[Hpn] NYC, NY - One more death, needlessly cruel - New York Daily News -
August 17, 2002
Homeless Daily News
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Mon, 19 Aug 2002 00:13:45 -0500
One more death, needlessly cruel
By Mike Barnicle - New York Daily News - August 17, 2002
I saw a report the other day that City Councilman Joe Addabbo
from Queens sponsored a bill to add the names of some of those
killed Sept. 11 to city street signs.
It's nice to be remembered, and obviously no one is going to
forget the death or the drama of that day with or without the
window dressing of a sign.
But it's predictable that these people in politics seldom bother
to have signs for others who die needlessly cruel deaths in the
heart of New York.
Youngsters like Jason-Eric Wilson.
He was the 16-year-old who killed himself, depressed that his
family was homeless. Another anonymous casualty of the times.
Michael Daly wrote about him in Wednesday's paper. The column
ought to be required reading within the various municipal
bureaucracies where the poor and the desperate are often treated
Here's the instant replay on young Jason's life and death: He
grew up in Brooklyn, went to Public School 189, where he was an
Once his father, Eric Wilson, was diagnosed with leukemia,
chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant became the
father's full-time job. Instead of working to make a living, he
had to work to save his life.
Then the Wilsons discovered another reality: Most landlords don't
have a lot of patience.
The family became part of one of the fastest-growing urban tribes
in America, the nomadic homeless.
As they traveled the city in an unsuccessful search for stability,
it became apparent that Jason was having a whole lot
He was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. Being broke and not
having a bed to sleep in sure didn't add to the boy's comfort level.
At one point, they ended up at a shelter in Harlem.
There the father was told he had to produce documents proving the
kids were his and that he had custody, documents lost when the
landlord tossed the family onto the sidewalk.
Now, you're probably asking yourself how come he didn't go get
new documents, and why does a guy who graduated from Vassar, as
Wilson did, have so much trouble getting a job? Fair enough.
Except it's difficult for many of us to comprehend that the
hardest job of all in this country, hands down, is being poor.
In very short order, that - the fact of being broke - becomes a
Emergency rooms are the HMO.
Shelters are the address.
And almost everything the rest of us take for granted - shopping,
enrolling in school, getting a letter in the mail, making a phone
call, leaving a message - becomes nearly impossible.
Then there is the bureaucracy. It is too glib to claim the city
The mayor is a good guy with a kind heart, and I'm sure a story
like that of Jason-Eric Wilson bothers him and makes him pick up
the phone to demand answers.
But unfortunately, that's where the anger hits the end of the line.
City agencies can't handle the volume of cases on hand.
There are too many kids very much like Jason.
Too many desperate families with no place to stay.
Too many people with no job and even less hope.
Too many problems and no good solutions.
We've pumped billions into agencies that quickly become
And the appropriation of tax dollars to keep them in business has
become a higher priority than making sure these agencies actually
help human beings like Jason.
A couple weeks ago, the Wilsons hit the wall.
They were evicted from the homeless shelter when the father
couldn't produce the documents to satisfy a municipal bureaucracy
that views human beings who happen to be poor no differently than
a used car.
When that happened, it was reported that Jason told his father,
"I can't move anymore."
Then, a 16-year-old, tormented and deeply troubled, allowed his
demons to help him escape his New York City reality: He overdosed
on his dad's pills.
So who killed Jason-Eric Wilson? And why did he die?
Was it his own illness, the schizophrenia? Was it the indifference of the
bureaucracy to his family's situation?
Could his death have been prevented?
Forget about finding a place to sleep at night - why was he
unable to find a health professional who might have helped him
live each day?
None of that really matters anymore though.
The boy is dead.
And while there won't be any street sign bearing his name, it
might be nice if somebody in charge remembered who he was
and why he died.
Homeless & Housing Daily News