This is Carl
Carl was sitting on the sidewalk on Broadway between 73rd street and 74th street. There was a bottle in front of him asking for help. I put a dollar in his bottle and asked if we could talk. I explained that I am interviewing and photographing people on the streets of New York City. I asked if he was homeless, and he said he was not. He has a friend who lets him stay in a room in his apartment in the Bronx. It was clear he was proud that he was not homeless. He had been working in construction until the pandemic hit and he was laid off. Up until that time, he was earning enough to support himself in a rented room in the Bronx. But, because he was working off the books, he had no unemployment insurance and no savings to fall back on.
Carl is 57 years old, born in the Bronx, and grew up as an only child. He always lived in New York City. He graduated high school and began working at entry-level jobs- bagging groceries in supermarkets, making deliveries for bodegas, and various construction jobs. He was usually fired, either because he was too often late or did not show up for work at all. He said he didn't have much of a work ethic, being more interested in hanging out with friends and "smoking weed."
At the age of 40, Carl started hanging out with friends who were using more hardcore drugs than just the marijuana that he had been smoking up to that point. I commented that it was unusual to start using drugs at that late age. Most hardcore drug users start to burn out (or die) by that age. For Carl, life started to spiral downward for him within a few years. He started to have serious health problems at the age of 50. He had heart problems that frightened him to the point that he quit drugs cold turkey. He also had an accident a few years ago crossing the street near his apartment in the Bronx, a victim of a hit and run, that resulted in a broken shoulder.
Although Carl never married, he does have three children with two different women. His has a daughter who is now in college, and a 5 and 8-year-old. He sees all three regularly and has a good relationship with the mothers of his children.
I asked him what he likes about living in New York City and he replied "nothing." Life is difficult, and while he is happy not to be living on the streets, he sees the city as a dirty and hostile place. He is angry that this country spends so much money helping other people in other countries. Although he has sympathy for the people of Ukraine, he doesn't understand why the United States can come up with billions of dollars to send them weapons but can't find billions to build affordable housing and take care of the poor in this country.
I asked Carl what he thought his future was and if he had any plans that would make life different for himself. He said he will not remain in this situation. He has been looking for work, but when I asked how he was going about doing that, he was vague and couldn't really answer. He is struggling to keep his head above water. He collects enough money day to day to be able to feed himself, and sometimes contribute to his friend who is housing him.
Carl's pillow is not concrete, and he is trying hard to keep it that way.