Hidden NYC – The Ugly Side of New York City

“When I ask for food or money, people look at me like I’m dirty, like I’m a crackhead. It isn’t even about the food or the money, I’m struggling – really struggling, it wouldn’t kill them to smile at me, to show me some kindness.”

With Fall here and the holidays knocking at our doorsteps there are many who are eagerly anticipating the approaching season of love, joy and community.  For children it means the excitement of hot chocolate, school days off and the annual eagerness of unwrapping gifts delivered by Santa. For the girly girls it means forgoing the pumpkin spice lattes for eggnog and spending an obnoxious amount of hours in Bath and Body Works looking for the new “festive” scents (yeah, we’ve all been there). For professors and students, it means a respite from a truck ton of work, but what do the holidays mean for the homeless?

November is the beginning of the holiday season and while it may be a joyful time for some it initiates a season of dread for those who are without food, shelter, love or resources. It is scientifically proven that cases for depression increase around November and peak  in December, primarily around Christmas time. Why? While these seasons are a time of festivities and happiness for some, for others it is only the beginning of sorrows as the fear of cold, hunger, nights under thin blankets and Christmas alone in a homeless shelter nip the mind. For some it may not be homelessness or money related –  but loneliness or depression. It may be that elderly person living alone on your street whose family and friends have forgone contact or a single mom who is desperately hurting because she can barely scrape together enough funds to prepare grilled cheese sandwiches for her children’s Thanksgiving dinner. It may be that kid you always sit next to in class who is silently suffering with an illness and just needs one kind word to make it through the semester – whatever it is, there are ways we can help and heal. If each and everyone in Queens College committed to helping one homeless or hurting person, that would be 19,520 helping hands on these New York City streets. We’ve all got to get started somewhere so, I’ve created a list of some organizations that can kick start our journeys to serving the under served in our city. While attending school and embarking on diverse adventures around New York City are important, let’s make it our mission to help those we can along the way.

(These volunteer opportunities can be directly accessed by logging onto the user friendly hfny.org website. Once you make an account you will be provided with all of the materials, aid and information you need to kickstart your mobilization process to heal NYC)

1. Adopt A Block

“Before The Dream Center became reality, God gave Pastor Matthew Barnett a vision to reach the city. Obediently, he set up his desk outside his church on the sidewalk. When someone walked by, he asked them, “How can we help you?” The main motto of Adopt A Block is to “find a need and fill it,”  and every Saturday the organization stays true to their word as they tirelessly mobilize teams of young adults, college students and adults to distribute hygienic materials, food, diapers, clothes and additional essential items. Adopt A Block assembles volunteers to mow lawns free of charge and to visit and clean up for the home-bound who are at risk of eviction because they are unable to clean up their apartments themselves. If you are seeking a way to touch lives this Winter check out their program.


 2. Don’t Walk By

Photo Credit: media.defense.gov

If you are looking to make a direct impact in the community but are unable to dedicate chunks of time to a cause, check out Hope For New York’s Annual Don’t Walk By Event. Volunteers scout the streets and subway platforms seeking out the homeless in order to not only offer food and essential materials, but alternative opportunities that allow them to turn their lives around. They provide the homeless with care kits and refer them to the residential recovery program. New York City is a metropolis so all hands are needed and there are five dynamic roles you can take on (Street engagement, team leader, subway engagement, hospitality and medical professionals). This year’s event kicks off in February.

3. God’s Love We Deliver

If you’re too anxious to get face to face and personal with others, volunteer for God’s Love We Deliver. Before I felt comfortable engaging the homeless community face to face, I volunteered here consistently and I will say at God’s Love We Deliver they are certainly motivated by their cause which is to aid all those who are sick and shut in. Take some time to bag fresh and nutritious food for those who find it hard to feed themselves. The program also has a special Thanksgiving packing , where you are able to put together a grocery pack that goes directly to aid families in celebrating their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

4. The Bowery Mission

Your gifts and talents can make a difference and will certainly put to use at the Bowery Mission. From cooking meals, teaching free classes, being a mentor, helping out at shelters, and visiting inmates the Bowery Mission can use your skillsets to engage and help your fellow New Yorkers.

There are multiple misconceptions surrounding homelessness. Too often homeless people are disregarded as lazy and burdensome, but in many instances this is untrue. The homeless are regular people just like us who happen to be going through a hard time. These are people who have college degrees, masters degrees, and backstories that we could never imagine. “When I ask for food or money, people look at me like I’m dirty, like I’m a crackhead. It isn’t even about the food or money, I’m struggling – really struggling, it wouldn’t kill them to smile at me, to show some kindness,” was what he said to me during an event. It is truly heartbreaking to know that others will assume the worst about someone going through a hard time. If you’re ready to start healing NYC join the hfny.org website and lets go forth together!

Additional Ways to Help:

– Collect all the clothes and toys you’ve outgrown and call the Salvation Army for Pickup

– Spread the Good News to those who are hurting

– Bake cookies and give them away

– Try to offer a homeless person food – when it’s possible to do so.

– Buy 10 balloons and give them to 10 children

– Donate old books

– Join freerice.com

What volunteer organizations do you recommend? Please let us know in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Hidden NYC – The Ugly Side of New York City

  1. Thank you for posting about this! We too often judge people that we don’t know, and it’s great that you’re pointing people in the right direction as to what average people can do to help others. I can vouch for the organization Kiwanis International(www.kiwanis.org), which does various community service activities. They are represented in high schools as Key Club and in colleges as Circle K.

    • Santino, thank you for the organization recommendations! I’ve written them down and will definitely check them out. I believe that while it is good to shed light on the situation, it is also as important to let others know how they can help those who find themselves in such a position. If you ever get the chance I highly recommend looking through the hfny.org website. Thank you!

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