In New York City
This is Lisa
I was walking South on Broadway between 62nd Street and 63rd street when I saw Lisa talking to a man, Steve, who looked homeless but wasn't. I turned to Lisa and explained my interest in hearing the stories of people who did not have a home and to take photographs. She agreed but did not want to be photographed. I told her I would only photograph half her face, which was acceptable to her.
Lisa was raped several years ago and is now HIV positive which cost her her job. She was working for a major supermarket in the food court and when they found out that she was HIV positive, they let her go. She said, "I understand. What if I were to cut myself while preparing vegetables?" She did ask to be transferred to another department, but they made excuses why they couldn't and let her go. She had been living in a small apartment at that time, but was unable to find another job and could not pay the rent. That was three years ago. She has been homeless since then.
Lisa, 26, has no family. Her parents died a few years ago. She does have a brother who lives on Long Island but has not seen him in years. She shrugged her shoulders and said, "what's the use?"
I asked what it was like for her to live on the streets. She said most of the time it was okay. She sets up her blankets and puts her cup out for donations from passersby. Some days, she has enough money to eat and some days not. Occasionally, people actually take her cup and run away with her money.
I asked Lisa what she thought her future looked like? Where did she see herself in a month or a year or more? She hopes that one of the agencies in the city will help her to get into assisted housing. With a permanent address and a new identification card, she hopes to find a job. She is willing to do whatever work she can get. She is hopeful that she will maintain her health, get off the streets and support herself. I do not think that is too much to ask.
When the water main pipe burst on 62nd street on January 13th, all of her belongings were washed away, including her identification. Steve (image below) has been her savior. He brought her blankets and some clothes. I asked about the shelters and she responded with what I have heard over and over. She doesn't feel safe and is afraid of bed bugs and lice in the shelters.
Lisa can't apply for public assistance because she does not have a permanent address nor any identification. "People think it is so easy, They say go here, do this. Dealing with city agencies is difficult. If you appear homeless or don't have a permanent address or identification, the bureaucrats are cold and unhelpful."
Last night was a very cold, windy night with snow and sleet most of the evening. Lisa slept on a subway car and stayed warm. The police or the MTA agents did not bother her, as she sat up the entire night. As long as you are sitting up and not panhandling, they will leave you alone.