We Need More Action, Less Cardboard

I long for the day when we only use cardboard for moving and packing and children’s art projects. These days my mind is filled with images of cardboard; words written on cardboard.

On almost every street, every corner, every sidewalk in Manhattan, I see so much cardboard…tons and tons and tons of cardboard. Almost all of it has a message on it. I see cardboard made into forts, but mostly I see cardboard with messages, pleas for help….any kind of help.

Here are just some of the hundreds of messages I see written on cardboard day after day, year after year, decade after decade:

“I Need A Little Kindness”

“I Am  Tired of Life. Anything Helps”

“I Have AIDS. Anything You Can Do is A Help”

“I Am a Homeless Veteran. Please Help.”

“Lost and Alone. Will Take Food, Water, Change. Every Bit Helps”

“Single Mother with Baby and No Job. Please Help My Kids”

“At The End of My Rope…Anything You Can Spare Will Help”

“I Am Not On Drugs. Everybody Sometimes Needs a Little Help”

“I Just Found Out I Have Cancer. All I Need is a Chance. Anything Helps.”

All of the above are actual cardboard signs I have seen and they are but a tiny fraction of all the cardboard signs I see every day.

For me, cardboard has become the symbol of the tragedy of homelessness. In Manhattan, when I see words written in magic marker on cardboard, I know that nothing good is happening. Cardboard is the message board of the homeless.  It is their only medium to express what is in their heart, to ask for what they so desperately need.  Homeless men and women do not have a phone or email or Twitter or Facebook or snapchat or often, even a piece of paper.

The homeless have cardboard.  Cardboard is the life-line, the keyboard, the only means of communication for millions of people living on the streets.

I am writing these words on this screen today because I am lucky enough to not have to communicate using cardboard….and because I want every person who reads my words to do what I am doing (or something anywhere in the ballpark that will help the suffering out there in the streets).

I don’t want praise.  I don’t want excuses. I want action.  Please read my words and take an individual action in whatever way works best in your own personal life.   Please, please, please take action to help the homeless.  Make a donation, volunteer, spread the word….whatever you can think of.  No action is too small.

We have work to do and we need to do it now.   Every one of us.  Not later.  Now.

Here is my experience:

I wish you all could be a fly on the wall for my New York City adventures the past two weeks.  The summer in New York City (so far – and I am talking about the hot days) is truly killing me inside watching the thousands of homeless individuals sleeping on the burning streets and subways (or on cardboard).  IT IS HOT OUT THERE.   I literally have felt what can only be described as agony in my gut, watching the scores of sweating, suffering people sitting and sleeping on the hot city sidewalks the past week.  This is wrong.

It is wrong in winter and it is wrong in summer.  It is wrong on all days, in all seasons.  It is simply wrong.  The wrongness and inhumanity of it is…well, you know what it is.

Pro-active person that I am, I took action – and even now I can see how very miniscule of an action it is compared with the desperate need out there, but it’s better than nothing.  Any action is better than nothing at all.  I bought dozens of bottles of water, put them in a little thermal rolling cart and take them with me as I walk around the city and ride the subway this summer — dropping them next to sleeping homeless people or giving them out to roasting awake people (some awake, some sleeping).

I’m not telling you what I am doing because I want your praise.  Everybody likes praise and I am no exception, but this is different.  Please keep your praise.  I’m not telling you this for praise.  I’m telling you this because, if you are reading this, I want you to imitate me.  Please imitate me.  If imitation is the purest form of flattery, please flatter me.  Please tell your friends.  Let’s all praise and imitate each other up the wazoo for our good deeds and let’s all get out there and get moving to help these hot, suffering people.

Many of the people I have given water are sleeping, but the non-sleeping people — man, my heart goes out to them with some of the conversations I have had.  I honestly am filled with horror thinking about what it would be like if I ever had to spend 18 hours on a cement street-corner in 95 degree temperatures.  (Passing the ones in wheelchairs who are old, disabled, injured, sick, blistered from the sun, and/or immobile – these are the most heartbreaking of all.)

I admit that I am way too emotionally “desperate” in these efforts – there have been times when I thought my heart would literally explode right out of my chest from the pain of seeing the pain on the faces of the homeless out there in these brutally hot temperatures.

Long story short, however – and really the reason I am telling this story – is that it is not all self-less.  This I admit.  I can’t even describe the feeling that swells inside me when I see that a sweating person right in front of me is a little less dehydrated, at least for the moment…or even more important, when I see their eyes. Some of their eyes have a tiny bit more hope. Many eyes show nothing to me….many are too far gone…..but at least they may be a little cooler, a little less thirsty.

I can also tell you that every problem I thought I had in the past few months has completely disappeared.  The ecstasy I feel walking into an air-conditioned apartment with walls and a ceiling at the end of the day – man, I feel like I won the lottery the moment I enter my apartment each night.  The word “gratitude” can never possibly begin to cover it.

Stronger than gratitude, however, is empathy.  Empathy, man.  The suffering out there on the city streets kills me inside.

On the flip side, the most painful part of this whole experience is knowing inside that it is never, never, never enough.  This should not be happening.  I just can’t stand that it is happening, but it is.  Our country should be very ashamed that an 80-year old guy in a wheelchair is sleeping on the sidewalk with no hat, no sunscreen, no water or food and blistering sores and sunburn all over his legs.

Thank God for music because I don’t think I could stop thinking about all the suffering if it weren’t for the music lifting me up every day.  We live in a massively cruel world.  It is almost impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the agony out there, but taking action — even in a very small way gives a sense of purpose at least – and most important of all, maybe a sense of hope to those who are suffering.  I hope so – the hope is even more critical than a bottle of water in summer or a hat in winter.    I want these people to have real hope.

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said again and again and again by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and the dear Robin Williams and thousands of others.   Robin is gone, but he would want us to the core of his being to continue his work.  If we ever want to pay tribute to Robin Williams, this is the way.

Like those above and thousands more, I want what you want — I want these people to have real change.  I want the nightmare to stop.

What it’s all about is purpose, purpose, purpose.  Big or small, every one of us needs to feel like we have a purpose in all the brutal horror and the insanity out there…those with a home and those without.

The power of the emotions I have about it all are indescribable…and irrelevant.  It’s not the feeling of seeing it that is what counts here, it is the feeling of living it.  Summer (and winter) in New York City….HOLY CRAP is it a powerful experience – and the worst experience on earth for the homeless out there.  It takes all every bit of healing power inside me not to fall into the abyss of despair in seeing it all.  I know that despair is not the answer – for us or for the homeless.  Action is the answer.

If you are reading this, please take action.  Buy a few $1 bottles of water and carry them around with you and give it to someone you see who looks like they could use it.  Volunteer, donate…whatever works for you.

Do something.  Please do something – large, small or in-between.  Please do something.  The answer lies with every single one of us – no exceptions.  I will nominate us all for a freakin’ humanitarian award myself.  It is going to be a long summer and an even longer winter.  Please keep caring and please keep acting.

Happy Summer, everybody.  Stay cool, but most of all….please give a damn.

The homeless have cardboard, but we have the internet.  Let’s use it so that we may at long last, see more action, and less cardboard.





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