I NEVER KNEW what the face of homelessness was until I moved to the largest city in the country.
I was residing in a Salvation Army women’s residence on the east side of Manhattan. My strict parents wouldn’t allow me, at age 23, to move to NYC without a safe place to live.
My father knew the Nashua Salvation Army Chapter leaders Capt. Clark and Ruth Berkhoudt. The dedicated Salvation Army officers had recently transferred to New York’s Ten-Eyck-Troughton Memorial Residence, a 17-story high-rise building in a nice neighborhood called Murray Hill.
Just yards away on the sidewalk at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 39th Street, I would encounter a disheveled man in his 40s each morning, afternoon and evening. One time, I saw him sleeping under a big empty cardboard box during a winter storm. It made me sad, but there wasn’t much I could do.
They told me he was a former college professor, and I often saw him scribbling mathematical equations in his notebook.
Hundreds of people passed by him daily, and some brought him food and gave him cash here and there. But unfortunately, he had become an invisible part of the urban landscape.
Here in Nashua, I haven’t noticed people hanging out or setting up shelter on sidewalk corners or other public property. But I have seen a few residents who appear to be on the move carrying their “homes” on their backs.
As in Manchester, homelessness is a growing problem.
We may not readily see it, but people are living on the edge in tents, cars and makeshift shelters.
Many say homelessness is a societal problem, exacerbated by insufficient affordable housing and mental health resources.
Recently, a gathering was at Nashua’s City Hall Plaza honored 10 residents who died homeless in 2019. Nashua joined cities and towns across the nation in marking National Homeless Persons Memorial Day.
Ward 4 Alderman Tom Lopez, who represents residents living in the heart of Nashua, organized the evening event. Mayor Jim Donchess was there, along with people who had gathered to hear the names of the 10 read aloud in the chilly December air.
Lopez was eloquent in his remarks. “We’re the same. People who are homeless, you never know who’s going to be your neighbor, your brother, your sister, your mother. Each one of them has their own stories and their own struggles and they’re working very hard to make their lives better,” he said.
Long ago, I was taught an old proverb whose words now ring true: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”