Homeless in NYC: Ari Zoldan’s Mission to Raise Awareness, Part 1
It seems every election season someone brings up the problem of homelessness. Politicians often talk about helping at soup kitchens and shelters. Other services are made available, but after all the talk and promises of action, it seems little positive gets done. Recently in New York City, in response to a request from Governor Cuomo to do more to solve this growing problem, the MTA Police have mobilized to take action against homeless people in subway stations and cars. This action has been criticized as making homelessness a criminal offense.
When people meet homeless individuals on the street, many choose to avert their eyes and hurry on, maybe offering a dollar or loose change. And this is even understandable, considering how public officials set the tone through extra policing and punitive measures. The problem of being homeless is so large. Extra policing just turns otherwise peaceful people into criminals. Is there a better way to solve this problem?
Ari Zoldan Wants to Raise Awareness
While Ari Zoldan did not comment on the specifics of New York City’s policies, he has used his influence to tackle this complicated problem. Ari is a marketing, business and technology expert, and his opinion is sought out on frequently by television networks including CNN, FOX, and the BBC, and he regularly publishes articles in Inc., HuffPo, and elsewhere.
One Veteran’s Day, his eyes were opened when a homeless man asked him for a dollar. He had been in the habit of giving to the homeless, but on this day he didn’t have any money so he asked if he could share some time instead. The response was surprising. He discovered that, more than money, the man was hungry for recognition.
We are so lonely; we just want to connect with someone.Sean Vanderhoff, Homeless Veteran in New York City
Ari spoke with the man and learned his name was Sean Vanderhoff, an army veteran who was wounded in Iraq and became addicted to pain killers. Ari wrote a profile about him and posted it online so others could hear Sean’s story.
Raising Consciousness and Searching for Solutions
The response to Ari’s post was phenomenal. 150,000 views later he decided the topic deserved more attention. He went back to the people he had met and showed them the comments that people had left online. Expressions of encouragement and support were bountiful, and even though he had not asked for money, many expressed a desire to contribute. There were even job leads posted in the comments for people that Ari met. With a single post, Ari had created a community.
Homelessness is a scary issue, and people tend to look away when they feel frightened. But we cannot find solutions to difficult problems unless we are brave enough to face the suffering and tragedies of life and feel the pain of those around us.
When we look the other way, advocates for homeless people report that our avoidance behavior further marginalizes a vulnerable population, and the people on the street become a little more invisible and shrink further into obscurity. It can be hard to understand how they got that way. The associated problems are vast and impossible to fully grasp. Many people think ending poverty will also end homelessness, but investigations report drug addiction, mental illness, and other issues complicate the question of homelessness.
You Can Help Yourself While Helping Others
You lose everything before you end up on the street, and not just your job and home. Most also lose their dignity and self-respect, and finding yourself is crucial if there is to be any hope of recovery.
We are all at risk. Most Americans are just a paycheck or two away from homelessness, and tragedy can strike at any time.
When you see someone on the street and you know they are at the end of their rope, you have an opportunity. You may be concerned that if you give them money they will buy drugs or use it to hurt themselves. You may feel that it’s the government’s job to solve such problems. In places like New York, it appears as though people’s representatives are attempting to address the symptoms of homelessness by throwing money at the problem. In New York, this means hiring another 500 MTA cops to police the issue. In San Francisco, it means hiring pooper scoopers for $184,000 per year. It could be that the best solutions will not find their roots in legislation.
Offering our time and attention to fellow human beings might be a way to understand this problem more clearly. Ari and others have taken this step in their lives, to recognize people who are often dismissed.
I want to be able to say I feel like I got everything out of [life].Ari Zoldan
Paying attention to the difficulties of others can help you, too. Ari said that you can’t learn as much when you are in your comfort zone, and when you stretch yourself to help others, you learn how to communicate better, too.
Not only does service help keep your own problems in perspective, but it can also serve as a warning. The poet John Donne said No Man is an Island. We are all connected, and attention to the problems of others can help warn us against our own shortcomings. If you are not managing your own mental health and use of alcohol or drug use, being more aware of the consequences can help you improve yourself before avoidable mistakes lead to divorce, joblessness, homelessness, and worse.
Not everyone can be helped. There are predators who aggressively panhandle and take advantage of generous people. It’s hard to tell the difference between the predators and people who genuinely need help. But if you take the time to look at the people around you and make an effort to listen, you will get to know who to avoid, and who needs help, and often the greatest gift you can give is respect.
“The Homeless,” like most labels, is just a box we dismissively sort people into. But not having a home is but an attribute; it is not an all-encompassing, defining characteristic of a person.
Problems you are aware of have a way of finding their own solutions. Problems you ignore will fester and get worse. And right now, homelessness is getting worse.
It’s not easy to get personally involved in someone else’s life, but when you are brave enough to take the first step and see the human faces involved, then the answers get easier. Since meeting Sean, Ari has posted summaries of his conversations online with lots of people that most of us would choose to ignore. People like Ari show us that you can make a difference, and the biggest differences happen when you help restore hope.For some people, this may mean contributing to organizations like the National Coalition for the Homeless. But, sometimes your time, attention, and compassion can be more valuable to people you encounter. The more interconnected our society, the more natural it feels to voluntarily help our neighbors, and the rewards you receive from service are some of the most profound that life has to offer.
Homelessness can be Reduced
Speaking with Ari about his journey to meet and understand the issues that homeless people face in New York City was a profound experience. If people get more involved with voluntary service, then the city police will be called on less often to act against the homeless, and we can make our world a better place, reduce the suffering of others, and bring new hope to our cities.
Ari believes that there is a way for government, individuals, and businesses to collaborate on this and other issues. In future installments, we’ll go into more depth with Ari on ways to tackle mass incarceration and to reduce poverty. In the meantime, watch the first interview of this series to learn more.
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