Welcome to Perspectives, a blog of thoughts, commentary and observations ranging from autistic adolescents to intimate portraits of urban communities.

 

Let Them Read Books

This is an observation, not a statistical analysis, but I have noticed a phenomenon lately on which the pundits have yet to remark – and that is the number of homeless people on New York City’s streets who read books. Many are young, some have their dogs with them, and most stare so intently at the page that, other than the pleas written on cardboard with magic markers, you might think they were students on class break. What people make of this probably depends on their politics.

For some, it must be more evidence that English majors can’t even flip hamburgers. Or that the new hippy generation is too lazy to work. Or that the schools really have failed, not because kids can’t read but because that’s all they can do.

Others may think of their own children’s struggles to get work in this economy. Or find the sight of able-bodied, literate young people begging in the streets a social rather than a personal problem.

Maybe these kids go back to their parents’ apartments after their stints on the sidewalk. But maybe they are part of the city’s homeless population, which has reached it highest levels since the Great Depression.

In fact, almost every statistic about the homeless in New York is an “all-time record”: Over 40,000 people are homeless each day, including 10,000 families and 17,000 children. Over 100,000 different people use the city’s shelters each year, and city authorities have no idea how many others sleep in the streets, the subways and the parks.

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