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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Some thoughts after volunteering for “Coalition for the Homeless”

Amidst the Friday evening buzz in mid-town Manhattan, office workers hurry to the subway, couples rush to make their dinner reservations and drivers in Lincoln town cars line Lexington Avenue, waiting for Citibank executives to make their way out of corporate headquarters.

Nearby, an entirely different queue is forming in front of St Bartholomew’s Church, where three white vans pull up and park on East 51st Street.

For most people, this is the start of the weekend. But for Juan De La Cruz, senior organizer at New York Coalition for the Homeless, there is no respite. He is the manager for the Grand Central Food Program, a mobile food kitchen that serves 31 sites throughout Manhattan and the Bronx 365 days a year. His white vans’ first stop, like every night, is St Bart’s.

And like every evening, there is a small group of volunteers that is going to join him. Tonight, I am among them.

Juan has been working with the program for six years. Given the current economic climate, his job has become more difficult and more important at the same time.

“We are serving more people than ever before and we are being asked to do more, with less funding,” says Juan as he prepares to start the evening routes.

A record number of 1,464 new homeless families entered the shelter system in New York City in September 2008, according to recent data released by the Coalition for the Homeless, the nation’s oldest advocacy and direct action group dedicated to helping the homeless. This is the highest number of new entrants to the family system in any month since the city began keeping records 25 years ago.

These statistics have surfaced in the wake of a growing economic crisis and various New York City budget cuts to homelessness prevention programs.

“The current temperature is 34 degrees and dropping,” announces WABC radio as we load meal boxes and board the vehicles, shivering but unfazed in our mission to make the feeding routes tonight. (more…)

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Robert Caplin for NYT)

Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn (Photo: Robert Caplin for NYT)

Finding a place to live in New York City is hard. Finding a place to be buried is even harder.

As Manhattan grew into a thriving metropolis throughout the 19th century, the city ran out of space and prohibited the construction of new cemeteries as it became unsanitary to accommodate burials on the island. Property in Manhattan boomed and the dead had to move to the outer boroughs.

One of the biggest and most famous is Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery; across the East River, more than 600,000 souls rest there. Founded in 1838 as part of the rural cemetery movement which sought to move burial grounds to the countryside as cities expanded, Green-Wood was the second “garden cemetery” in the United States after Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Mass. As a National Historic Landmark, it is both the custodian of the souls that rest in its landscaped hills and of a chapter of American history.

Acoustically cut off from the city, the cemetery is an oasis if tranquility spreading over an area the size of 400 football fields. With rolling hills, meandering walkways, four lakes, a bird sanctuary and myriad trees – some of which are more than 150 years old – Green-Wood continues to operate as a cemetery but also draws in visitors and tourists, attracted by the serene environment and the famous and infamous dwellers.

But on a Monday afternoon, the bucolic grounds were almost deserted. After walking through the majestic gates, I allowed myself to get lost in the maze of paths that cut through the green hills. (more…)

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