Moving to New York City at the age of 19 to pursue a summer internship in public art was bold. I have never lived alone before. It is my first time having to feed and care for myself without the assistance of college. Although I often hear that moving to new york is never a bad idea, I have found myself in doubt sometimes. This city is expensive. I'm renting a room in Brooklyn that has no closet, AC, and is the size of my bed (a full by the way). I went to get a grilled cheese, and it cost sixteen dollars. But there are benefits.
Just a walk down the street reveals art murals so vast I could inspect them forever. I see everyone from guys with their shorts hanging off their butts to men in suits. I have seen art from the beginning of our species arrival on this planet at the MET. I have seen installations at the Guggenheim that encouraged me to think about how people perceive the roles of wives in China. I have been led blindfolded through a sound installation in City Hall Park that highlighted air pollution and the experiences of those with breathing ailments. I have kissed someone in Central Park on top of the Shakespeare Garden. I have walked around Chinatown and grabbed dinner at a random restaurant. I have tried tiramisu tea at this cute Chinese place and the best salad of my life at Chopt. I have taken the subway in the opposite direction of where I was headed. I have gotten lost in Grand Central Station. I have seen more Starbucks in this city than I have in my whole life. I have been angry at environmental injustice. I have cried because I have also seen so much plight.
Nothing prepared me for the sheer number of homeless people asking for food in the subways and streets of New York City. These people are not trying to fund their drug addiction or anything like that. They are hungry, starving people who are just trying to make it day by day. For the first time in the dozens of subway trips I've taken into Manhatten, I saw someone give a homeless person cash and food. There is a horrid subhumanization of homeless people in this city. Every time I am on a subway with a homeless person, they say a statement that usually goes like this:
"Hello everyone. I want to apologize if I am causing any disturbance to your day. I have been homeless for three years, and usually, I can get a dollar or two for food. Today was a particularly bad day and I don't know what to do because I have nothing to eat. If any of you could find it in your hearts to spare me some food, it would be greatly appreciated. I apologize for any disturbances I have caused. Thank you for being willing to hear me speak. I hope you have a great day and a safe trip home. God bless you."
These are not the statements of the stereotyped homeless, yet I hear this speech so often, with some parts differing. Some have children. Some are veterans. Some have been homeless for a few years, others more. Almost all are elderly and have trouble walking.
It breaks my heart to see these homeless people, yet I have no idea what to do.
On Google Maps, I see homeless shelters. There are several in place. On the subways, I see an advertisement by the city government to help homeless people this winter by texting a specific number which can provide them with shelter and food. Clearly, something is not working if I see at least ten homeless people a day on my commute to East Village, Manhattan from north Brooklyn.
I thought the most significant difficulty I would encounter when moving to New York City would be learning independence, but I was wrong. It is seeing mass suffering face to face on a scale I've never encountered before. I have always known that immense suffering exists globally and that the extent is heartbreaking. And yet, it is different to see these homeless people before my own eyes and know that they are just trying to survive.
What kind of life is that? To strive for survival, and be unsure if you can even make it the night? What about happiness? Love? I see these people, and I can't fathom the thought of not giving more of my taxes to help fund government programs to help them. I can't face this suffering and feel in my heart that I would rather have some extra cash than have this homeless person have a safe bed and warm food for tonight. I just can't.
The other day, someone told me that they believe we shouldn't spend any of our taxes on public healthcare because if they can't afford to treatment because they're too poor, then it's their fault. The individual said that he shouldn't have to pay for others health because it has no relevance to his life. I was shocked and horrified. Sure, I don't know the homeless man or the person who is struggling with illness needing a hospital bed, but I don't have to. I have my humanity. I have empathy, compassion, care for these people because I recognize their suffering, and I feel this need to end it. I feel in my heart that I have to help this person because it is right. I don't know how to explain to someone why we should care about other people.
This day and age scare me. I don't want to live in a world where people don't have homes, and your child dies of cancer because you can't afford treatment. I don't want to live in a world where women don't have access to education and one in every three women is sexually assaulted or raped. I don't want to live in a world where people are forced to work in hazardous conditions below minimum wage. I don't want to live in a world where children are separated from their families because they were born in different countries. I don't want to live in a world where people adopt foster children so they could abuse the kids and spend the government money on themselves. I don't want to live in a world where being gay is a death sentence. I don't want to live in a world where animals die due to global warming and we do nothing about it.
I know you and I may not share the same beliefs or lives, but we are both human beings. We both want love and happiness. We both have cried. We both have experienced heartbreak. It does not matter that we are strangers because we all feel these things.
And that is why I am making a call for empathy. I am asking for us to acknowledge our shared humanity and say, "Enough is enough. I will not tolerate this anymore."
To step up and say, "No more needless suffering."
To say, "I am here for you" to every person suffering needlesly.
To feel your heart, and do what is right.
To hope for something better, and to know it is achievable because together, we can heal this world.