Even in a place like this – a “prettiest town in America” –
there is a homeless population. It’s hard to pinpoint their numbers, and
certainly it’s small – a few guys who hang out in McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts,
a man rumored to sleep on Pierson Park benches – but how ever many are out there are making due somehow through every season and that certain kind of invisibility a
homeless person endures.
There’s one man wandering around town most days for the lack of anything better to do who grew up here – North Tarrytown, he says with that old North Tarrytown pride. He had left for some years and came back only a year and a half ago only to find himself homeless soon after.
He didn’t want to reveal his name here to his old community, but he does feel desperate to find work and is willing to do whatever it takes and thought revealing his story might help. “I’ll scrape gum if I have to,” he said. “I’m capable of doing almost any kind of work. I don’t like being in this position.”
He takes comfort in the beauty of our setting, taking pictures of the lighthouse, the Tappan Zee Bridge, the simple goings on around town and on the river, the sunset. “I’ve always taken pictures,” he said.
In fact, he returned home when he learned the bridge would be taken down and replaced by two new spans, in order to catalogue the end of an era for the existing bridge in photographs.
“You’ll never see this bridge without all this stuff in front of it again,” he said as we look out over what is only the beginning of cranes and barges to come.
He returned home but had trouble finding jobs whose checks didn’t bounce or that bothered paying at all. By winter, he was sleeping in his car.
He spent February and March in his car, when temperatures dipped down to 14 degrees. He said he didn’t sleep much, as he would wake up cold, run the engine a bit – which he couldn’t do nonstop when he couldn’t afford the gas. “It’s the hardest thing I really had to go through,” he said.
He was then able to find work and therefore housing again, only to again find himself unpaid and unable to pay rent. In July, he was on the street again, putting his last few possessions into storage – a bill he’s missed this month. His life is down to a bag of toiletries he can use to shower at the Y, a few clothes he’ll wash at a friend’s house or the Laundromat, and his car – which isn’t reliable enough to drive far in.
In July, he faced sleeping in his car during 100-plus temperatures, window rolled down a crack which made him nervous and, again, unable to sleep well. “You’re worried someone will come and slit your throat when you’re sleeping, because I wasn’t parked in the best part of town.”
He has found a spot to park at least where he’s not been kicked out and he’s grateful for the help he gets from food pantries and organizations like the Salvation Army and the Community Opportunity Center – though getting canned goods, pasta and rice once a month might not be the best suited for a homeless existence.
He spends hours each day at the COC using their computer room to apply for jobs, and he had more than just artistic hopes connected with the bridge rebuild: he thought if they’re hiring so many regional workers, he might have a chance. There’s been no luck on that front.
When he talked to a local union, the representative said he had to get his own guys work first.
He’s able-bodied at 52, looking much younger than his years, and bright. He did go to some college, he said, and spent a few years as a drug and alcohol counselor in Queens – something he has never had an issue with himself.
Though there might be the stereotype that you can’t fall into homelessness without a vice or a mental illness, he has neither. “I’ve never had a problem with drugs or alcohol,” he said. “I wouldn’t have the money for that anyway.”
He says he can do construction, maintenance, janitorial, dish-washing, bartending, waiting tables, customer service, whatever. He’s also bilingual. “I’ll do anything to make a buck to get myself going again. I can’t be too picky or too proud.”
This, from a man who said he used to pull in $80-$90,000 annually from his online business start-up – until the recession hit. “Then people can’t afford their light bill let alone buy things they don't need.”
He’s owned two homes, now his world is boiled down to little more than what he can carry. His most prized possessions are the smartphone that keeps him somewhat connected to the world and that camera that captures those daily doses of hope in each and every sunset photo he takes.
But his light is fading; he feels himself losing steam. “I’m surviving on sheer will and the kindness of strangers. My dog died, my only friend, and two days later I’m on the street,” he said. “He deserved way more than I can give him. I’ve suffered a lot of loss in my life. People see you and they think you can withstand anything. But inside we’re human, we bleed. I’m hanging on by a thread. I’m close to giving up hope. But I keep thinking maybe today, maybe tomorrow something will come.”
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