Man Who Endured ‘Hell On Wheels’ Commute Can Finally Say, ‘I Love New York’
Saheed Adebayo Aare has gone from unstable housing and a nightmare commute to feeling that anything is possible in the Big Apple.
Long nights spent laying awake in a Wards Island men’s shelter are but a bad memory for Saheed Adebayo Aare.
”I didn’t have enough time to sleep,” he said last Thursday, of his life just two years ago. “There was a lot of noise, people would be fighting.”
Gone, too, are the hellish three-hour-plus trips from the shelter to his seasonal part-time job at an Amazon warehouse in Carteret, N.J.
The commute via mass transit would challenge almost anyone, but for Aare, it also included pushing his wheelchair two miles through the streets in the last stage of his nightly trek to work. Then, he would do the trip in reverse after completing his four-hour shifts at the warehouse, sometimes having to endure long waits outside of Penn Station for an Access-A-Ride trip back to the shelter.
Now, home for the 28-year-old is a new apartment in The Bronx, which is near a fully wheelchair-accessible subway station and a short trip from his job at an Amazon facility in the borough.
“It’s totally different,” Aare said while in the living room of the home he moved into in January. “Now it’s like everything is so easy.”
The Worst of Times
The reversal of fortune is a long way from Summer of 2020, when THE CITY first chronicled Aare’s odyssey through the homeless shelter system.
It was marked by two of his wheelchairs being tossed out with the trash at the Wards Island shelter where he was housed after escaping abuse, homelessness and gang threats in his native Nigeria and obtaining asylum here in 2019.
But it was the February 2021 account of Aare’s commute to the Amazon fulfillment center in New Jersey — a 31-mile trip requiring a bus, two subway lines, six elevators and another bus — that helped transform his life.
In response to the story, the online retail giant switched him to a full-time job in The Bronx and the city’s Department of Homeless Service temporarily moved him into a Manhattan hotel for the homeless — the initial steps in a journey that landed him in his own place this January.
Aare secured that rent-stabilized apartment in Longwood through the NYC Housing Connect lottery, in a building designed to be fully accessible to people with mobility issues. Everything from the height of the oven in the kitchen to the placement of the peephole at the front door is tailored to his needs.
“It’s nice, right?” he said while showing THE CITY around his one-bedroom apartment.
Getting By With a Little Help
Aare credited the friends who helped him navigate the tricky process of finding a new place of his own after previous stops on Wards Island, a Lower Manhattan hotel with an out-of-service elevator, an East New York motel, and a cramped Kew Gardens apartment.
Among those allies is Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a disability-rights advocate and wheelchair user who met Aare through a Queens wheelchair-tennis league.
“The way he put it, [New York] is hope’s home,” said Blair-Goldensohn, who was severely injured in 2009 by a falling tree branch in Central Park. “I have a couple of kids, but to have a friend that you can support and be motivated and instructed by, that’s a powerful thing.”
Blair-Goldensohn said that for Aare, the move into a new apartment that is convenient to his job and accessible transportation marks a major milestone.
“This is his lease, this is his place,” Blair-Goldensohn said while visiting Aare’s new home. “That’s independence.”
Aare said he hopes to obtain his high school diploma through the General Educational Development test and eventually wants to go to college by sticking with his relentlessly positive outlook.
“People aren’t going to help you if you don’t help yourself,” he said. “Nobody owes you nothing, you owe yourself.”
Aare, who works as a “Problem Solver” at Amazon, a job in which he resolves issues with packages, said he also hopes to advance in the workplace and stay in the city.
“I tell you, New York is pretty good for me,” he said. “I love New York, I see lots of opportunities in New York.”