For 14 years, a Brooklyn bodega owner has quietly been housing homeless men in his store's basement. "They don't have," he said. "And I do." https://t.co/Dv8INebubs
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 10, 2018
Between the racks of canned beans and rolls of toilet paper in a bodega in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a staircase hides beside the shelves.
It leads to a cavern where, for the past 14 years, the bodega owner has quietly housed scores of homeless men, some with violent pasts and mental illness. He takes them in, from local park benches and street corners, unable to bear the idea of anyone out in the cold.
Here, beneath the shelves of instant soup and paper towels is an unauthorized shelter in its most primal form — a dank unfinished basement, cavelike and fetid, where the men sleep on pallets amid pools of dark water on the cement floor.
But there is real warmth, the men say. It comes from behind the deli counter, where seven days a week, stands the welcoming bodega owner, Candido Arcángel.
The shop is zoned for commercial use, and the basement does not have the required certificate of occupancy to permit people to live there. Mr. Arcángel has not made the necessary applications to the Department of Buildings to convert it into habitable space, which would require an inspection to determine if it is safe to do so.
The absence of permits has not deterred Mr. Arcángel, who says his reasoning for opening his basement to the homeless is simple. “Because they don’t have,” he said. “And I do.”Mr. Arcángel recognizes the limitations of the crude shelter he provides; its rawness, he imagines, will prevent anyone from getting too comfortable. He aspires to be a way station for men who don’t get such things, but he fears his refuge becoming a crutch. “I tell them this: “Gentlemen, here, there’s no way out,” he said. “‘Take off like a dove, flying. You’ll learn to fly on your own. When I die, where will you go?’”
Mr. Arcángel grew up in the Dominican Republic, with dreams of becoming a baseball player. He played professionally on a Venezuelan team for one year, he said, before a shoulder injury ended his career and he left for America in 1989. It was his experience as a boy playing on teams — where children from working-class families like himself played alongside street children — that showed him how providing some structure, even in the form of uniforms, bats and gloves, transformed his teammates’ lives.
“These youths that were lost, you have to find them, and bring them in, so they could love God,” he said. “This is not a personal mission; it’s a mission for the good of society.”
That’s right, Mr. Arcángel immigrated from a country the President no doubt considers a shithole. Yet it is Mr. Arcángel who is doing his part to maintain and extend America’s civil society, not tear it down through petty bigotry.
Stay frosty (and warm)!