The Ghosts of Penn Station

As the Republican National Convention nears, street people have started to disappear

After looking around the PATH station and finding nobody they know, Washington and Rabinovici leave, cross Seventh Avenue, and head down the escalator into Penn Station. The dozen or so people who used to sit along the perimeter of the Amtrak waiting area are not around. Even the three old ladies who were a fixture here, always standing near the Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street exit, have disappeared.

Of all these missing people, Washington and Rabinovici are especially eager to track down Charles, who is halfway to getting his own home. It took them four months to convince Charles to go to a drop-in center, and eventually they helped him fill out an application to get an apartment through the Street to Home Initiative. Charles just needs to sign a form to complete this process, but now they can't find him.


After an hour underground, Washington and Rabinovici give up looking for familiar faces. Still carrying a full bag of bagels, they head up the stairs to the exit. They get back in their van and take off for Bryant Park. Later in the afternoon, they discover a former Penn Station resident sitting on a foldout chair at the corner of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. Noel, 62, has a bushy gray beard, a pair of lavender shades covering his eyes, and a harmonica in his pants pocket. Next to him are two shopping carts overflowing with clothes, blankets, and newspapers.

Some homeless people have told Rabinovici and Washington they have convention plans. One said he was going to check into the Bellevue shelter for the week; another plans to pitch a tent in a Staten Island park. Noel, however, insists he will not budge. "What's the big deal about the convention?" he asks. "Why should we have to move because we're homeless? That don't make sense to me. Unless they don't want the Republicans to know we're on the street." He pauses, surveying the sidewalk scene on this sunny day. "They want people to think New York is spotless," he says, but "everything is not beautiful."

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