Oppenheimer Community Center
I started to converse with Benny, the staff member at the community center. I told him about my plans. He respectfully gave me some of his advice and insight on the situation here. He listed some shelters and community centers located nearby. Benny has been working here for three years and I can tell that he is very good at his job. Someone at the community center overheard our conversation and started to join in.
I forgot his name, but he and his wife were playing cards together. He thought it was weird that I am voluntarily sleeping on the streets. But as soon as we started to talk about life in general, I quickly realized that he, just like any other person I have met so far, had an amazing story to tell.
He had been homeless throughout Canada and the US for about 10 years. Being homeless in New York, he recalls, was the hardest thing for him. He continually emphasized that being homeless in Canada is very different than the US. Next he mentioned how a country like India would be the “best place” to be homeless because it is in their culture to help those in need. He said that it is seen as good karma to help those in need, especially the ones who are following a spiritual path of non-materialism.
Here in the West, he continued, being homeless is considered as a lazy and an irresponsible way of life. He subscribed to this point of view. He added that most people who are on the streets choose this kind of lifestyle because they are too irresponsible to clean up and get off the streets.
When I asked him how he fought his crack addiction he told me that he quit because he had to. He has five kids now and has bought himself a place to live. In fact, he said he two homes. For him, now is the time to raise his family. I asked him if it was the love for his children that drove change within him. He rejected that conclusion with “no, I had to be more responsible”.
He concluded with a horror story that we are probably more accustomed to hearing from people living on the streets. There was a point in time when he had to protect his sister from a pimp. For those who do not know, a pimp sells women for money and in return she gets drugs and protection. He said that the pimp was continually injecting his sister with heroin. So while being a good brother, he felt that it was his duty to protect her from this man. As he was waking up one morning, he recalled feeling dizzy. He noticed a syringe lying next to him. The pimp injected him with heroin while he was asleep. He confessed violently ending that conflict and freeing his sister.