New York City.Gerard.6.19.17
Take away the suitcase that sits next to him, holding contents of his past life and replace the square of pavement he sits upon with chair, and you wouldn't know at first glance that Gerard was homeless. In fact, his clean cut appearance (courtesy of a fellow homeless man that used to be a barber) has been a point of contention for a lot on onlookers. Why? Well they refuse to believe that Gerard is homeless and have absolutely no haste in expressing that fact to him. You should know that passerbys have also thrown piss at him while he was sleeping, hysterically laughed at him while adding him to their Snapchat story, and mock him for praying to his mother. Because why wouldn't you kick a person when they are already (so far) down?
I wonder how their actions would differ if they knew how his story began. Would they have more respect for him if they knew that when he was 5 his Father left his family and took all their money, forcing Gerard to grow up incredibly quickly. At 15 years old, in order to be able to get a job and take care of his cancer-ridden mother, Gerard became emancipated and worked various jobs over the next two years. When he was 17, Gerard's mother passed away and he and his sister moved in with their grandparents and this is where he says he began to "live life".
Would they respect him more that if they knew he owned up to the mistakes he made in his life? No longer having the responsibility of caring for his sick mother, Gerard began partying in excess. The following years were sprinkled with jail stays, one of which resulted in being evicted from his apartment and the loss of all his belongings; leaving him with absolutely nothing and the beginning his life on the streets.
Is it possible that if they knew that Gerard held a job while being homeless, they would see him as more of a person, rather than source of their entertainment? Early on in his homelessness and for a long period of time Gerard was able to hold a job as a construction worker. For months he was able to hide the fact that he was homeless from his boss, up until another coworker outed his misfortune. Even then, his worth ethic and quality was exceptional, so instead of firing Gerard his boss offered him clothing; an act of kindness that Gerard has and never will forget. Unfortunately for Gerard, when winter approached, the 12 hour shifts and lack of sleep (because they lock the homeless out of indoor spots like Port Authority), made it close to impossible for him to perform his duties to the standards his boss was used to. Although a hard decision, his boss eventually had to let him go, but assured him he would have a job waiting for him once Gerard had his own place.
If those individuals that scoffed in Gerard's direction understood that to be offered housing assistance by New York City, you must be seen in the same EXACT spot 7 times to even be considered, would they have some compassion?. What do I mean? I mean that each morning Gerard has to hope that he beats another homeless individual to his 42nd Street spot of pavement. It means that he has to spend his the entirety of his day in the same spot without any knowledge of whether or not a worker from Breaking Ground will be by to "see" him that day. It means that until he has been seen 7 times his only choice is to remain on the streets or to take his chances at a shelter (of which he has had nothing but bad experiences)1 It means that he must continue to deal with the daily mockery and disrespect of those who simply assume instead of ask.
Perhaps everyone's impression of Gerard would change if they knew that when we asked him if we could purchase food for him, he urged us to only get him the "cheapest thing on the menu."2
Or maybe...just maybe, people would simply respect Gerard because he is a human being with an incredible sense of self and the strongest desire to better himself. But...if that were the case, I guess there would be no need for Project Humanize.
Thank you Gerard for your honesty and positive outlook on life, regardless of all your hardships. I anxiously await the day I receive a phone call3, from you letting me know that you are now on the list for housing and will soon begin your job again. You've got this, man - we believe in you.
1 Early on in his homelessness, Gerard witnessed a murder at Bellvue Shelter and made the decision to take his chances on the street from that point forward. He also noted that he had been in shelters where there were untreated beg bugs and asbestos (all of which the workers had protection against, but none was provided to the patrons.)
2 Alexa and I had the pleasure of sitting down to eat with Gerard and I think it is important to note that his biggest concern was that individuals walking by thought that we, too, were homeless.
3 I gave Gerard my card to contact me if he needed anything and to also let me know where he would be so that I could provide him with my Planet Fitness card. Why? Because there are very limited places for the homeless to shower in NYC and the gyms - although inexpensive - require a home address and a credit card to charge monthly.