Councilmember Ruben Wills took a dive into the lives of our city’s homeless to highlight hardships for those living in poverty, but called it quits after being diagnosed with pneumonia.
The councilmember began his journey to get a better look into the lives and struggles of the city’s population on the streets on Dec. 17.
“I knew for a fact going into it I would never understand the homeless situation, but I wanted to begin to develop an area of which I can begin to legislate,” Wills said.
His experiment contained various parts, he said, including sleeping on the streets, making enough money to eat and travel and gaining access to health care.
“The homeless situation goes beyond the primary factors that everyone understands. It goes beyond somebody losing their job,” he said.
The councilmember started at the Q6 bus shelter on Rockaway Boulevard and Baisley Boulevard, dressed in jeans, a sweater, a camouflage jacket, scarf and hat. He slept there before heading to a nearby Gulf gas station to “pump gas for change” for transportation costs.
Throughout his experiment, he continued to pump gas and also held open doors for spare change. He said he “didn’t beg” and discovered his fellow homeless “don’t want to sit there and beg for money, they would rather be equipped to work.”
However, his first night out, Wills went to the hospital and was diagnosed with pneumonia. After receiving antibiotics, he spent the night at the Staten Island Ferry terminal and continued his project the next day, but ultimately cut it short the night of Dec. 18.
“The experiment wasn’t for me to go out and die, it was for me to get a glimpse into the conditions they have,” he said.
After getting a doctors clearance, Wills plans to hit the streets once again and navigate the city’s homeless shelter system. He added other councilmembers want to join him, but did not say who.
In the new year, Wills hopes to call “immediate hearings” regarding policy for the homeless and hold open-panel discussions featuring those who “have gone through the homeless experience and survived.”
“To understand it after two days is impossible,” he said. “But at least I can have a glimpse of where we need to go for change.”
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