On billionaires and homeless children in NYC

I was shopping at one of my favorite stores yesterday, looking at the shoes section, when I overheard a conversation in Spanish that made me sad and angry all at once.

The store is a T-J Max, a chain that offers great prices for well-known brands of clothing and apparel. And who doesn’t like a good sale?

I was checking some shoes and trying to find the shelf with my size when I noticed a woman sitting on a stool and talking to a friend.

“No pude dormir bien ayer,” she was saying to someone on her cell phone.

She didn’t sleep well the day before. I was not trying to be nosy but she was there talking like nobody else could hear or understand what she was saying but in the Bronx many people speak Spanish.

Las cucarachas no me dejaron dormir. Cada vez que traté de apagar la luz, las cucarachas se subían a mi cama,” she was saying to a friend, and I understood why she didn’t care if someone could hear. She was very upset because she couldn’t turn off the lights at night to go to sleep because the moment she did it the cockroaches began climbing to her bed.

The woman was well dressed and I can bet she had a full time job, perhaps a job that pays $15 an hour or perhaps $30,000 a year. But she was poor by New York City standards. This was not the poverty I encountered in Argentinaת where I saw people without shoes or torn clothes. This was a different kind of poverty that is easier to hide.

Why didn’t she change apartments, you may wonder. The answer is that it is very difficult right now to find an affordable apartment to rent.

In New York City, clothing is not expensive; you can go to a thrift shop and find good clothes for few dollars. But what is extremely expensive is housing. There is a lack of affordable housing. This is a big crisis and I don’t think any politician alone can solve it.

I’m not only talking about Manhattan but about the other boroughs as well. The same is going on in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.

Many landlords require having an annual income equal to 40 times the amount of rent. If your rent is $2,000 you need to show an income of $80,000.

That makes it very hard for low income people to find affordable apartment for rent in any part of the city and why so many families are homeless. Even with full time jobs they have to choose between paying rent and eating.

“In March 2018, there were 62,974 homeless people, including 15,393 homeless families with 23,110 homeless children, sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system. Families make up three-quarters of the homeless shelter population,” according to The Coalition for the Homeless.

And about the causes “Research shows that the primary cause of homelessness, particularly among families, is lack of affordable housing. Surveys of homeless families have identified the following major immediate, triggering causes of homelessness: eviction; doubled-up or severely overcrowded housing; domestic violence; job loss; and hazardous housing conditions.” For more information you can visit the website http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org

So in New York, there are at least 23,000 children who are homeless.

These children go to school and come back to a shelter to sleep. How are their lives? How can they study in those conditions?

On the other hand “With a total wealth of $3 trillion, New York, the economic hub of the United States, became the wealthiest city in the world,” according to the New World Wealth.

It is also the same city where 82 billionaires have a home, the most in any city in the world, according to Forbes.

A billion dollars is a thousand million dollars. It is a ridiculous amount of money.

There is something wrong about such inequality in New York City.

A city with three trillion dollars in total private wealth and kids are homeless?

Sometimes we are used to things and we don’t pay attention. On Sunday I was in synagogue and I saw a poster that I probably passed before many times. It had some words by theologian Abraham Heschel:

“A Jew is asked to take a leap of action rather than a leap of faith”

It left me thinking…

Until next time. Keep reading. Share your thoughts.

About the Author
Graciela Berger Wegsman is an award-winning playwright, journalist and translator. As a journalist, Graciela has written articles for many newspapers and magazines in Argentina, Israel and the USA. She has been a frequent contributor to the New York Daily News for the last several years, specializing in Latino culture. She writes her "On Being Jewish and Latina Blog." She is also a Realtor working in New York at Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
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