Features

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

How did you become homeless? I have AIDS and in 1985, when I started to get sick, I approached DAS [Department of AIDS Services]. They sent me to a hotel. Then they sent an investigator out to close the hotel because it was infested with rats.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I've been staying in the YMCA, which is being paid for by DAS.

How do people treat you? City workers don't want to help. It's worse being sick.

What should the city do differently? The quality of caseworkers should be improved. People have to actually care about the clients they work with.


Mary Keller, 55

How long have you been homeless? Three years.

How did you become homeless? I had no place to go. It's as simple as that. My brother wouldn't take me in and my son has his own family to worry about. He couldn't take me in.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I'm staying in a shelter. I used to walk the streets day and night. I used to sleep on the train with one eye open. Sometimes I would sleep in doorways standing up.

How do people treat you? People look down on me. They look at me and say, "You should change your clothes." I have no clothes other than the clothes on my back. No one helps me.

What should the city do differently? They need to renovate all the abandoned buildings and turn them into apartments for homeless people.


Arthur Smith, 49

How long have you been homeless? Seven years.

How did you become homeless? I'm a vet from the Vietnam era. I first became homeless in Newark when the landlord kicked me out because my benefits, which included rent subsidies, weren't being paid on time.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I just got into housing after being in the shelter system twice for a year and in an SRO.

How do people treat you? City workers give you the runaround.

What should the city do differently? Giuliani wants all minorities out of New York. As of 1998, 98 percent of the people who were in the system had been there since 1960. The system hasn't worked. Fifty percent of the people on welfare are families. We're all veterans of welfare and of the streets.


Washington Limmous, 42

How long have you been homeless? Six years.

How long have you been homeless? Eighteen months.

How did you become homeless? I had a misunderstanding with my family, with my mother. When I got out of prison for drugs and manslaughter, my mother gave me a chance to live with her. But I happened to go on drugs. I got myself kicked out.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I met a Spanish guy who lets me sleep on a sofa chair inside the garage.

How do people treat you? When you're not homeless, people share more things with you. When you're homeless, they put you in the lowest category, like an animal.

What should the city do differently? Mayor Giuliani is a good man, but only for the middle class and rich people. The homeless, he doesn't give a hoot about us. I would build more shelters, homes, and apartments for low rent. Then I'd have people work for the living quarters and money.


Rich, 50

How long have you been homeless? Three years.

How did you become homeless? Circumstances. I used to work for the government; I was making over $100,000. I got laid off five years ago. I was renting a place on Long Island for $1700 a month. But then you lose everything, your wife, your friends.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I walk during the night, other times ride the subway. There are certain restaurants that let you spend the night on the floor. Don't know about tonight.

How do people treat you? People don't really treat you bad. I notice a lot of times white people give me money without me asking for it. I guess because I'm white. It's much better than you would think.

What should the city do differently? The city should provide more food and more shelters. Everyone talks about how bad they are. Giuliani's theory is to arrest everybody and let God sort it out. It's not a very good idea.


Princess Carr, 19

How long have you been homeless? Five years.

How did you become homeless? My mother kicked me out of the house because I'm a lesbian.

Where are you sleeping tonight? I'm sleeping in a shelter tonight. But I was sleeping on the streets for four years. Also in buildings and on the street. In the summer I slept on the beach.

How do people treat you? Most people treat me with indifference. When someone says they want to help you, they really want to use you. Men ask me if I want to be a hooker. I remember when I was young, I used to laugh at homeless people when I saw them. But now that I'm in the same situation, I see what it's like.

What should the city do differently? The city needs to have experienced workers in the shelters. Sometimes the social workers make you feel worse because they don't know how to deal with homeless kids. So the streets are better than the shelters sometimes.

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