I almost didn’t see Laura sitting there in Times Square. Even with the coronavirus, New York City has many people around, although not as much as before the pandemic. I almost missed her in the crowd. Laura didn’t look homeless, but most homeless people don’t look like they live on the streets.
Laura has been homeless in New York City, sleeping near Times Square for two years. She was in a domestic violence relationship where she received four head injuries. Laura says she experienced brain damage and lost the ability to think clearly and concentrate on making decisions. The abuse got so bad that one day she just walked out and left, leaving all of her belongings at the time.
As a rule, we will never feature a domestic violence story unless they are safe from being abused. When I asked Laura if she is safe, she responded: “I’m outside, so I am not really safe,” referring to the dangers of homelessness for women, but she is safe from her abuser.
Because of COVID-19, many bathrooms are closed. The nearest public bathroom for Laura to use is Penn Station, which is almost a mile away. Imagine having to walk a mile each way to use a washroom. It’s extremely challenging for Laura to travel that distance by foot with all of her stuff, so Laura has to wait until a homeless friend she trusts will watch her cart and her dog. In this interview, Laura said Penn Station is four blocks away. I just looked on a map, and it’s ten New York City blocks from where she was sitting – each way!
Laura feels New York City is not making it a priority to help homeless people during the pandemic. I’ve been told there are 130,000 vacant hotel rooms that are not being used. There must be case management and support services to place homeless people into hotels, so it’s not as easy as it may sound, but it can be done and should be done. Sadly, in NYC, NIMBY (not in my back yard) residents in. the Upper West Side continue to protest homeless people being placed into hotels.
Near the end of this video, Laura starts to coughing, saying she is sick. We were socially distancing, and I always wear a mask, but me wearing a mask only protects her. I now hear in her voice that she is sick, but I didn’t at the time. If I did, I might not have interviewed her. When she started to cough, I asked Laura if she has been COVID tested. She responded no, and our exchange after opened my eyes to the challenges of properly testing homeless people for coronavirus.
COVID testing sites are hospitals, medical clinics, and sometimes drive-thru facilities. As Laura shared, she would have to leave all of her belongings to go get tested. Going to a hospital is a longer trip than walking to a bathroom and back, and Laura may lose her stuff, and she is not going to leave her dog. Service providers are doing the best they can to respond to testing challenges homeless people face, but resources are still lacking.
Laura’s story is an important story. I hope you watch all the way to the end. She says far too many powerful statements that I have room to list here. The one that got to me was when I stated she looks clean, she responded, “I am not clean.”
If her story moves you to take action, there are tens of thousands of homeless women out on the streets, and we must end homelessness for everyone.
Your voice can help end homelessness. If we do not fix the affordable housing crisis, homelessness will continue to get worse. Click here to tweet, email, call, or Facebook your federal and state legislators to tell them ending homelessness and creating more affordable housing is a priority to you.