Man Left Homeless Due To Disabilities: ‘What Can The State Do?’

Russell, a 57-year-old born in Virginia, is pictured this week in Jamestown. He said disabilities due to polio and a car crash have left him unable to work and homeless. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

Having had polio as a child and later injured in a head-on car crash, Russell has a hard enough time getting around let alone the ability to hold down a steady job.

Therein lies the rub for the 57-year-old, who wished only to be identified by his first name.

Even if he wanted to get a job, he’d likely need a place to live. But he’s been suffering the ill-effects of his past for so long he’s been left homeless for years.

The lack of work means going without many basic necessities, he noted during an interview this week from a metal table and bench installed along the Riverwalk in Jamestown.

“If you can’t work, you can’t feed yourself, you can’t take care of yourself,” Russell said. “You need to ask somebody for help. People say we can do this or that, and only God knows how we are, who we are.”

He’s not bitter by his situation, but laments his overall health due to polio and a 1994 car crash that he said left him with an injured neck and back.

Born in Martinsville, Va., Russell found his way to Western New York in the early 2000s. In speaking with The Post-Journal, he was open about his struggles with homelessness and what he’s witnessed in Jamestown as those without shelter have grabbed the attention of the public and local officials.

“I’ve just been trying to wing it,” he said of his daily routine.

Russell said he was first drawn to Buffalo around 2003 or 2004 for work in the ministry. The allure, he noted, was more about the potential for stability in his life than necessarily becoming closer to God.

“They said, ‘We will take you in and feed you,'” Russell recalled. “Well, it’s housing and it’s clothes. You try to take care of basic physical needs — food, water, shelter. You wing it; tell them what they want to hear.”

Russell said he previously was married and has two kids, neither of whom he speaks to anymore. He assumes his parents, believed to still be in Virginia, are still alive. He described his dad as a “hard working man” and can’t bear to think that either parent may have passed away without his knowledge.

His plan to enter the ministry long fizzled out, he now finds himself in Jamestown among a handful of others who — after previously taking refuge under the West Third Street bridge — began hanging out on Main Street near the Chadakoin River. The homeless have since been cleared, and city officials on Thursday cleaned under the railroad tracks where many had been staying.

Russell said homelessness is an “epidemic” in the country and should be treated by officials the same as COVID was early on: acknowledge there is a serious problem and focus energy and resources at finding a cure.

“Man, if we don’t do something, think about 20 years from now, you know?” said Russell, who’s also certain he’s had COVID twice now.

He did bristle at the notion that New York might do more to address the homeless issue statewide.

“What can the state do?” he asked quickly. “I mean, if you look at it, what can a person who’s behind a desk or in a position just write out some rules or laws saying that, ‘You gotta work,’ ‘You gotta help,’ ‘You gotta support,’ ‘You gotta take care of the ones who can’t take care of themselves.’ That’s not happening; ain’t nobody doing that.”

At present, Russell said he has no future plans or goals. He stays up at night and tries to get some sleep during the day.

“I never sleep in the dark,” he said. “If you’re asleep then you can’t see what’s happening and what can happen.”

Even that thinking, however, has recently been proven flawed. Russell said he was startled during the day this week by police officers and EMS personnel after someone apparently spotted him laying motionless in the grass and figured he was in need of help.

As it turned out, he had found a spot in the grass after a long day and decided to go to sleep.


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