Sleep-Shaming the Homeless

Image © 2011 by Patrick G. Ryan

There’s nothing good about being homeless, not one solitary thing, though I’ve run into more than a few people who claim they’ve been living on the streets between ten and forty years and they wear it like a bizarre badge of pride. If, however, you cannot avoid being without a home, New York isn’t the worst place to be for the simple fact you will never go hungry unless that is your aim. You can’t swing a dead cat in the city so nice they named it twice without hitting a soup kitchen. Plenty of places to throw some food down your gullet. Not always the tastiest morsels but enough to help you survive another day. Sleep, however, is a whole other kettle of fish.

If you are unable to secure a place to sleep in the overcrowded shelter system or a three-quarter house and you make your bed on the street, you quickly learn just how important a good night’s rest is and just how little of that you actually get. Veterans of the lifestyle have secured their hidey-holes and guard the location like it’s gold, others will lay out cardboard mattresses wherever they please, in doorways of closed businesses, on church steps, park benches, subway lines or even in the center of the sidewalk. But no matter how much sleep you manage to eke out at night, during the day, your body will crave the sleep it needs and it will eventually shut you down.

While there are some working homeless, a vast majority are unemployed, on benefits, disability, or supplemental security income and have to find places to spend their time in order to kill the day. No matter how strong-willed you are or how desperately you try to stay awake, eventually you will sit down somewhere and nod out, which is a big no-no in the Big Apple.

This needs to change.

Instead of having overzealous security guards make a public scene out of waking a person who closed their eyes for a moment, there should be places for people to grab a quick nap. I understand that most of the older security guards used to be in law enforcement in one aspect or another and intimidation tactics are part of their arsenal but is closing your eyes in a public place that severe a crime that a person should be forced to wear a scarlet letter?

Why must these mini-dictators get such a thrill out of sleep-shaming the homeless?

Don’t they understand the effects a lack of sleep has on the human psyche? And how that lack might affect the way they behave towards authority, the public at large, or even fellow homeless persons? Does no one understand that sometimes letting a person grab a power nap can make all the difference in how they cope with society and the day?

I know this is child’s logic. There’s no simple solution to sleep-shaming and the bigger issue is that of homelessness. I think it’s time for the thought process to turn from simply getting the homeless off the streets which means pushing the homeless from one neighborhood to another (that’s right upper east side I’m looking at you) or worst yet, processing people through Bellevue, which is almost as bad as being sent to prison due to a lack of health and safety. The adjusted goal should be to provide employment opportunities and safe, affordable housing to those who haven’t given up, who want to rejoin society as productive members, even if it requires services rendered to be bartered for room and board.


In the meantime, should you come across me sitting peacefully with my eyes closed, please give me a few moments rest before you disturb my peace. And by all means, try to be respectful should you need to wake me.

I may be homeless, but I’m still human. I still matter.