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December 27, 1985
Remember Mama, in the name of decency
TO THE COMMUTERS PASSING every day, she was one of New York's nameless. Just an old woman, a shopping bag lady. One of scores with no home but the waiting room at Grand Central Terminal.

She lived there for a year or so. There she died. On a bench. On Christmas Day.

To those who shared her "home," she had a name. It was Mama. Or Mary. Though destitute, they sometimes brought her food. This holiday, someone also brought her a gift. Wrapping paper and a purple scarf were next to her body. In life, she wasn't totally forgotten. In death, she must not be.

Could her life have been saved? Should medical help have been summoned? By whom? Were appeals for help ignored? Those questions must be answered. Immediately.

But there's a bigger question. Its answer won't come soon: What can be done for all the others? For the estimated 60,000 people in this city with one name: Homeless.

Small steps are being taken. Coalitions and soup kitchens and churches and charities are attempting to help. It's not enough. Obviously. The physically ill, the mentally ill, need clinics. Those who sleep in doorways, or on benches, need shelters. Clean, safe shelters where fear doesn't live, lurking, under every bed.

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