Andrea Star Reese
"The Urban Cave"
The Urban Cave, photographed primarily in Harlem, New York City is a story about the resilience and humanity of people who live "homeless" on the other side of conventional society. It is about a group of individuals and the spectrum of their lives, rather than their deprivations. The images are in response to the beauty of a place, a people, and the dignity, determination, and perseverance of that particular long-term homeless culture.
New York, 2007-2010:
Lisa and her companion Chuck have been living together in the Amtrak tunnel for more than seven years. Of all the men and women I covered, Lisa has been on the street the longest. ‚"After a while when people live like this it gets to be OK. That scares me more than anything. How can living like this ever be OK?" Lisa is adamant she wants out. She does not want to die on the streets.
Country runs the short, dead end street, called "The Batcave." All hours, day and night, people come and go seeking its shadows. The faces change. Some leave for treatment, jail, family, and now, housing. Others just leave. Many return. According to Snow White, it is a safe place for women seeking refuge. Despite the hardships and the uncertainties of his life, Country stays because of "the beauty of it. I love the street."
Willy lives in a cardboard box on 34th street just down from Amtrak Railroad's Penn Station. Willy used to live under Track 13. Evicted from his home on the rails after 9/11, Willy is only comfortable sleeping in a box. The sound of trains passing below penetrates the concrete beneath him.
New York 2011:
Currently most of the people depicted have been placed in housing or are on track to receive their own apartments, many through CUCS, Center for Urban Community Services, a non-governmental NGO. Many have been evicted from the sites photographed and their encampments emptied of all belongings. Some have lost apartments after being arrested for misdemeanor violations and are back on the street.
Fragile and resilient, tragic and beautiful, self-destructive yet surviving, these homeless men and women are just people. Neither more than us, nor less than us they are a part of us. And they are apart from us. Nothing is simple in the shadows of the street.
"Don't call me homeless." –Country
Jamaica and Zoe take refuge in the subway.