“I’m tired,” mayoral candidate Mike Tolkin said.
The Democrat, who is running on the Smart Cities ballot, is one day into living seven days as a homeless New Yorker to raise awareness for the issue and highlight his plans to combat it.
“Yesterday, I could walk into a coffee shop and no one was going to look at me differently,” he said. “Today, I look disheveled, like I’ve been sleeping on the street. The looks on people’s faces are different. The most important part for me is that people understand how emotionally devastating it is.”
While he will spend most of his time in City Hall Park, Tolkin ended up sleeping on the floor of the nearby Chambers Street A/C subway station for warmth.
He does not have money, food or extra clothing beyond what’s on his back. He did bring a toothbrush and toothpaste, medication and pain patches he’s been using since throwing his back out last week. He does have his cell phone and computer to share the experience with the public and do some campaign work.
“When you’re on the street, you’ve exhausted all possible options,” he said. “This is an exercise, but as much as possible I want to use it as a platform to cultivate empathy and compassion.”
The 32-year-old candidate did a similar exercise earlier this year to “understand the psychology of folks going through this to inform a comprehensive set of solutions, which is what it did.”
Tolkin is referring to his three-prong platform to address homelessness if elected. The first, NYC Life, would “abolish the shelter system that exists today,” he said. He will develop new rehabilitation centers with interim housing, health and mental care, childcare and job and vocational training.
NYC Homes would offer “rent subsidies for people at risk of displacement and develop entirely new affordable housing campuses that are community-based and integrated into their neighborhoods, but owned and operated by the city a non-profit on behalf of the city,” he said.
The third is the underlying cause, he said, “which is rooted in the fundamental inequality in our city. We need to reframe our economy so it benefits all people. We’re promoting a series of economic stimulus initiatives that include universal basic income, radical investments in new social programs and restructuring our economy new industries.”
Tolkin is not listed as a participant in the first general election debate on Tuesday, which will feature incumbent Democrat Bill de Blasio, Republican Nicole Malliotakis and independent Bo Dietl, but said he did qualify — as he did for the primary debates.
“I got, by the government, illegally kept out of the Democratic debates,” he said. “I’ve raised and spent half a million dollars, and I will be in (this) debate.”
While he’s says being called a “longshot candidate” by the media is “priming people to tune out,” he believes he can win on Nov. 7.
“After we participate in the debate, we can reset the narrative currently in the media and be a viable candidate,” he said.