NEW YORK (AP) — As New York City grapples with a surge in homelessness, both the city and state governments have unveiled urgent measures to reach out to people living on the street and try to persuade them to move to shelters. The Associated Press interviewed several dozen homeless New Yorkers over two days to get their impressions of government aid and shelter programs. Here are some of their stories:
City shelters hold no appeal for this 54-year-old who says he's been homeless since his father died last spring.
He may sleep on the steps of a Park Avenue church, but he sees himself as a different breed than many shelter residents. He calls himself a skilled carpenter applying for jobs on a public library computer.
"Mayor de Blasio needs to understand something," he said, "There's a big difference between a homeless man and a man without a home who's displaced. And we should not be mingling with people who are eternally homeless" — or who may be "mentally challenged" or cannot work for other reasons.
Hamarics said he once worked as a driver for a hotel, but it didn't pay enough to cover a New York rent. He said he had some tools, which he kept tied to his finger to feel the tug of any thief while he slept, but the tools were stolen anyway.
The 32-year-old begging in Manhattan's Union Square Park peels off layers of clothing to reveal a massive tattoo of an American flag on his arm. He calls it "my American dream," and said he got it after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Boasting that he was once a small-time actor, Cliff said he was born to a heroin-addicted mother and is now himself in methadone treatment. He said he is entitled to government disability payments deposited to a bank account, but lost a debit card that allowed him to make withdrawals. So he can't access the money.
"I'm scared. I'm really scared I'm going to die out here when it's cold," he said, his eyes welling with tears. "But I won't go to a shelter, because you get raped there." He added, though, that he might be willing to go to a specialized shelter for people taking methadone, if it were clean and well-organized.
The homelessness problem extends beyond the city limits. At a train station in Hicksville, on Long Island, is Thomas Sylvester, who said he has been living on the streets and in shelters for about three years.
Sylvester said he had heard about an order, recently issued by the governor, instructing police officers to take homeless people to shelters when the temperature falls below freezing. But he said he'd never gotten that type of invitation from officers.
"They just come over and bang and tell you to get lost," he said. Nor would he necessarily want to go to a shelter, he added.
"I've had my stuff stolen, clothes stolen," he said. "They're crowded, they smell and people always want to fight ... Sometimes it's just easier out here."
The 30-year-old, who identified himself as an Army veteran, said he has been stranded in New York after a shoestring vacation with friends whose car broke down and had to be abandoned.
Sitting in front of a food-packed Trader Joe's on Manhattan's Upper West Side, he said he's saving money to take a $209 bus ride back home to Phoenix, Arizona.
He'd hoped to get a job in New York City. No luck.
"They don't want to hire somebody who's living on the street." And he has no ID, which was stolen along with his backpack while he slept in Union Square.
There might be telemarketing job awaiting him in Phoenix, he says.
And maybe a paycheck to help him fix his missing teeth.
His head bowed deep into his jacket, the chilled North Carolina native sat on the sidewalk near Macy's, begging for change to buy dinner.
Whitney identified himself as an unemployed cook and said he has been homeless for three months, after his roommates kicked him out.
"Homeless but not hopeless," read the cardboard sign resting on his knees. He said he had been promised a job at a nearby fast-food restaurant, but it hadn't materialized yet.
He said he would go home to Washington, North Carolina, if he had enough money.