New York Dwayne

In furnishing meals, clothing and toiletries to Detroit’s homeless, Heart 2 Hart regularly comes to know many of the people we serve.

Many of them are often anxious to talk to us, to laugh with us and express their appreciation. One of those persons was “New York Dwayne,” an extraordinarily friendly guy with a wide smile and a gift for gab.

New York Dwayne had a dark past. According to him, more than 30 years ago, he caught a man with his wife and a fight broke out. Things escalated, and the man died. Dwayne was convicted of homicide and spent 30 years in a New York prison. When he was released, he moved to Detroit, hoping for a fresh start in a new city.

But with few job skills and a taste for alcohol, New York Dwayne found himself alone and living on the streets, just like thousands of other Detroiters.

We connected with New York Dwayne. He was sweet to us and never showed the slightest hint of anger or hostility. We gave him a new coat just weeks ago, and he was so touched he agreed to make a videotape for us to thank us for all we do for him. It was a very happy day for him.

And then the brutally cold temperatures arrived in Detroit, and Dwayne and thousands of other homeless people in the city were battling deadly conditions.

We just learned that New York Dwayne died last week. We’re told he got drunk, passed out and froze to death. We don’t know the details, and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that a poor, lonely soul died an inhumane and horrible death in the world’s wealthiest country.

At Heart 2 Hart, we don’t care about someone’s past misdeeds or mistakes. We don’t care what their political views are, if they’re drug addicts, alcoholics or ex-felons. We don’t judge. They’re human and they need help. And helping people in need is our simple mission.

New York Dwayne probably made a million mistakes in his life. Some will say he paid the price for poor choices made over the course of a lifetime. We don’t see it that way. We see a cruel society that refuses to take care of its most vulnerable people.

We are grieving for the loss of our friend New York Dwayne, and once again we ask how this could happen in America. And we suspect that as Dwayne lay freezing to death in the mean streets of Detroit he was asking himself the same question.

Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs is a lawyer, community activist and chairman of Heart 2 Hart – Detroit, a nonprofit serving Detroit homeless people. To help, logon to