Years ago, on a business trip in New York City (NYC), I missed a train out of Grand Central. “Is that the Metro-North?,” I asked a bystander. He turned and looked at me in disbelief. Why? Because he was homeless and someone had actually spoken to him that day.
“I’m sorry I didn’t answer you right away,” he said. “I’m not used to anyone speaking to me.” For the next hour, while I waited for another train, Marty and I shared lunch. When I asked him how he’d become homeless, he told me that he’d loaded up his belongings in a moving truck years ago and had driven to Florida to start a new job. He parked it at a gas station overnight, at the advice of a friend, but when he returned the next day, it had been stolen.
“It was all of my possessions,” Marty said. He made his way back to NYC with the remaining money he had in hopes of returning to his old job, but it had been filled. He very quickly found himself on the streets. He took a small loan from a friend, but it wasn’t enough to get him into an apartment. Plus, he was jobless.
When I met Marty, he’d been on the streets for 22 years. He doesn’t smoke, drink or do any sort of drugs, nor do any of his friends in the very same situation.
As we struck up a friendship, Marty mentioned he’d had shares of stock in the stolen truck and that his investment was gone forever. At the time, I was a stock broker and knew better. It took four years of searching to locate the trust company holding his stock, plus it took a Medallion stamp/signature from a bank president to get him his money. You see, people had stolen even more from Marty during his homeless years, including his social security card and identification.
Here’s the truly amazing story! When Marty finally received his money (nearly $3600), he paid off that 22-year-old debt to a friend. He also booked hotel rooms for 4 nights for all of his homeless friends and everyone ate steak dinners. The remaining money, he gave to the cathedral where he volunteered.
Today, he’s off the streets and renting a small room. And yes, he panhandles for the rent. Everyone on the streets near Broadway knows Marty though, and they’re more than glad to throw a little money in his cup. He volunteers at his local shelter to help feed those still on the streets.
My husband and I just visited NYC, and met up with Marty to share a meal. He made our trip extra special with an array of corny jokes and tales of the streets. And, we both witnessed first hand the friendships that Marty has with his neighbors passing by.
Just like Marty, every person out there, on the streets in your community, has a name – and a story that just might surprise you. As we walked with Marty to his favorite diner on Broadway, I saw a young man crouched on the sidewalk with a sign. It said he would draw a picture and sign it for some change. I requested a beautifully-sketched set of hearts. One year before that day, he’d been walking home from the tatoo shop where he was a working artist when someone hit him in the head from behind and stole his tatoo kit – his entire livelihood. He sustained a head injury and wandered NYC for a week. Two of his friends, who had been looking for him, saw him and called an ambulance when he couldn’t tell them the year or where he lived. Today, Alex is on the streets trying to survive by drawing.
As I blog about survivors of human trafficking, or children forced to work in garment factories; as I tell the stories of artisans and designers working to sustain themselves through disasters, war/conflict, refugee status and all the challenging economic environments, Marty’s and Alex’s stories remind me that people do have names.
The little eight year old girl from Sri Lanka in a garment factory is Dilini. The beautiful woman, taken from her children, and forced into a brothel somewhere in the Middle East is Jelena. The refugee family somewhere between Australia and Indonesia, waiting for asylum is the Shah family. Your next door neighbor in America, a single girl with a four year old, who makes jewellry to pay her monthly bills is Latoya. And, the Afghan woman making embroidered table clothes to sell in the Western world, well, her name is Marzia.
Randall makes beautiful jewellry in Virginia Beach, even though people have stolen and cheapened his designs several times over the years. And, for the protection of our artisans who have survived trafficking/slavery, we call them by their initials. Still, they are known.
More of us might help a fellow man or woman in need if we simply knew their name. Sure, there’s some people on the streets who simply panhandle for no good reason, but that certainly isn’t the majority. Most people desperately need help and intervention due to mental illness, unlikely situations such as Marty’s and Alex’s, or past sexual and physical abuse.
Is there anyone that you want to get to know by name today? Is there someone you already know who’s a vulnerable person in need? Leave their name in the comments section of this blog. Then we’ll all know their name.