By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
As always down here, the problem is compounded. There are the people legitimately here seeking services, and the people here to prey on them.
“One of the things we see is that if they’re getting Social Security benefits, they become captives of other people who are downtown, homeless people even,” Jeanette tells me matter of factly. “There’s a lady that we came across down here who was being basically held onto by some guys in a tent. And they would keep her till the first of the month when the checks would come out, take her to the check-cashing place, get her money and just keep her all the time. They would feed her minimally. She needed clothes. She wasn’t bathing. She was in a lot of distress. She was in her 70s. They were also having sex with her. She was very afraid.
“I can’t tell you how many times I passed that tent and didn’t know till one day she was outside the tent and we actually saw how in distress she was. She didn’t want to file any reports or contact the police.”
How does someone arrive at a place where it becomes acceptable to kidnap, rape and extort money from a 70-year-old homeless woman? I imagine it’s a long process that happens over a long period of desperation.
“It was just some homeless guys,” Jeanette says, her veneer made of Teflon by now. “You know there’s some pretty nefarious folks down here. We actually got her out and got her into a senior facility, but it was very difficult. I think the homeless seniors down here are victimized a lot because they’re defenseless in a lot of ways. Somebody gets them a new blanket or something and it’s taken overnight.”
What Jeanette tells me next is something I already know, but it’s still hard to hear about desperate septuagenarian drug addicts.
“There’s a lady that’s like in her 70s who is slamming dope and smoking crack,” Jeanette tells me. “We spent a lot of time trying to help her. We came across her over on Broadway. She was panhandling. And she’s very noticeable because she can’t stand up straight. She walks in a bent-over posture.”
I know the woman she’s talking about. She looks like she’s picking something up off the sidewalk.
“It took months to even get her to go into the SRO,” Jeanette continues. “Her story is the result of not getting health care from a condition that resulted from a car crash 40 years ago, getting strung out on morphine in the hospital and then getting strung out on heroin, and it’s just ruined her life. I saw her a couple of months ago, and she was all messed up because some guy tried to steal her blanket and he dragged her down the street with it because she didn’t want to let it go. Or she couldn’t let go, or she couldn’t get untangled from it. She stayed in hotels for a while down here and then in the summer she’s back panhandling. She goes just to the fringe of the nice part of downtown and gets money. I saw her one morning panhandling at 7 a.m. That’s beyond uncomfortable. That’s like Fellini.
“As far as being able to help and not harm her, I don’t even know if getting clean is the right advice. She’s very, very old. There’s a couple old ladies down here like that. I’m not talking about alcohol. Nothing’s more upsetting than watching a 70-year-old lady smoking crack at 8 o’clock in the morning.”
At this point, you might be wondering: Who are these people? How did they get here? Where are their families?
Here’s one scenario: “I saw a guy drive up and drop his mother off with her belongings and just drive off,” Jeanette tells me. “She was just the sweetest little old lady. It turns out she wasn’t getting along with his wife, and his wife was expecting her family for Christmas, so he decided his mother had to go. He actually said, ‘Well, somebody will pick her up.’ It’s like . . . this is your mother!”
Here’s another: “One thing we hear a lot is that their spouse died,” Jeanette says. “They lost their house, or even through grieving they start drinking. In some communities, we find seniors who are homeless and they live in the neighborhoods that they always lived in. They can’t leave. And they actually live in the alley or across the street from where they used to live. And the community tries to support them a lot of times. Their spouse has died, and they weren’t the person in that relationship who took care of things, and they end up not having any money and no bank account and they don’t have the support of their children. Their children will show up and want them to move to Texas with them and they’re like, ‘No, I don’t want to leave here.’?”