Buffalo is known for its winters, its subzero temperatures and its snowstorms that seem to last from November to April. But what most people do not realize about the snowy city, is that many people spend their winters on the streets.
In 2007, the U.S. Census Board named Buffalo as the second poorest city in the nation. Factories that once supplied jobs are now vancant buildings and one third of its adult population is living below the poverty line.
Its streets are “home” to 2000 homeless people on any given night. Bev, 45, is one of them.
Bev grew up in Niagara Falls, NY. She moved away 19 years ago and ended up in Canada with an abusive husband and a drug and alcohol problem.
“He used to like to slam my ankle in the car door,” Bev said of her husband as she stared down at her worn black sneakers. “I’m running away from my husband.”
She learned about shelters in Canada that were meant for people in her situation. Shestarted living on the streets Ottawa where heroin, or “down” as she calls it, was running rampant. However, she only tried heroin once and insists that she would never do it again.
Crack cocaine and alcohol were her drugs of choice. Bev recalled that the shelters in Canada, unlike in the U.S., knew why the people were there.
“They don’t condone you… they know that us on the streets have a problem…for whatever it may be drugs or alcohol, or mental illness.”
Bev spoke of a homeless friend in Buffalo who is an alcoholic named Brandon. He was staying at the City Mission and getting sober but one night did not show up because he relapsed and drank. Because of his mistake, the Mission would not allow him back for six months.
“Now come on.. its a shelter,” said Bev. “Its supposed to be there for people who don’t have a home. If you don’t come back that night then give your bed away but you should be allowed to come back the next day. That’s what a mission is for. That’s the purpose of a shelter.”
Bev’s experience with shelters in Buffalo have been equally shaky. She stayed at Corner Stone Manor, the Mission for women and children, where she was required to remain unemployed, stay there and “focus on herself.”
“They didn’t want me to get on welfare,” Bev said. “They just wanted me to stay there do my chores and go to church every night at 7:30… I mean come on you can’t force God on somebody.”
The Buffalo City Mission is purely funded by private donations and the Catholic Church so the government does not regulate any of its practices or rules.
“I understand that its not run by any donations from the state,” Bev said. “But at the same time I’m 45 years old and they should sort of help me and structure me to prepare me to get out and help me to get a job if I want a job. But, they don’t want you to do that.”
Bev has also experienced problems with the locations of the shelters.
“I know that some of these people in very good neighborhoods don’t want the “undesirables” hangin’ around their houses but… we don’t wanna go to that area [where the shelters are] because there will be problems with somebody harassing you to do sexual favors to come do drugs and for people who are trying to not do drugs or alcohol going over to the one at Cornerstone and going to the store… its right there in theFruit Belt… The methadone clinic is right down the street. It’s right there staring you in the face.”