Temperatures are dropping here in New York City, and winter approaches quickly. I like the cool air—it clears my mind—but then again, I have easy access to a warm and comfortable home day and night. For over 50,000 New Yorkers, there is no such luck. Many stay in shelters, like where I am now, staffing the overnight shift at Ansche Chesed, but many are unable to secure even temporary housing. Instead, they seek warmth in subway tunnels and other hidden spaces where we don’t see them. The number of homeless families in our city has risen by 73% in the past 12 years, and there are now 21,000 homeless children in our city. These statistics come from a sobering article by Ian Frazier called, “Hidden City,” in the October 28 issue of The New Yorker.
21,000 homeless children—that is a shocking number, but it helps to connect it to a face. Can you picture a runaway teenager, alienated from his family, unsafe at home, bolting out the door in terror, pointing towards a vague destination, afraid of yet another round of rejection? Alone for the first time in his life, vulnerable in the night, collapsing in a hard place, seizing stones for shelter and perhaps self defense? That homeless child, that runaway teen, is of course Yaakov Avinu as the curtain draws open and our parashah begins. Continue reading