NEW YORK (Reuters) – In a storage facility in New York City, volunteers loaded up 300 colorful backpacks with first aid kits, water, socks, sunblock, toothpaste and snacks that will soon to be distributed to people who are homeless.
Jeffrey Newman, 53, his husband and business partner Jayson Conner, 44, and a team of volunteers plan to hand them out over the course of a week throughout all five boroughs.
“The thing about backpacks is it gives people hope,” said Newman, founder of Backpacks For The Street, a program he created in 2018 from his public charity, Together Helping Others.
Inside each backpack is a business card with the program’s contact information, so Newman can help facilitate their needs, whether it’s housing, a job search, stimulus check, or just someone to talk to.
“It’s not going to cure homelessness by any means, and that’s why we’re very big on solutions… and helping people get off the street,” said Newman.
Over three years, Backpacks For The Street has given out 30,000 backpacks filled with supplies. More than 22,000 backpacks have been handed out since the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York in March of 2020.
Conner, who has been homeless himself, said Newman saved his life.
“I don’t think I could have survived if it wasn’t for him. He took me in when nobody else basically would, so I pretty much owe him my life,” he said.
Newman, who was previously a business developer and a journalist, created Together Helping Others and then Backpacks For The Street shortly after he turned 50.
A couple of times a week and every Sunday, Newman drives a van filled with backpacks to the Lower East Side neighborhood in Manhattan.
Richard Thomas, 59, has been homeless for four years. “Without y’all, we wouldn’t be with all this good stuff y’all got to share, with stuff that we need, to make it through the day,” he said.
Nearly 80,000 people are homeless in New York City, according to The Bowery Mission.
(Reporting by Roselle Chen; editing by Diane Craft)