Last week, I covered the 2016 Homeless Persons' Memorial Day, an event to remember the homeless New Yorkers who die each year, for Gothamist. Until earlier this month, I had never heard of this event before and I have worked in homeless services for more than five years. They have had a bit of a PR problem in New York City. Before the event, I met with a few formerly homeless individuals and homeless advocates including David Broxton.
When Broxton was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he assumed he would die just like so many of his homeless peers.
“I got depressed and I said, ‘What is this? I’m homeless and now I have prostate cancer?’” Broxton said. “I don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out. How am I gonna beat cancer? I had never heard of anybody getting cured of cancer.”
After crashing in crack houses or wearing out his welcome at family members’ homes, Broxton said he had by then begun to stabilize his life. He said he visited a local library, checked out five books about prostate cancer – including “Prostate Cancer for Dummies” – and decided to undergo treatment.
Thirteen years later and with his cancer in remission, Broxton, 80, is a member of the Care for the Homeless Consumer Advisory Board and lives in a permanent apartment in Harlem. Each year, he said, he attends the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day event to honor dead men and women –often anonymous victims of murder, preventable illness or indifference– with the understanding that he could have been one of them.
“It’s always sad to see someone pass away, but what gives you a certain amount of closure is memorial services to remember them,” he said. “We all have to make that journey but we hope that somebody will remember us.”