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Economic Homelessness in New York: One Man’s Story

Bowery Mission

The recession that has so far wiped out 15 million American jobs is still going on. It has given birth to a whole new huge category of citizens, the economic homeless. The concept of the working poor has been around a long time, but now we’ve got the working poor who, despite the fact that they are employed at least part of the time, still can’t afford living quarters — they are the economic homeless.

New York City is in pretty bad shape, with something like 50,000 people experiencing homelessness. Samm Gustin, Senior Writer at DailyFinance, chronicled the life of one of those people. Gustin, who has written for Wired, the Village Voice, and numerous other publications, met nearly a year ago with one of the working poor, Candido Gonzalez, and wrote a piece about him. Only last week, it was followed up by a look at how the subject of the story is doing now.

Gonzalez had worked for the city for nearly 20 years, and was Community Coordinator for the recycling bureau at the Department of Sanitation. That all ended in October of 2007, when he was laid off, a fate shared by tens of thousands of municipal workers nationwide. Despite 19 years of a fine work history, his classification as a provisional employee denied him the greater degree of job security enjoyed by titled civil service workers.

Unable to keep up with the rent, Gonzalez had to give up his Bronx studio apartment, and went through the inevitable period of couch-surfing, but was unwilling to add to the burdens of relatives for very long. Eventually, with his savings gone and still no job, Gonzalez wound up at the Bowery Mission, which swapped a living space for a job as intake coordinator. This institution, one of the oldest of its kind in the country, dishes out 1,000 meals a day and serves the homeless by providing 82 beds.

Gustin wrote of Gonzalez at the time,

Bright, articulate and hard-working, Gonzalez was given a job at the front desk (hence the bluetooth headset glued to his head during his shift). Since arriving at the Mission in September, he has been cheerfully greeting the homeless men who come there each day.

And that was how things remained for a while. Then, although it took three years, Candido Gonzalez landed a new job. It’s only part-time, but it does hold out the possibility of going full-time and paying something that approximates a living wage. Meanwhile, he is at least housed, sharing an apartment with his sister.

Gonzalez is now employed by the Davidson Community Center (DCC), located in the South Bronx, which could fairly be described as an impoverished area with a population that is 4/5 Hispanic and 1/5 African American. DCC is a nonprofit community outreach organization providing training, education, and advocacy for its clients. His job title is merchant liaison, and it involves technical support for new business development, in the push to revive the Burnside Avenue commercial district.

Looking back, Gonzalez says,

Living and working at the Bowery Mission really opened up my eyes to what life in the community is really like. It showed me how much we take for granted. I thought I had it bad, but every day, people come into the shelter just looking for food. It really changed my way of thinking.

If you’re visiting this site for the first time, Richard R. Troxell and House the Homeless invite you to learn more about the Let’s Get to Work Initiative.

Source: “The New Homeless: Candido Gonzalez at New York’s Bowery Mission,” DailyFinance, 12/16/09
Source: “A ‘New Homeless’ Revisited: A New Job and New Hope for Candido Gonzalez,” Daily Finance, 10/14/10
Image by jebb, used under its Creative Commons license.