This Is Stephen
Stephen was sitting on the ground at Broadway and 75th Street with the usual sign and a cup with some change in it. I put a dollar in his cup and explained that I would like to talk to him about being homeless and take a few photographs. He gave me a shrug and said why not?
Stephen is 49 years old and has been living on the streets for six years. He was born in Germany and came to the United States with his parents and sister in August 2001, a month before 9/11. He was living in lower Manhattan and watched as the buildings collapsed. He said that this was not a good way to start life in a new country. Both of his parents have since passed away and his sister lives in California. I asked about his relationship with his sister, and could she provide any support for him. He said no, he never got along with his sister and refuses to have anything to do with her.
Within a very short time of arriving in the United States, Stephen found a job working in a scrap iron yard in lower Manhattan. He liked the work and although it was dirty and tiring, it provided a living wage, health insurance, and vacation pay. He found an apartment in the Upper West Side, just a few blocks from where he was now sitting. Although he liked living in the Upper West Side, he preferred the Chelsea area more but he was never able to find an apartment he could afford. Six years ago, the scrap iron yard went out of business and he lost his job. He couldn't find another. He said he had a choice to either eat or pay the rent and he thought that eating was more important.
Stephen had several bags sitting next to him, and like many of the homeless I have met, he can always depend on a friend or two to watch his possessions if he needs to take shower or use a bathroom. He said there is a public place about a mile or two uptown where he can take a shower.
"You have to get there really early, like 6:00 or 7:00am the latest." He takes a shower about once every two weeks. He also mentioned that he is fully vaccinated, having received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
Stephen feels safe living on the streets of New York City. There is a small alley on 72nd Street where he sleeps every night. Someone once attempted to take one of his bags but he "took care of him and he will never be back if he knows what's good for him." I asked him if he is bothered by the police and he took somewhat of a bravado posture as he said "they wouldn't dare come close to me."
Stephen does not hold out hope of getting off of the streets. He is working with a social service agency but he said the bureaucracy moves so slowly that he doesn't expect any help for several years. He said living on the streets is okay, he does just fine and most of the time people leave him alone.
Stephen moved to this country with high hopes of a good life. It did not turn out the way he hoped. He has made the best of his situation. His concrete pillow is filled with the support system he receives from his homeless community. He knows he will be able to survive on the streets of the city.
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