Laurie and Melissa Pittari grew up in a close-knit family in New Orleans, were talented students in high school, cellists in the city’s youth orchestra, and from there they worked their way to college.
Their parents enrolled them in music lessons. They learned cello, violin, guitar, and piano. And they dabbled in other arts: Laurie painted and Melissa loved acting.
So, How are these identical twins currently in their 50s living on an Upper West Side street, adding to the growing list of homeless in NYC?
On a Broadway sidewalk near the corner of West 75th they sleep next to a ramshackle suitcase, blankets, plastic bags full of all kinds of objects. “They can’t help us: the state, the churches, the shelter groups,” Melissa told the New York Post about their homelessness. “We are not old men,” he claimed.
The sisters They have been in New York for almost 15 years. They took a long way to become homeless on the streets of Manhattan. Like many of the 60 thousand homeless of the city, the misadventure began with a mental illness. According to his older brother Bart, the twins they were diagnosed with schizophrenia more than 30 years ago.
Still, they did earn academic and artistic scholarships: Laurie for Loyola University in New Orleans, majoring in music therapy and cello major; Melissa for the University of New Orleans, pursuing music education and hospitality.
Not long after college began, her mother lost a 10-year battle with cancer. “I don’t think they could process our mother’s death,” Bart commented. “Then, they clung to a charismatic religious group and began to derail from there. “
Melissa managed to graduate from college; Laurie couldn’t complete her last requirement: an internship at a psychiatric hospital. “He just retired,” the older brother lamented.
In 2003 his father died of heart problems. Then the twins were left alone in the house where she had grown up. They began to accumulate things and cats, as ‘hoarders’, ”said Bart. Then in 2005 the Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
Like thousands of other residents, Melissa and Laurie ended up emigrating. In your case, to Denver. A year or two later, they told Bart that God “had called them to New York” so Melissa could pursue acting.
Melissa gives a different reason: “You need a car in Colorado. Here you can move by Metro or bus ”.
Shortly after arriving in Manhattan, Bart recalls, they were taken in by Goddard Riverside Community Center, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health and homeless services. Spokeswoman Trish Anderton declined to comment on the Pittari sisters’ case.
They ended up in different places: Laurie in an independent living program, Melissa in a convent that apparently took in evacuees from Katrina.
In her best days, Laurie played with the New York Chamber Orchestra and some other similar groups, according to Bart. “Laurie was making great progress,” he said. “Melissa was taking advantage.”
Finally, Melissa returned to the streets; Laurie followed her. They settled on Broadway and West 75th. There they sometimes watch YouTube videos on the cell phone given to them by a friend. Almost every day they post on Facebook, where they both maintain separate pages.
They keep in touch with their brother Bart until he tells them something they don’t want to hear. Still, “I can’t give them up,” he asserted. “But this will not end well if they stay on the path they are following ”.
His brother is convinced that they could have different lives if they did not always reject those who try to help them. “It hurts me that they are out there. They will accept help only as long as it is on their terms; then they say that no one is helping them (…) If there was something that I could do, I would do it, ”she laments.
Twins struggle with homelessness, schizophrenia on NYC streets | A constant reminder despite billions in the budget we have elected leaders at local, state level that fail the serious mentally ill every day in #NYC. # Time4Change #NYC # Vote4Safety for all! https://t.co/VnLzI99lxh
– NYFSS (@saferstreetsny) January 9, 2021