As we honor our heroes on the front line—the doctors, nurses, teachers, and the blue-collar backbone of this country—it is now, more than ever, imperative to also remember those who often go unremembered: the homeless.
Just as the max exodus of the Columbia student body is draining the coffers of local businesses, the tin cans and Styrofoam cups which used to jangle with students’ errant coins and generous dollars likewise long for the wealthy foot traffic which used to fill them. However, for our neighbors who make their homes near Morton Williams, outside of Duane Reade, or by the warm grates on Broadway and 114th, there is no godsent two-months-of-free-rent manna.
There is no rent because there is no roof over their heads and increasingly fewer places to turn. The men’s and women’s shelters at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and New York Society for Ethical Culture, which are typically staffed by student-volunteers from Columbia’s Project for the Homeless, have been forced to close their doors. The Housing Equity Project is unable to deliver its usual provisions, and the Columbia-Harlem Medical Partnership, which provided free medical care to the homeless, has had to suspend operations owing to an abundance of caution related to COVID-19.
In response to this disease, I’ve watched a viral outpouring of goodwill from within the Columbia community. From the handsewn masks to fundraising campaigns and social isolation, there is amazing heart and soul behind each of these commendable actions. But we must not forget our most vulnerable denizens. While fleeing to every corner of the world to ride out the coronavirus, the homeless of Morningside Heights slipped off of our radars and fell out of sight and out of mind.
With the student body gone, and Columbia largely shuttered, we should continue to be innovative as a community. To start, for all of those who are financially able, please donate to the wonderful organizations which may help the homeless in our stead. For the faithful, please keep the homeless in your prayers, and for the politically active, please write, email, and call your governors, senators, representatives and local elected officials.
Also, perhaps, if Columbia is going to refund the students for their dining plans, it can also help in providing meals for the homeless by supporting groups like the Food Pantry at Columbia, which is still operating on campus. The University should provide the homeless with hand sanitizer and, if students donate, homemade masks. To the shelters that do remain open, Columbia should donate cleaning supplies.
As we continue our all-hands-on-deck war against the coronavirus, please, aim your eyes and your passions back toward the community which has in part relied on us. I promise you have the time.
Ryan Oden is a sophomore studying political science and sociology at Zoom University and on the Opinion staff. Currently cooped up with a dog and laptop, he enjoys binge-watching Netflix and ordering delivery like a hero.
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