New York Times Neediest Cases

Stepping Out on Faith, a Blind Man Counts His Blessings - New York Times

His routine is the same every day.

Before going outside, Leroy Bracey recites Psalms 121, a daily reassurance that God is ever-present, protecting him wherever he goes.

Mr. Bracey has myopic degeneration, a congenital retinal condition that has worsened his vision with age, especially in recent years. Navigating New York City’s streets has become increasingly treacherous.

“People and locations are like a fog, a blur,” Mr. Bracey, 49, said. “I don’t see faces, unless I’m really close and I can smell your breath.”

He has had close calls with cars, even more with bicycles, only to be saved by the blaring of horns or screeching of tires. A few times, he said, a sixth sense has halted him.

As a way to preserve his freedom, Mr. Bracey carries around three tools: a small telescope worn around his neck, used to spot street signs and locate bus stops; a magnifying glass kept in his pocket for reading; and in his hand, a folding cane.

“These three things I carry with me just like my wallet,” he said. “I want to sustain as much independence as I can.”

Blindness is not his only limitation. Mr. Bracey has been homeless since March. He has a temporary home at the St. Anthony Shelter for Renewal in the Bronx, an affiliate of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the eight agencies supported by The New York Times’s Neediest CasesFund. Before that, he lived with his mother. But their relationship grew too turbulent for Mr. Bracey to stay with her.

His steadfast companion is his Bible, a large-print edition he keeps in his knapsack. The Gospel is his source of boundless solace and solutions.

It reminds him that God will always make a way, and, he says, he is a recipient of God’s grace. After arriving at St. Anthony, Mr. Bracey was connected with multiple social services, including programs for the blind and the homeless. Catholic Charities Guild for the Blind has provided him with a caseworker and enrolled him in employment training classes.

Mr. Bracey has worked several jobs, including in telemarketing and sales, but he has been out of work for several years. Of working-age adults who are blind, only 40 percent are employed, according to the National Federation for the Blind.

The Bible tells him he deserves the chance to contribute in some way, recalling 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”

“I would love to work,” Mr. Bracey said.

Unable to find employment, Mr. Bracey’s monthly income comes in the form of assistance: $235 from Supplemental Security Income, $518 from Social Security, $87 from New York State disability and $189 in food stamps. His top priority is to secure permanent public housing for people with disabilities. His name is on waiting lists.

In August, Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York used $324 in Neediest Cases funds to pay for a MetroCard and three months of phone and laundry bills.

Not one to sit idle, Mr. Bracey takes to the streets daily, though he tends to stay in areas he knows, usually around 14th Street near his eye doctor, whom he takes the bus to visit every other month.

“I never liked to be told I couldn’t do certain things,” he said. “I know my heart, I know my mind and I know my faith.”

During the past few months, his vision has continued to deteriorate as objects now appear even more blurry, but Mr. Bracey said he had never felt safer about town, thanks to a cane the Guild for the Blind gave him a few months ago.

“I thought it might slow me down or make me feel, in my mind, less than what I am,” he said. “But it’s given me more confidence.” It also serves as a warning to drivers and bicyclists who he may not notice.

The change in seasons brings new constraints. As the days get shorter during fall and winter, the lack of sunlight limits his independence. He does not stay out after dark and avoids the dimly lit subway system, venturing underground only to refill his MetroCard to use on the bus.

“I prefer having stronger faith than stronger vision,” Mr. Bracey said.

The Bible reminds him to remain hopeful, despite his setbacks. He often turns to the plight of Job, who suffered greatly only to be blessed by God in the end.

“I know God has something great in store for me,” Mr. Bracey said.

Read More