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It’s their way of helping a city in crisis carry on.
Since March, the couple behind homeless nonprofit Backpacks for the Street has given out 10,000 backpacks — containing more than 180 gallons of sanitizer, over 16,000 masks and upward of 2,000 meals — to the most in-need New Yorkers. Jeffrey Newman and Jayson Conner’s generosity even extends to displaced pets, which they’ll help when they can.
“We’ve been on the front lines of COVID now since the moment it hit, working 15-hour days, seven days a week to help the homeless,” Newman, 52, told The Post of his and 42-year-old fiancé Conner’s outreach group. They started Backpacks in 2018 but seriously increased engagement after the coronavirus pandemic began in March.
“With the ramp-up of COVID and winter, we are not slowing down either,” Newman added.
The pair work out of a U-Haul storage facility on Houston Street and disperse their potentially life-saving offerings by van.
They know firsthand how hard it is right now for those without shelter: When the two met 17 years ago, Conner was homeless himself.
“I know the embarrassment they’re going through . . . it hurts,” Conner told ABC News as the coronavirus started shutting down the city over the summer. “I know the pain that they’re going through.”
‘With the ramp-up of COVID and winter, we are not slowing down.’
And the pandemic has made it worse than ever.
“People who are homeless, they feel invisible to begin with,” Newman said. “Like they don’t matter. And COVID-19 only magnified that. People treat them like the disease.”
The group underscored that in a recent Instagram post. They highlighted a homeless man named Dwayne who felt the organization goes further than other groups by giving emotional support, not just physical supplies.
“Other agencies don’t follow through and no one looks you in the eyes and talks to you. Everyone talks down to you and treats you like you don’t matter and makes you feel worthless,” said Dwayne, who reportedly has been on the streets since the start of the pandemic. He added that Backpacks’ help “is the first time it feels like someone actually cares about us and wants to help.”
The backpacks, Newman and Conner said, offer people not just assorted essential items — including socks, protein-rich snacks, feminine hygiene products, sewing kits, canned dog food, cloth face masks and baby wipes — but also the ability to see a brighter future and hold out until it arrives.
“The thing about these backpacks is, it gives people hope,” Conner told ABC. “It’s not going to cure homelessness but it gives them the beginning start — of hope … I’m amazed how that little moment of humanity and compassion and dignity changes someone’s life.”