Monday, May 15, 2023
Generally clear. High 77 degrees.
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By Carol Tannenhauser
Poverty and homelessness have been in the news and on my mind these days. Between the safe haven opening for homeless people on West 83rd Street and the migrant crisis that has brought tens of thousands of asylum seekers to our city, it seems we are overwhelmed by the needs of others.
I remember a conversation I had with my grandfather long ago.
Grandpa was an immigrant from Russia. He grew up on the Lower East Side…sold loose cigarettes to help support his family…caught the 1918 Spanish Flu. He was very intelligent, but there was only enough money to send his older brother to college, so Grandpa went into construction…worked his way up to foreman…became a contractor…built the Woolworth Building…fell off of it, breaking his leg and becoming a numismatist. Trading coins turned into a successful business. His daughters made it out of the city and, eventually, he did too. They were all ensconced in the comfortable suburbs of my youth…as was I.
But not for long. Shortly after returning home from college, I announced I was moving to the city.
“Why would you want to move to the city?” my grandfather demanded.
“Because the suburbs are so…bland…there’s no poverty!” I blurted out.
“Why do you want poverty?” he asked, quizzically.
For half a century I have been stumped, coming back to his question time after time. Recently (too late to share with him, unfortunately), an answer came to me. Does it reek of privilege or white maternalism? I don’t mean it to; it’s an impulse I’ve always had when faced with unfairness and suffering.
“So I can help alleviate it.”
What do you think, Grandpa?