When you’re homeless in New York City, it’s easy to feel invisible to the many passersby who barely bat an eye as they rush past. In fact, that’s exactly how Jayson Conner felt when he was homeless here for more than two years.
“It’s a horrible, horrible way to exist,” he said. “It’s very difficult, and you’re crushed.”
That’s why Conner and his husband, Jeffrey Newman, have long volunteered twice a week to help the homeless in New York City — and are now launching their own nonprofit called Together Helping Others to take their outreach even further.
The organization, which just got its 501(c)(3) status, will offer free haircuts and laundry services and will help New Yorkers in need find showers and mental health help among other things, Conner said.
As they waited for the status to be approved, Conner and Newman did not want to sit idly by, so they decided to hand out backpacks full of supplies to homeless individuals in Manhattan, which they did for the second time last week, distributing 150 bags across Midtown.
“We know the backpack isn’t going to get them off the street, and it’s not going to cure homelessness,” Newman said, “but it gives them hope, it lets them know they’re not alone, they’re not invisible. There’s nothing more marginalizing than people feeling invisible or ignored.”
The initiative, called Backpacks for the Street, will be distributed about every three months to give the homeless in New York City dozens of necessities such as toothbrushes and feminine hygiene products, as well as seasonal needs like moisturizers in summer and hand warmers and gloves in winter, Newman said.
“We work solely dependent on donations,” he added. “A lot of people donate money, and we raised a good amount of money, and people can buy from our Amazon Wish List. Now that we’re a 501(c)(3), that opens up a whole new avenue we can go down with the next one, which is planned for November.”
Fighting For Homeless in New York City and Beyond
Backpacks for the Street volunteers don’t just hand out bags to the homeless in New York City — they also take the time to speak and get to know the individuals because “one of the things they lack so much is human interaction,” Conner said.
Down the road, Newman and Conner plan to expand their services not only into the outer boroughs but also beyond the city.
“We’ve got people in San Fransciso, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale and other places wanting to start this in their town,” Newman said. “With the nonprofit, we hope to really become a point or center where people can get information and services and find ways that are going to help them. We’d definitely want it to be here long after we’re gone.”
For info, visit backpacksforthestreet.org.