NEW YORK -- A book party at Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus celebrated publication of a tome, perhaps the year's most unusual, giving glimpses of life without four walls.
That's the condition of thousands of homeless. Needs of this nearly invisible and faceless crowd have grown immensely over the last year in 25 major cities, a report from the United States Conference of Mayors noted recently.
An average of 25 percent of shelter-seekers are being turned away by many city shelters, the mayors' report said, noting that one-third of the homeless population now consists of families with children.
The book, "Forgotten Voices, Unforgettable Dreams," published by Coalition for the Homeless, New York City, contains writings and sketches collected from homeless people by Deborah Mashibini, assistant director of the Coalition.
"I first came to know some of these writers . . . through a writing contest held by the Coalition . . . for individuals living in emergency shelters and on the streets," Mashibini said.
"Over the . . . next year and a half, more than 100 writers and artists submitted work for this manuscript.
"We have worked, laughed and cried together.
"Once your four walls, closet, makeup mirror, and dead-of-night privacy are taken from you, there's not much left with which to keep up pretensions. It's virtually impossible not to be hit straight on with your self, life and death.
"In this world so cluttered with illusion, fantasy, and pretense . . . we can learn much from these voices. And that's got nothing to do with homelessness; it has to do with life."
"Throughout . . . history, many of the most powerful voices have come from those who have suffered extremes. Edgar Allen Poe lived and died a 'vagrant,' buried in Potter's Field. Ralph Ellison slept in the park below City College, broke and without a home.
"Cezanne sold none of his work in his lifetime, living perpetually on the brink of starvation."
Excerpts from works by the homeless:
A sketch is shaped like an hourglass. The upper half shows a dreamhouse on a manicured plot. The bottom half shows a homeless person on a bench. The middle shows grains of sand or seeds of dreams shifting to the lower half.
A man with half a face holds a sandwich in one hand and a spoon dipping into a bowl. The spoon is held by a hand. But the hand has no arm.
"There ain't no sech word as 'badder' but i'm going from 'badder' to worse, til i'm about ready to cuss or -- is it more prapper to say 'curse.' "
"I am 37 years old. I look like I am 52 years old. Some people say that street life is free and easy. It's not free and it's not easy. You don't put no money down. Your payment is your health and mental stability."
"My country's name is apathy. My land is smeared with shame. My sightscape moves its homeless hordes through welfare's turgid flame. The search goes on for rooms and warmth, some closet hooks, a drawer, a hot plate, just for one's own soup -- what liberty is for."
"The daily mantra of 'no sleeping here,' 'move on,' 'get out,' 'why don't you get a job' make thoughts of home so sharply disappear."
"Perhaps the only way to be warm would be in a grave. Buried under the dirt and dust, with no more fear, or any sound. That's where we all end up anyway one day."
"Those who seek to supply us bed have never taken into account my dread that even homed and washed with clothing new there will be no one to even say: 'I love you.' "