From the Margins Erased

When the Towers Fell, Homeless People Disappeared. Their Friends Are Still Searching.

The Holy Apostles soup kitchen at 28th Street and Ninth Avenue, the city's largest, saw an 11 percent spike in visitors after September 11, continuing an increase that started in early summer. "It was already a bad situation made worse by the economy and worse by September 11," says program coordinator Clyde Kuemmerle, standing by the kitchen of the 19th-century Italianate church on a recent afternoon. "Put all that together and that's a pretty hard time for a lot of folks."

Holy Apostles doesn't keep firm numbers, but something like 40 percent of the guests have a place to live, and a quarter work full-time jobs. At one table a group of bike messengers, all rigged out in expanding fabrics and straps in that wind-riding bike messenger way, lament the state of their profession. September is commonly the month business lifts back up after the summer drag. Instead, it sank. Tightened security slows them down in a job based on how fast you can go, and for weeks the air downtown made it hard to ride.

Although they say business is improving, they're still making as little as $250 a week, when they should be up around $450.

"I've got a family to feed," says Rafael McElrath, 38, who lives in Coney Island with his wife and four kids. "Just before it happened I was getting 18 to 20 jobs a day. On the 11th I had one job the whole day. I stood around till four or five and went home. Now I'm averaging 10."

Out front, Dave Parker says he's already noticed a change on the streets. "Two months ago, we noticed a large number of new people coming in," says Parker, 45. "Now speed up the tape. World Trade Center people were employed, with a nice comfort zone. Now it's hard. A lot of people had a little bit of money in the bank, but if people miss one or two checks, they'll be homeless."

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