New York Times
About New York; Promise of Cots Keeps Homeless On the Move
By DAN BARRY (NYT) 821 words
Published: December 6, 2003
THE promise of beds in Brooklyn has the women waiting by the door. They know too well that sleeping several
nights in a chair can swell the feet needed to keep moving, keep moving. So a bed is nice.
The bus to Brooklyn is late, though, leaving the women to linger a bit longer at the Antonio G. Olivieri drop-in
center, which operates out of an old fur factory on West 30th Street. The room has its own blended aroma of strong
perfume, old clothes in plastic bags and the corned beef that has just been served on disposable plates. Ruth, who
sits like a dispatcher behind a glass-encased desk near the front door, offers assurances that the bus is en route.
The eight years she has worked nights at Olivieri have not cooled her maternal warmth. It'll be all right, her tone
seems to say. It'll be all right. Some of the women stand as they wait, their bagged belongings within arm's reach. Others
sit in plastic chairs that might otherwise be their bed for the night. One is Jerilynn, who is so fed up with this
city that she plans to move to Reno in the spring. Another is Suhaey, who needs a good night's sleep because she has
work in the morning at a Midtown boutique.
"I sell chocolate," she says.
Suhaey and Jerilynn, Ruth at her desk and the bus driver on his way. They are all players in a nightly New York ritual
arranged by the Department of Homeless Services and the Partnership for the Homeless: the shuttling of homeless people
to church and synagogue basements throughout the city, where government-issue cots await. Of New York's tens of
thousands of homeless people, those who sleep on these cots are among the most difficult to help. Wriggling in the
grip of substance abuse or mental illness or profound misfortune, they gravitate toward the drop-in centers that are
tucked here and there in the city's commercial grayness.
Olivieri, a round-the-clock sanctuary for women run by the nonprofit Urban Pathways, has no cots. But it does have food,
showers, a medical clinic and overwhelmed social workers juggling 90 cases. It also has claim to some of those coveted
''church beds'' -- though not enough for everyone.
Some women avoid these beds: too far; too unfamiliar. The rest take turns on bus routes unknown to the transit
authority. One bus leaves Olivieri for Broadway Presbyterian Church in Harlem; another for the Society for Ethical Culture
on the West Side. Another makes stops at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, Bay Ridge United Methodist Church and
St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church in Park Slope. At 8 p.m., a man invades this female sanctuary: Ronald, driver of
the bus to Brooklyn. Ruth announces his arrival over a loudspeaker: ''Ladies for Brooklyn Heights.'' Ruth reads the roll
call of the Brooklyn-bound, punctuating each name with a ''Good night.'' Jerilynn, Suhaey and the other bundled women
board an old school bus that bounces to every pebble. It bangs down Seventh Avenue, away from the tree-lighting ceremony
at Rockefeller Center that supposedly kicks off Christmas in this city. Volunteers at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
have lasagne waiting for their 10 guests tonight. Lights out by 10, and up early tomorrow for the 6:30 bus back to
Manhattan. Keep moving, they keep moving, toward who knows where.
The bus trundles along Canal Street, with nearly every seat taken up by a woman, her belongings and her
thoughts. Jerilynn, 47, looks out upon the city that she blames for her situation. Her downward spiral included weeks
in which she found rest only through the rhythmic lullaby of the A train, and only then if she remained upright. She
had a story ready for inquisitive conductors: from out of town; just nodded off; going to visit my son. SPRING, though,
means Reno. ''New York's not going nowhere,'' she reasons at one point. ''Been here since 16-something.''
Behind her sits Suhaey, 26, a university student who says she is just a year away from earning her degree. A fistfight
with a sibling two months ago disrupted her studies, though, when she was the one to leave their upper Manhattan
apartment. Now she takes her medication, sells her chocolate and hopes each night for a church bed. ''I've stayed
everywhere,'' she explains. ''Except Ethical.''
The yellow school bus turns onto the Manhattan Bridge, where the panorama of this city can make you sing or
make you cower. A woman in one of the back seats says that she likes these quiet nighttime rides. You have your
own seat, she says. Your own window.
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