…and yet, Henry* and his deaf brother, residents of New York City have been deprived of that one bit of humanity for far too long.
Last week, as the Christmas holiday was fast approaching, Henry arrived at the offices of the New York Center for Law and Justice, a Good People Fund grantee that provides legal services for the deaf community. Bruce and Liz Gitlin, the husband and wife team that founded the Center were stunned to hear Henry’s story. Henry and his younger brother were born into a traditional middle class family and educated in some of the city’s best public schools. Their parents died when they were young adults but they maintained a stable lifestyle until a series of unfortunate occurrences including illness and loss of their rent-controlled apartment forced them into a homeless shelter. Living in a tiny room with bunk beds and not much else, Henry and his brother marched on until that evening eight months ago, when they returned late to the shelter because they were taking a computer-training course which they hoped would lead to college courses. One of the many cardinal rules that apply to homeless shelters is that you do NOT miss the curfew. Punishment is swift — you are kicked out of the shelter and into the streets. If there is such a thing as “good fortune”, the brothers were better off than others, they could “couch dive” with friends and for the past six months that is exactly what they had been doing before arriving at Bruce and Liz’s door.
Despite the bleakest of circumstances, Henry’s feeling that “Christmas is not about gifts, luxuries-right now people are going through a crisis; people don’t have a place to stay. For me, the thing about Christmas is to give to needy people who don’t have nothing.” And so — he busies himself by collecting toys for a toy drive on behalf of kids with Down Syndrome and sings Christmas carols to this very same group (Henry states that it “could have been me”). In addition he delivers books and reads to elders living in nearby nursing homes and also hands out Girl Scout cookies. Giving back is clearly Henry’s preferred method of coping with being homeless.
When the Gitlins heard the brothers’ story they agreed to step in and try to find appropriate housing and other needs. When we heard their story we immediately offered our help as well. Within 48 hours, we were able to invest a little more than $200 to get the brothers’ personal items out of storage where they were about to be auctioned off for back rental fees (including hefty penalty amounts), provided them with warm coats, hats and gloves and, with the additional help of one of our donors who heard their story, we will be able to underwrite the costs associated with finding them a new affordable apartment and some furniture.
Henry is correct…every human being does deserve to have a key to turn a lock and thanks to Bruce and Liz and others who were moved by this story a key should be forthcoming sometime very soon.