upon a time in New York City, Sherman Jackson lived at the
glittering heights of public life in a privileged place of
bold-faced names and media stars.
a time, he appeared on TV sets citywide as a newsman at NBC.
Later he appeared on-air as a press secretary for some of the
biggest politicians in the city.
schools chancellor. The parks commissioner. Controller candidate
Herman Badillo. He stood in front of cameras and parried with
reporters, shaping the narrative of the city itself.
the 1970s into 2000, Jackson's quotes appeared in every
newspaper in town. In the pre-internet era, he was interviewed
countless times on radio and TV.
carried an impressive address book filed with the private
numbers of big name politicians who relied on his advice. He
spoke with the authority of a major player, a savvy insider.
then it all went south.
happened. Situations changed. Life, as it sometimes does, took a
turn, and Jackson came to realize that for some of us,
everything you think you will have forever suddenly isn't there
so on Friday, Jackson, now 70 years old, awoke once again in a
big open dormitory room along with 24 other men, a resident of a
city-run homeless shelter hard by the entrance to the BQE.
is his ninth month in a shelter, and he has not yet found a way
out. Last week when a Daily News reporter asked him if he ever
thought he would be where he is now, he could not find the
necessary words to answer.
he spoke of all the places he'd been, the famous people he knew,
the amazing times he'd had. He simply could not cope with the
question in person.
he took some time and did what he used to do for a living — he
wrote it down and emailed it to the Daily News.
I had ups and downs in my life and career, being in a homeless
shelter is something that was unfathomable and would never have
occurred to me," he wrote. "Even now, it's surreal. Every day
starts with some sort of conflict, and every day I awaken hoping
it's all been a nightmare — only to realize it's real."
his new home, a men's shelter in downtown Brooklyn, he says the
residents fight over everything. A perceived glare. The lights.
What's on the TV set that, at times, is tuned to the evening
news — a program Jackson once knew well.
Puerto Rican, half white, he went to work on-air for NBC's local
affiliate on Channel Four in 1971 at the age of 21 fresh out of
Columbia Journalism School. He later jumped to Channel Five,
which was then owned by a now-defunct company called Metro
Media. From there he jumped into public relations.
job put him in the media maelstrom every day.
the late '70s and into the 1980s, he created TV-friendly press
events, first for the city's Parks Commissioners Gordon Davis,
then for Davis' theatrical successor Henry Stern.
1983 and '84, he fended off a barrage of press questions —
particularly from the Daily News — for the brief and chaotic
reign of city Schools Chancellor Tony Alvarado, who was forced
to resign due to a financial scandal.
his highest profile tenure came in 1993, when he was top
spokesman for the late Rep. Herman Badillo during his tumultuous
and ultimately unsuccessful run for mayor on a fusion ticket
with Rudy Giuliani.
that came a series of PR jobs on Team Giuliani, starting with
the city's Off-Track Betting Corp. There he wound up leaving
after his volatile boss, OTB President Allie Sherman, a former
New York Giants coach, physically assaulted him over a minor
final stint at City Hall was at the Civilian Complaint Review
Board, the watchdog agency that at the time was being accused of
holding back on probing cop misconduct.
he says he was forced out when an NYPD commander objected to his
use of the term "Five-Oh" in pamphlets CCRB distributed to
youths to improve police-community relations.
years, he worked multiple freelance gigs for venues such as
Spanish-language newspapers and New York 1, living in a
rent-stabilized Upper West Side apartment. In 2008 his landlord
was offering him a big check to move, so he took the buyout and
moved in with his son in Florida.
did not work out. His son, he says, kept taking what little
money he earned as a freelancer and from a $2,100 monthly Social
Security benefit he collected due to a chronic stomach disease
that's hobbled him for years.
a fight over money, he decided it was time to move back to the
Upper West Side apartment once rented by his mother and now
occupied by his sister and her boyfriend.
the next seven tumultuous years, the three adults tried to live
in the one-bedroom at Columbus Ave. and W. 71st St. With his
illness, he could no longer find freelance work and was living
only off his benefit check. He paid his sister $570 a month.
relationship soon fell apart. He says his sister is mentally
unstable and began to call 911 on him, accusing him of a long
list of outrages. In 2016, he says she physically attacked him,
and this time he called the police.
was arrested and at the precinct began leveling more accusations
against him. This time she got a protective order barring him
from her apartment.
moved back in with his son, who was now in Staten Island, and in
April 2017, he obtained a protective order against his sister.
July his health was deteriorating along with his relationship
with his son. Again, Jackson says, he was forced to move out.
This time he relocated to a cheap hotel.
hotel bills soon began to eat up his benefits check, and he
found himself standing outside the foreboding 30th Street Men's
Shelter next to Bellevue Hospital in Kips Bay, Manhattan.
Aug. 8, he entered "the system."
was scared to death because of what I had heard, the element I
saw there," he said. "The homeless individuals, drug addicts,
drunks, a lot of felons."
was put in a private room for a couple of weeks, then sent
upstairs to live in a dorm within the "assessment" unit on the
seventh floor. There he began his quest to get the city
Department of Homeless Services to find him transitional
was at 30th Street for five weeks. His cell phone was stolen. On
his 70th birthday, Sept. 15, Homeless Services staff told him he
was moving to another smaller shelter in Brooklyn. They also
told him he would have to get there by himself.
had two duffel bags," he said. "I protested. They put me on a
bus at 10 that night with three others. One was dropped at Wards
Island. They dropped two guys in Queens. They dropped me off at
now found himself living in another dorm room within the 62-bed
facility run by the non-profit group Camba. He says they
promised he'd be out by Thanksgiving. He's still there.
day he awakens with a lingering feeling of fear. He's a slight
70-year-old man with multiple health issues living with much
younger, bigger men, some of whom have just been released from
his arrival at Camba, he says he's been repeatedly threatened by
fellow residents and had his wallet stolen.
fight over the lights," he said. "People are trying to sleep.
Others come by and turn on the overhead lights. When you have 25
guys in a dorm, you have different needs. These things become
chaotic. I counted the number of wheelchair guys in the
cafeteria. Seven of 13. This shelter is not handicapped
accessible. Now they're placing wheelchair-bound tenants on the
second floor," he said. "What if there is an actual fire? You
have six or seven guys up on the second floor. Where are they
going to go?"
he watched one guy bash another in the head with his cane. He
says an alcoholic former lawyer staying at Camba died after a
beating there. He heard another resident had been stabbed in the
face with a pen.
contract he signed with Homeless Services says he must accept
the first suitable apartment. He's been shown three apartments,
and the last one looked promising. The rent was $1,375 which the
city would pay for the first year. After that he would be
required to pay no more than half his income with the city
picking up the rest. In his view it was worth it.
said he signed papers to move in, but the landlord said he
needed more forms from Homeless Services. The forms never
arrived; the landlord gave the apartment to someone else.
seems I went from 'Who's who' to 'Who's he?' " he recently wrote
to The News. "That's to say, none of my old friends or
colleagues who've learned of my circumstances have offered
News contacted several of Jackson's former colleagues from his
City Hall days. Only a handful returned the call.
Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union,
was one of them. He remembered working with Jackson when he was
at CCRB many years ago.
Jackson is the face of 21st century homelessness in New York
City," Siegel said. "Who would have thought that someone who was
a spokesman for New York politicians would wind up in a downward
spiral and in a homeless shelter?"
Giuliani's former spokeswoman, Chrystine Nicholas (then
Lategano), said she was shocked when The News told her of
I think of the city homeless shelters, I don't think of someone
like Sherman," she said. "He's been in the system since August
and he wants to get out."
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