Edgar Perez, a homeless man we knew from the early days of the Home Van, left this
world yesterday. I want to talk about Edgar, not just because I cared about him, but because his
story is important. Edgar was born and raised in a high-crime, high-poverty neighborhood in the Bronx. He became a gang member and drug dealer at a young age. He married and had children. One day his young daughter said to him, "Daddy, I want to be just like you when I grow up." This was a wake-up call to him. He imagined his daughter, whom he loved so much, growing up to a life of drugs, guns, jail, and early death. Edgar quit the gang, quit dealing drugs, and moved his family to Florida.
His marriage did not survive all these upheavals, and Edgar ended up living in the woods and working day labor. His wife, however, got a good job and his daughter graduated from high school and went on to attend college.
Edgar was a happy person for the first few years we knew him. He was independent, going to day labor every day and meeting his own needs. He loved sitting around the campfire with other homeless guys, at the end of the day. He loved to laugh and could tell many a good story.
Then Edgar was diagnosed with cancer. In the course of treatment, other medical problems emerged. He applied for and received Disabililty, Medicaid, and an apartment at Sunrise Residence Inn. Although he faced medical challenges, he had a good attitude and hoped to overcome his problems.
One day Edgar was in the parking lot of the Sunrise Inn when an altercation broke out between two police officers and a suspect they were attempting to apprehend. The suspect had a gun. The police officers asked Edgar to come to their assistance and Edgar, according to his own account, froze. All three people involved in the fight were carrying guns. He was scared and didn't know what to do. He didn't have a cellphone or even a land phone in his apartment, where he might have dialed 911. After the suspect was apprehended, the police officers arrested Edgar and charged him with failure to come to the assistance of a police officer. He spent several months in jail, since the bail was more than anyone could come up with. While he was in
jail, his Disability check and Medicaid were taken away from him.
Egar finally got out of jail after the charges against him were dropped, but he did not get his Disability and Medicaid back. He had to reapply, which turned out to be a long and torturous process. He never did get either one back. He could no longer receive the medications he needed. He became depressed and pretty much gave up on life.
Edgar lost his benefits before he was found guilty of anything, and they were not restored
to him even after the charges against him were dropped. This is not an isolated instance. Homeless people and very poor people are "guilty until proven innocent." As far as I'm
concerned, Edgar was killed by the government.
Segregation, injustice, and oppression based on economic status is, in my opinion, THE civil rights issue of our time. It is multi-faceted and pandemic. All persons of conscience need to be involved in the struggle to restore civil liberties and full citizenship to poor and homeless people.
Here is what we need to remember about Edgar: Edgar loved his children and he managed, through his own efforts, to give them a far, far better life than he ever had. He was a happy guy who worked, took care of himself, and helped others whenever he could. He was a candle in the darkness of our times. In memory of him, we need to keep our candles shining brightly, however dark and long the night. Goodbye Edgar. We love you.