Helping the homeless on cold days

The days have become shorter, the leaves are starting to fall. In all colors they cover the ground. The wind is picking up, you are starting to get cold and you have to wear a warm sweater.

I love cold days

What I like when it gets colder (but not too cold) Is a long walk, breathing in the fresh air. The feeling you get when you get back to your warm house, priceless. The hot shower afterwards is even better! A real treat after a workout, because a long walk is good for you.

READ MORE: 5 tips to Stay warm

Homeless on the streets of NYC

I know I am lucky. When I see the homeless, I feel bad. In NYC there are a lot of them. These are people that just can't function well in society. And for those there is no place, except outside, on the streets. I used to give them money. But you never know what they spend it on. I have been disappointed one time when this man came out of a supermarket with a beer in his hand, bought with my money.

READ MORE: 5 tips for a Good Heart

What is the best way to start helping the homeless on cold days

We have to be smarter: We have to donate money to different places, places where homeless can get a good meal and a place to sleep. Like the Bowery Mission, very close to where I live. Every donation really does a lot. You can also give them clothing or food directly of course!

Homeless in NYC copyright Fairest Photo

My tips for helping the homeless on cold days

Every season I clean out my closet. After my friends and cleaning lady dig in and look for things they like, I take the leftover clothes to Union Square, where they collect used, but good clothes. Or we bring them to a consignment store, drop them off at Salvation Army or at The bowery Mission.

READ MORE: 10 charities to give to this year

You can also drop off groceries and essential toiletries at a soup kitchen or specialized organization. One time I helped out an afternoon at Lunch Break in New Jersey, USA. I packed bags for people with low income or who did not have a home. They need simple things like deodorant, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Canned food is always good (Luckily a lot of organic food options were donated) and the soup kitchen cooks with it so the homeless can come have lunch, or they can come pick up essentials and food items. It really felt great helping out!

ACE NYC Charity

Many people from abroad sometimes think that the USA is not taking great care of its people. There are a lot of homeless, that is true. Some have come from other countries and are illegal, some just can't keep up with the hustle and bustle of life these days, and others are simply addicted and need help. But the USA is also the country that is placed very high on the lists of countries that donate the most per citizen to charity., the World Giving Index (one is Myanmar apparently!) And there are indeed many people and charities that help homeless get back on their feet, like ACE New York.  ACE New York helps homeless by guiding them in the process of getting back to work. In the meantime they become part of Soho's cleaning team and they keep the streets clean. in return many buildings in Soho donate to this organization because they help keep the streets clean. it is a win-win situation! I used to work a lot with this charity by helping their secondhand store Use Your Head by giving advice, raising donations and organizing events. 

Small things can make a big difference. I hope to do my thing for the homeless, especially now the cold days are coming our way.  And when I walk in the street on one of my walks? I say hello at least. These people are being ignored by most people, and they are just like us! Life is sometimes unfair, but everyone can do something to make it a bit better for others. Think about that the coming months.

Below are some local initiatives in NYC and beyond, that can inspire you to start helping others on cold days.

www.bowery.org

Salvation Army

ACE New York

First published on September 30rd 2009, updated in 2019


Sandy

My week with Sandy.

Sandy
Sandy from space...

Uptown has no clue what's going on downtown. If you haven't seen it yourself, it is probably hard to believe it. Downtown NYC is a ghost town.- Lonneke Engel.

Sunday night October 28th 8pm. Sandy was coming. I was at home at my cosy apartment in the middle of Soho, New York City, watching the news, lights on, and I just made hot tea for myself. I had taken a nice warm shower an hour before and was just chilling. I had caught a cold a few days before at an event so I was very happy to just stay in for a night. Weather outside was windy and it was raining, but not really that bad I thought. I could hear the wind blow really hard onto my windows. I thought I was safe inside, and just like Irene last year, I actually thought Sandy was gonna be another "hurricane" that was being talked about too much, but would probably be just any other simple storm. I was wrong.

835pm: All power shuts off. It was announced that it could happen, so no shock there. I went to the window and saw ALL of Soho buildings in darkness. It was so quiet. I just thought: well, I guess I am going to go to bed then. Tomorrow a new day.

darkness
in the dark...

I went to bed, and because everything outside was so extremely quiet, I woke up after 10 am when my neighbor knocked on my door. I opened the door and my other neighbors were there as well. "Hey, I just heard from Con Ed it might take 4 to 7 days to have electricity restored" He said. " A transformer station on 14th street exploded I heard"...

My upstairs neighbor decided to stay and "Guard the premises" The other neighbors left including me. I had lost all internet connection, and could not call anyone, so I texted my friend Antoniette, who was so smart to leave the city before to her hometown if I could stay with her. The text went through and I got a response that I could stay there. So I had a place to stay. (I was still thinking it would just be for one or 2 days max). I started packing my backpack. My fridge was turned off but I forgot to throw out the food and the garbage. (I hope when I return I am not in for a surprise). At around 1pm I went to walk up 60 blocks with my heavy backpack. There were not many cabs, and almost no other traffic. It was a weird scene. EVERYTHING was closed. No shops were open. It was very calm and quiet, a simple grey day. Some people walked around with a bag as well as leaving for another place to stay. There were streams of people with bags walking uptown. And a few tourists going downtown to see it with their own eyes. I stopped by my friends to check in on them. Walking 7 flights of stairs in their building in darkness. They also did not know what they wanted to do.. how long was this gonna last? Nobody knew..Subways were closed off as scheduled, and would not start running anytime soon, because some were really badly flooded. Lower Manhattan had many places flooded, and some areas even had cars floating in the streets. It was a big mess. I saw many fallen trees and parks were closed because they were covered in leaves and branches. I heard Staten Island was hit hard, and the New Jersey Shore including the famous boardwalk at Atlantic City with all the rides was destroyed.

Fallen tree Houston street
A fallen tree on Houston street...

I passed one store that was open on University PLace. It was dark inside, but full of people trying to get some kind of food or other necessities. It was the only place open that I saw on my way up until 40th street or so...

I walked up Broadway towards Time Square. Up until around 25th street I noticed nobody had power. Then I started to get phone reception again. Walking, I saw a lot of people gathered around a closed Starbucks to use the wireless internet. I saw people scrambling around an outside electricity outlet to charge their phones. This was just the first day. I have not been back downtown since then so I don't know how bad it gotten, but I heard stories of 2 hour waits to charge your phone for 10 minutes. Ugh.

Around Time Square, which was less crowded as usual, the lights were working like nothing happened. I reached my destination after 1.5 hours of walking. My back aching. I was staying at an amazing place with electricity and hot running  water, and was so thankful that I went ahead and asked for a place to stay right away, because most people just waited until the situation got so bad they had to leave.

This is the situation for people who stayed downtown the past 5 days: no phone reception or internet connection to find out what is going on the World or to find out when power will be back on. No hot water, some people did not even have running water. So they could not shower or even flush the toilet. The homeless look has become very fashionable downtown because of that. No electricity, no heating, no elevators, no working refrigerators. That means some people had to walk up water 25 flights of stairs that they collected from either the city or from a working tap on ground floor. They had to eat canned food and other foods that don't go bad fast. Some people just did not have any other place to go. Some had to walk more than 20 blocks for phone reception or to charge your phone, or to find food or water. I don't think anyone thought it would be this bad....

wifi hoarders
Empty streets but people trying to get wifi from Starbucks...

I think most people stayed home for 1 or 2 nights. But then at some point you really want a hot shower. And it was getting colder without heating. So they all tried to stay with friends or book a hotel. Result? All hotels booked. Some people who tried to survive at home for a few days, realized this was gonna take longer than expected. So they had to find a place to stay, and most friends already had someone staying over... It became a matter of survival. The weird thing is that uptown was getting back to normality one day after Sandy, and you wouldn't know the difference, but downtown is a empty, ghost town. The people who stayed, spend their days collecting water and bringing it up to their floor. Or finding a place to charge their phones. People who work downtown did not have to go to work for a week. They spend their time at the gym uptown (which were sometimes so crowded they had to say "no" to people that wanted to come work out) Or checking the news to see what the latest update was. Bridges were open again after a few days, and cars were only allowed in with a minimum of 3 people per car when crossing the bridge this week. Some subway lines above 34th street started running again, but some subway lines downtown are expected to take months (!) to repair as the ventilation system, electricity and hydraulic systems have all been destroyed due to the salt water.

My friends took pictures of the damages in the streets:

Sandy damages
My friend David Blaine in front of a collapsed facade on 8th avenue. Instagram @DavidBlaine
flooded garage
My friend Mark Birnbaum took a picture of his garage after Sandy...Instagram @MarkBirnbaum

2 hospitals had to evacuate all their patients to other hospitals in safer areas. Both their generators were failing because of salt water damaging either the generator itself or the tanks that keep the fuel for the generators. On the news we saw the premature born babies being transported in the middle of the storm.

The HMS Bounty, the famous 180-foot sailboat that we know from the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean" and other big blockbuster movies, is a total loss after Sandy.

hms bounty
HMS Bounty
HMS Bounty after Sandy. picture from US Coast Guard/Reuters

Another problem that came up was that the city, and struck areas on the East Coast, were running out of fuel. Sometimes there were miles and miles of lines in front of gas stations, making people wait for hours to fill up their car or to get gas for their generators. Governor Cuomo asked to get more gas to his state as soon as possible.

Halloween on Wednesday was cancelled. I was supposed to go to Heidi Klum's Annual Halloween party, but now she postponed the party to a "Haunted Christmas" date. Who wanted to party right now anyway? New York was just hit by a disaster.. I did read some notorious partygoers ended up partying at clubs in New York City shortly after Sandy. That's their choice. I rather stay home safe and sound and watch the news, read and work, and try to stay calm in a society around us that is in turmoil.

See a few incredible images of NYC  during and after Sandy to get an idea what it is like.

And more incredible images.

Mayor Bloomberg of New York city was on tv a lot during Sandy and the days after. He decided that the NYC marathon November 3rd should go on as expected, to show "That we bounce back as NYC well after something as bad as Sandy". Some people think it is insane to host such a big event and all efforts should be on rebuilding a city, and all police and fire fighters should be focused on helping people restore their houses and the electricity. I am torn. I love the NY marathon. It is a healthy event and encourages people to work out more. But the timing? Maybe it could be postponed. A lot of hotels where runners are staying are still closed. A lot of areas where they will be running still need to be cleaned... Update: the marathon is cancelled. But unfortunately a lot of runners from all over the world already flew in... it is a good decision but should have been made much sooner so all these people were not coming here for no reason..

What I know is that, whatever happens to New York, New Yorkers can take anything and make it work. So in a week or so, it will be business as usual at most places I know this. We keep going. But it is good to sometimes step back and look at our lives. How lucky we are, and what luxuries we live in. I mean the way most people lived in NYC this week is how half of the world lives everyday. No electricity and no running water. The problem is that we are with millions of people on an island that was cut off from the rest of the world. So we run out of basic needs like water and gas fast. We need to work on that and be prepared more. I hope this hurricane Sandy is a lesson for all of us.

5 million people without power on the East Coast, lots of people lost their homes and the death toll was still rising each day when more information comes to us. This was really the worst storm ever. Climate change cannot be ignored anymore. These storms will probably become the standard instead of a rarity in our future. We need to be prepared in the future. Governor Cuomo of New York State also said that we cannot keep building infrastructure the way we do, and we have to make it resilient to storms like this in future. Because blackouts of over a week are just not right. New York City for instance has over 8 million people living here. the City is even working on getting more people to live here. That is not possible with the amount of power we need to facilitate them, with the power facilities we have now. This has to improve to avoid situations like this in the future.

I wonder when my lights turn back on in my apartment downtown. I am definitely throwing a "Power ON" party for all my friends!

UPDATE NOV 4th: my power went back on 6 days later, Saturday at 4am in the morning. Some people are still without power in lower Manhattan around the financial district, like our OYL contributor Carol Fontaneti, her boyfriend & their cat. Stay strong! We are no collecting clothes for Glam4Good, a charity by stylist Mary Alice Stephenson. The clothes will go to families in need in the Rockaway Beach & Breezy Point area. See my later post.

Sunset NYCSunset NYC


Love, Lonneke

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @LonnekeEngel