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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.    



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Sleeping Bags on Sidewalks

Issue Area: Consumer

I live around the corner from St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center in Rochester, New York, which provides free breakfasts to people that need one in my neighborhood.  So many mornings, there are so many people waiting for breakfast, that I literally walk around them sleeping on the sidewalk, waiting for the doors to open.  This time of year, these folks are more often than not lying directly on the sidewalk or in the doorway with a blanket or sleeping bag over them, trying to find some kind of warmth.

This morning, there was a woman younger than me with four small children under one sleeping bag on the sidewalk.  One of the children woke as I walked by, and in her tiny voice asked me if breakfast was ready.  It made me pause and wonder how this family had come to be on this sidewalk on this morning.

At Empire Justice Center, I work in the Consumer Finance and Housing Unit, helping local families avoid foreclosure.  My work day is full of bank statements, paystubs, legal motions, court filings and endless bank applications - doing everything I can to keep people in their homes.  I spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about principal reductions, mortgage servicing violations, urban blight and opposing counsel. 

This morning, along with the bank statements and paystubs, I will be thinking about sleeping bags on sidewalks.

Of course I have no idea if that little girl and her family once had a house that was lost to foreclosure - there are countless paths that could have led them to that sidewalk on South Avenue.  In our busy jobs, it’s easy to become immune to the numbers and to the stories behind the problems that we’re trying to solve. 

Sometimes it’s just too easy to pass by the sleeping bags on the sidewalks, and the tiny voices and puffy eyes of small children.  But I think in the days ahead, I might do my job better if I keep this morning’s walk to work in mind.