Features

Interviews by Dave Kihara, Sharon Lerner & Coco McPherson. Photographs by Hiroyuki Ito, Mayita Mendez, Michael Schmelling & Michael Sofronski

Jules Harris, 35

imageHow long have you been homeless? Six years.

How did you become homeless? Why did I become homeless? It's called crack cocaine. I used to think, "I don't need to pay my bills. I just want to get high." But I've been clean for . . . say, what time is it now? Just kidding. I've been clean for a month.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I'm sleeping in a shelter. But I used to sleep in Central Park back in 1993. And on the streets.

How do people treat you? People look right through me. Look, I'm a six-foot-three 200-pound black man, and people pretend I'm not even here.

What should the city do differently? There should be more specialty shelters. Of course, everyone should have a place to go. But there should be more shelters for people with drug problems, or mental problems, or veterans, or women who have been abused, or raped.


Kristine Cann, 29

imageHow long have you been homeless? One year.

How did you become homeless? I left my house because of a domestic violence situation. I had to leave even though I had two kids.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I'm staying in an all-women's shelter in Jamaica, Queens. I've been staying there since January. Before that, I was on the street.

How do people treat you? People in the shelters are great. They really work hard to help. But other people, especially landlords, are terrible. Especially if you have Section 8 [low-income housing vouchers]. Once they see you have Section 8, they treat you like the scum of the earth.

What should the city do differently? The city should put more money into affordable housing. Most of it's Giuliani's fault. His plan to put people to work for their housing [in shelters] doesn't work. What we need are more and cheaper apartments.


Richard Smith, 42

imageHow long have you been homeless? Three or four years.

How did you become homeless? I had a job in waste management, but I lost it in '95. My landlord was off-the-wall. I had to leave, so I went to a friend's house, and then my uncle's house, but he got evicted too. I have my clothes in storage.

Where are you sleeping tonight? Staying with a girlfriend. How do people treat you? On Ward's Island [a shelter], they treated me really nice. There was no fighting. People have a stereotype of the homeless, that they're nasty, lazy, ignorant. But I've been in two branches of the military, the army and navy.

What should the city do differently? They should renovate old buildings, and then we could live there. We'd have a sense of peace. If they could put you on workfare, they can get you a real job.


Mary Gillette, 50

image How long have you been homeless? I've been at risk for losing my apartment since September.

How did you become homeless? I live in the projects and my daughter's on SSI for a mental disability. I'm being threatened with eviction because we're behind on rent even though I have a job as a home health worker.

Where are you sleeping tonight? At home, but I'm afraid the marshal is going to knock on the door any moment. I only feel safe on weekends and holidays.

How do people treat you? The city is very casual about eviction and hardship.

What should the city do differently? There should be greater consideration for people with jobs who get behind on rent.


Mark Anthony Oliver, 33

image

How long have you been homeless? Four years.

How did you become homeless? It's because of drugs. I was living with my sister. She wanted help and I couldn't give it, so she kicked me out. Then I lived with my girlfriend and that didn't work out. Now I live in shelters. Sometimes I do messenger work, sometimes remodeling and construction, knocking down walls. I go to NA [Narcotics Anonymous], church.

Where are you sleeping tonight? The shelter on Atlantic and Bedford [in Brooklyn].

How do people treat you? I like people. I get along with everybody. People treat me nice. Some people consider all homeless people psychos. We're not.

What should the city do differently? Giuliani is trying to make us work. It's really a catch-22. I say give us employment and programs to stay away from drugs.


Gotti, 19

image

How long have you been homeless? I've been homeless for a couple of days this time.

How did you become homeless? My father left. I still don't know where he is. So I stayed with my uncle. Finally I just left.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I don't know. If I can't stay in a shelter I'll go to the Port Authority.

How do people treat you? I don't look homeless. Sometimes crackheads come up to me and ask if I'm dealing. People think homeless people dress a certain way or look a certain way. But you can't tell.

What should the city do differently? They need to make more shelters for young people. Bellevue [Hospital] and the others are all filled with old or crazy people.


Wilfredo Fiol, 39

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How long have you been homeless? Six years.

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