This is James
I have seen James several times since summer. He is often in the same place, usually sitting with a friend or two. This time, he was sitting by himself. I stopped to say hello and wanted to know if I could ask him some questions about his life and take a few photographs. He said, "of course, no problem."
James was born in Florida. His mother moved with him and his two brothers to Harlem when he was 3 years old. Along with his three sisters, they all lived in a rent-stabilized apartment. However, none of the children were on the lease. Their mother died when James was 15 years old all the children were forced to leave the apartment.
James, now 59, has been living non-stop on the streets of New York City for the past 30 years. He has occasionally been in shelters, but since he doesn't feel safe there, he prefers the streets. He said that he was never really able to work and it was easier to live on the streets with no responsibility.
James has lived on the streets not just in New York, but in other states as well-Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. But he always comes back to New York City. He likes the city best, Manhattan in particular. Last night he slept in Central Park. When I asked him where he would sleep tonight, he said "I don't know yet. Wherever my fancy feels like it." James may be homeless, with his head on a cement pillow, but his heart is with his friends and the city that he loves.
James does not visit any of his siblings. He does not want to be a burden on them. His older brother died a few years ago. As we sat talking, a number of people came up to him and greeted him by name. Most of the people who greeted him appeared to be street people without a place to live. James referred to them as his "metro family." I noticed that he did not have any possessions with him, something that is often seen of someone living on the streets. No shopping cart full of clothes, no blanket, nothing. I asked him about it. He said yes, he has possessions, and that they are spread around with several friends. He pointed down the street and said some of his clothes are there with that friend. He then pointed in two more directions to indicate whom he trusts with his possessions. "They keep them for me and they are safe."