Steve was about to light up a cigarette in his makeshift home on a street in Hell's Kitchen just off 11th Avenue. As I approached and asked if we could talk, he stood up and said he didn't want to blow smoke near me. He asked if it was okay to smoke while we spoke. He told me that although his name is Steve, he goes by "Country," and that is how I addressed him.
Country is 43 years old, born and raised in New Orleans. He had been married for 22 years before his divorce. He had two children; his daughter is 22 years old and lives in New Orleans. His son was killed at age 8 when hit by a car. Following his divorce in 2018, he went into a deep depression. He stopped working in the small construction company he owned and moved to New York City. He had been here a few times and liked the city.
Country didn't have any plans to work or find a way to get off the streets. He said there is a certain solitude that he likes about living on the street.
That solitude means he doesn't have to interact with people if he doesn't want to. Much of the time, he wants to be left alone.
Country spoke about Mayor Adam's plan to put homeless people in the hospital against their will. He said there is no way someone is going to haul him off to a hospital while he is "sitting on the street minding his own business." People think all homeless people are crazy or dangerous, which is just not the case. He will not go back to any shelter. He is afraid of them. His winter coat was stolen when he was in a shelter in Brooklyn, and he saw someone get stabbed. He has "no intention of returning to any shelter, let alone a hospital."
The future for Country is uncertain. He would like to return to New Orleans to see his daughter when he gets enough money. He just doesn't know how or when. Before I left, I asked if he had eaten today. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and he had not.
There were no food trucks near us and no stores to buy food, so I asked if I could contribute towards his lunch money He smiled and thanked me.
The entire time I was speaking with Country, he made it sound as if he was really okay and doing well. His little tent looked cozy, and while it looks like he is not sleeping on a concrete pillow, no matter how soft this pillow is, it is still a home on the streets of the city.