Pops’ perspective: One man’s view of life on the street and the Newark government
Associate News Editor
Just outside the Bank of America on Main Street, a man, bundled in multiple heavy layers despite the burgeoning spring weather, sits with a cart and a sign which reads “Homeless Veteran Nam.” The man identifies himself only as “Pops,” and he is just one of over two dozen other homeless individuals on the streets of Newark.
Pops, 70, said he served in the army stationed near Saigon (modern day Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, with the 82nd Infantry Division from 1970 to 1971. In an all-too-familiar story, he returned from the war to find his country engulfed in anger and protest toward government and a divisive war, yet, to Pops, his countrymen decided to direct their anger towards veterans like himself. After difficulties finding work, he served multiple stints in prison and found himself homeless by 1989.
Having found Wilmington too dangerous, Pops migrated to Newark. His hopes that a safe college town would yield a better life for him on the streets have so far been confirmed, but he worries that the Newark city government is indifferent to the homeless.
“The government here, they don’t much try to help you,” Pops said. “They try to run you out of town is what they do. I mean, I get we can be an eyesore, but they’ve never done one thing that might make things easier out here.”
Pops said he has a good relationship with the officers of the Newark Police Department (NPD), who usually spare him a few dollars or bring him food as they pass by, but he’s noticing a trend of increasing aggressiveness toward other homeless people in Newark.
“Matter of fact, I’ve been seeing cops going around the place and pulling guys like me out of restaurants and stores,” another homeless man on Main Street, who asked to be identified only as Gregory, said. “They didn’t do that much before, but I saw that just yesterday.”
Pops spends his time off the street at the Newark Empowerment Center in the Newark United Methodist Church. The church provides the homeless with a hot meal five days a week and assists them with finding clothing, restrooms and access to phones.
Pops believes that nonprofits can only help so much. The largest problem facing Newark’s homeless, Pops believes, is mental health.
“I’m one of the lucky ones out here,” Pops said. “I’ve got congestive heart failure, pneumonia occasionally, but that’s fine. I’ve still got my head. Other guys have really lost it, and if I could talk to the City Council or somebody, I’d ask to create some sort of treatment center.”
One of Pops’ most frequent visitors is former Newark Mayor Vance Funk III, also a Vietnam War veteran. Pops has expressed his concerns to Funk about the city government’s indifference several times, but has not seen any substantive changes.
Pops said, laughing, that this year he has “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel,” but he stressed that it should not be the same for the other homeless in Newark, who he believes could benefit from increased government assistance.
“It’s not because you can’t find food,” Pops said. “It’s actually hard to go hungry around here. No, I lost those friends because they lost their minds, and stopped eating because of that. We’ve got food out here, but if the City Council did one thing, or the mayor did one thing, don’t build a shelter, no, build a mental health center. That’s what we need out here.”
Newark’s City Manager’s office and the NPD did not respond to requests for comment.