In Focus Headlines
|Written by Staff Writer|
|Sunday, 15 July 2012 18:54|
This Ramadan, for one full week, New York resident Yusef Ramelize will be abstaining from more than food and drink. For a fourth year in a row, the 35-year-old graphic designer will be trading the comforts of his safe, clean, comfortable apartment, for a public park bench and life as a homeless person.
The Muslim Link spoke to Mr. Ramelize about his unique Ramadan tradition.
ML: Why do you go homeless for one week every year?
I go homeless to raise consciousness about homelessness especially in New York where there are tens of thousands homeless and near homeless individuals and families. I’m just one person, and I want to do what’s in my power to make a difference. Hopefully, it will inspire others to make a difference in their own way.
ML: Why in Ramadan?
The first year I went homeless I went during the winter time. But the second time, I chose the month of Ramadan because it is a month for sacrifice, spiritual growth and charitable works. It seemed like a good fit for my goals with the project.
ML: Was there a particularly event in your life, or experience that made you feel this would be beneficial?
I have always had the want to impact my community in a positive way. I am inspired by stories of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that displayed his generosity. He would give without hesitation and without fear of poverty. I strive for that same fearlessness. Going homeless really challenges me to face those fears.
In addition to my personal journey, I also wanted to make a difference for people who have to face poverty and homelessness every day. There are so many wonderful organizations that serve the homeless, and I chose to select one every year and raise money for them. This year we are raising money for Muslims Against Hunger.
ML: Have you ever been homeless by circumstance?
No, by the grace of God, I haven’t. But I know there is potential for anyone to become homeless. Some of us are only two paychecks away from it. I strive to be appreciative of what I have, as I know it’s not guaranteed.
ML: So, during the project you’re fasting from dawn to sunset and sleeping on the streets. You don’t carry money, a cell phone or even change of clothing. And last year you went barefoot. Why go to such lengths?
I realize it is kind of a dramatic thing to do. Some people ask me can’t you just raise money, or why don’t you go volunteer somewhere. I do that too. But I know sometimes we need to be bold when we’re facing big problems. This is a personal challenge for me to face my fears and a way for me to shine a light an issue that is often ignored. My goal is to encourage others to get involved and give back in whatever way they can. This is what I can do. So, I encourage others to explore what they are capable of doing.
ML: What’s does a typical day on the streets look like for you?
My day mostly consists of praying, observing and reflecting on this alternate reality. As it is the month of Ramadan, I often try to get to a mosque every evening to pray. Sometimes friends come and find me to bring me food to break my fast and for suhur (meal at the beginning of the fast). But, this year I’ll be going homeless in Washington Square Park across the street from New York University’s Islamic Center. I will likely pray maghrib (sunset prayer) and break my fast there. Additionally this year, as I am raising money for Muslims Against Hunger, we will plan two days that week where we distribute food to homeless and hungry people in the area.
ML: How would you describe the reactions of the homeless to your project?
I have had mixed reactions, some people appreciate what I am doing to encourage awareness of this issue, others have been a little offended--feeling I was only imitating what they face every day. I can’t deny that, at the end of that week, alhamdulilah (thanks be to God), I do have a home to go to. In past years I’ve chosen not to discuss my going homeless with homeless people I meet on the street. The last thing I would want to do is make people feel like I’m mocking them.
ML: You’re intending to do this for a fourth year insha Allah (God willing). What prompts you to do this year after year?
Each year brings a new challenge. It’s a new reminder of all of the blessings I’ve been afforded. And for the past few years, the number of homeless individuals and families has been rising in New York. It seems there is more and more need for us all to get involved however we can to fight this.
ML: How do you prepare for your week on the streets?
It’s a mental preparation. I spend a lot of time praying and reflecting when I go homeless so I take time to purify my intention and spiritually prepare.
ML: What have you learnt from the project?
Not to take anything for granted. It’s the simple basic things that you don’t even think about that become the most challenging when you’re on the street. One of my biggest problems is finding someplace safe to sleep, where I won’t be asked to move by the police, or where someone else has already laid their claim. That becomes especially difficult when it rains. It has really humbled me. As human beings we are both fragile and resilient.
ML: What’s the most interesting experience you’ve had while living on the streets?
One of the most eye opening experiences for me was seeing people come to soup kitchens dressed in suits. People who are educated, professional, “working class” people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Seeing that broke many of the stereotypes I held about homeless people. It can really happen to anyone.
ML: What specifically would you like to achieve this year?
Each year I’m moved by the amount of support I receive for the project. In total, the Homeless For One Week team has raised over $9,000 for homeless organizations. In a single year, however, I haven’t yet reached my goal to raise $5,000. This year, insha Allah, I’m determined to meet that goal with the help of the community.
ML: Any further thoughts?
If you’d like to donate, hear more about the project, follow our project or get involved visit: www.homelessforoneweek.com ■