By Lindsay Emery
Throughout much of his life Greg Cohen never hesitated to extend a helping hand or write a check to help others. Now Cohen is in the difficult position of having to rely on others for assistance.
Cohen, 62, of White Plains, had his life upended by a gruesome car accident in Bedford in 2008. Hit on the driver’s side by another vehicle, the former Wall Street bond trader’s car rolled over four times, and he was rushed to Northern Westchester Hospital. First responders, doctors and therapists have helped him survive the crash, but the extent of his injuries, which he his still receiving treatments for, and the financial devastation that followed transformed Cohen’s life. During the past year alone, Cohen has spent 55 days in the hospital.
“I utilized every single asset I had,” he said of his ordeal. “I borrowed from everyone. My children, my ex-wife, my mother, my friends. I applied to all the social services.”
Early this year, Cohen exhausted all of his personal assets, and applied for early Social Security, which he began receiving in August. In January, he will start receiving $400 a month from New York State Public Assistance. But he is still fighting for back Social Security Disability payments more than a decade later.
Having lost his Wall Street job in 2008 a week before the accident, Cohen saw many of the protections of being employed disappear.
“I was unable to receive any kind of income payments because of that,” he recalled. “The insurance companies did pay my medical expenses; however, I was eliminated from, I was unavailable to have like a normal person, they would get the normal salary while they were injured. I was unable to get that.”
His friend, Alice Faile, described Cohen as a thoughtful and considerate man and a great friend. She has started a GoFundMe page to help Cohen pay his rent and utilities that are piling up.
“He’s a good friend, he’s a good person,” Faile said. “He has just happened to fall on some tough times. He’s very considerate of others and other people’s feelings. I mean we’ve been friends for close to 10 years.”
When he was working, Cohen regularly helped others in need. From a young age, Cohen said that his grandfather stressed to him the importance of generosity. It’s also what contributed to his financial position, he believes.
“I never lost that faith,” he said. “It was instilled in me at a very young age and I think that’s my problem; I gave away too much money.”
After his accident, Cohen has been in and out of the hospital because of a variety of procedures, including operations on his anterior cruciate ligament and the lumbar region of his spine that have left him without any feeling in his legs. Another surgery, an anterior cervical discectomy, has made swallowing difficult.
“I went 20 days without eating any food whatsoever,” Cohen described. “I lost 65 pounds. I went from 225 pounds to 160 pounds.”
Since Cohen cannot drive, any extra money that he receives goes toward taxis to get to his doctors’ appointments. Otherwise, Cohen has to try and walk with a cane or walker while in immense pain.
In 2012, he attempted to go back to work but couldn’t handle the overbearing pain.
Cohen has searched for programs and grants that could provide him some financial relief, but many of those are on hold because of the pandemic.
Despite the troubles after his surgeries, there has been one constant in Cohen’s life – his cat, Neil.
Named after singer-songwriter Neil Young, the black cat has four white hairs under his chin and big green eyes and keeps Cohen’s spirits high. Neil can sense when Cohen is upset or not feeling well and comforts him.
Taking the stray cat in, may have been a sort of omen. Neil arrived at Cohen’s apartment door during a 2010 snowstorm. Before that, he was planning to adopt a cat from an animal shelter.
He fed Neil a can of tuna fish and decided that if Neil was around the next morning, he would keep him. The next morning, he opened the door and found Neil sleeping on his doorstep.
It also was the genesis of his friendship with Faile.
“We developed our relationship because of our cats,” Cohen said. “She had three cats at the time and I had one cat. And we hit it off because of that particular situation. Because she loves cats and I love cats.”
Like many others, Cohen has also been facing food insecurity.
“I go days where I have to decide whether I’m going to feed him or feed myself,” said Cohen, referring to Neil. “And it’s heartbreaking.”
Cohen is sympathetic to everyone who is going through the pandemic and is not receiving the relief that they need.
“What the human race is going through right now is really having a significant effect on me,” he said. “I care more about other people than I do myself but I’m in the same boat as a lot of others.”
If you would like to help Cohen, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/dont-let-him-be-homeless to donate.