in an elegant coffee bar in downtown Manhattan, New York city talking to my late friend Frank and his wife Hissy from Long Island, New York. It was an unlikely place to be discussing about poverty and homelessness but that was the subject on our mind.

Luxurious cafe in Manhattan, New York.

I meet Frank and Hissy on the train where I worked, whilst they were both on holidays in Cairns 13 years ago. Frank, a retired professor of Astro-Scientist at a prestigious university but he had a great interest in social injustice. His wife, Hissy came from Netherlands originally, but worked in one of the big financial companies in New York as an executive for many years until her retirement. We have been visiting each other over the years. They both lived a very high pressured lifestyle and very successful but they both lived a very simple lifestyle. They spent 5 hours of their time each week helping out in charity work, especially in homeless shelters.

Frank, me and Hissy. Photo taken at Heales Lookout up the Gillies Range, Cairns. Australia

Unlike many other cities in the world, the city of New York is a vibrant city that never sleeps. It has many of the big corporate company headquarters based there in the world. Frank and Hissy, both lived in Long Island but they worked in Manhattan, New York city. They both told me that, everyday they either go by train or drive to work and everyday they witness the increasing number of homeless people in the streets of New York city. As we continued to have our conversation as the waitress brought over our coffees with nicely presented cakes, I looked out the window of the cafe where I was seated, I could witness the reality of what I just heard.

Homeless people sleeping, downtown Manhattan

I found this mystifying and couldn’t get my head around it – about homelessness in New York city. This is America, I reminded myself, it is one of the richest and powerful countries in the world. Is this what “homelessness” is all about? If so maybe we’re better off in some of the poor countries in the world – like Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh and so on where they don’t have sophisticated system of government because of corruption and greed. But then, I stopped myself. This is not a constructive way of thinking. This isn’t about comparing Haiti, Cuba, Bangladesh or the Developing countries versus Western or Developed countries. This is about the social issues or social injustice that we are creating for ourselves. There is approximately 600,000 Americans and 300,000 Canadians who are currently homeless today. We are faced with this serious problem and it will continue to rise but it is kept quite unlike disasters where it makes headlines in television or in front-pages of newspapers. Having this thought in mind, I began to question how this problem of homelessness begun or exist and why it still persist? We do have a crisis or problem and this is about the lives and lifestyles of people that we are leaving behind. We should be learning from this crisis to make life easier in the longer term.

It was about mid-afternoon when we finished our coffee and delicious cakes. As we departed and I made my way to my hotel. As always, the streets of Manhattan is always very busy and it is the major hub for millions of visitors from all walks of life. I couldn’t stopped thinking about Frank and Hissy’s commitment to charity work and their observation on homelessness in the streets of Manhattan. It came back to me every day as I step out of my home and drive to and from work, I began to realise that, there are homeless people everywhere in the city where I live. They made be invisible in the eyes of people as we are constantly busy with our lives but never take a time to look-around-us. Like America, most of the countries around the world, we are faced with this problem of homelessness, it is a crisis and it is imperative that we need to create an alternative way to solve this problem. My friend Frank and Hissy contribute to solving the problem from an individual perspective but it is not solving the problem or going any further in solving the problem. We need to work, collectively, to make aware to the institutions, government and politicians in regional, state, federal or even global level to tackle this issue of homelessness.

This is a complex issue and at the same time, we live a very complex lifestyle. This means that our lifestyles are rapidly changing and so as increasing level on homelessness due to drugs, alcoholism, domestic violence, wars, unemployment, bad investments, corporate greed, natural disasters and so on. This form of homelessness is not only created in one form but in various ways. We should not be hiding poverty and masking oppression. We need to realise that homelessness can never be someone else’s problem and we need to put our heads together as a community and country whether in Australia or elsewhere. We need to heal the world, to make it a better place.

From personal perspective:  For those who are working in the frontline of social services,We should have an understanding and fundamental knowledge of the lived experiences of those who are facing homelessness and carry out those skills in our social work professional practice. For those who are not front workers, we have to be mindful of those around us and we should not judge anyone regardless of who they are.

 

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