Monday, July 20, 2015

"They prefer us when we are dead."

Culture and Society ---


I met Keith today. He is two years younger than I and lives on Columbus Avenue about a block away from Columbus Circle in Manhattan. He was born in New York City and grew up in Harlem with his parents and his older sister. Life was difficult for his parents, but they managed "by the grace of God". He is quite proud of his older sister whom he characterizes a a tough black woman. Through hard work and much effort she was able to pay off the mortgage on a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn. 

Keith attended high school in Harlem and successfully completed requirements for graduation. Immediately after high school, he joined the Army (in which he spent three years) and was posted to Germany. He recalled that this was around the time of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Keith suffers from epilepsy. He said he managed to get past the Army screening system because his epilepsy was not the severe kind.

Unfortunately, Keith lives on the street. He has been living on the street since he left the service in the late eighties. When I asked him how he was able to survive the streets he said that it was only by the grace of God. Keith looks the part of the unkempt, unwashed homeless, but does not give off the typical homeless smell. He lamented the country's treatment of its veterans, saying that they are preferred dead rather than alive. Nonetheless, he continues to survive "with help from God".

[Photo Art by Ric Couchman]