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"Where have all the homeless gone?," query European visitors, curious about the encampments that were highly visible earlier in the decade.

Riot police and bulldozers demolished the last Manhattan homeless community in 1997. Since then, the numbers of homeless poor have not diminished, but they have become less visible. An all night journey throughout the city finds urban nomads forever on the move: riding subways throughout the night; sleeping on dark, silent streets, hiding in the shadows of construction sites; tucking themselves into decaying structures along the waterfront; disappearing before dawn.

Ironically, the city’s building boom, which leveled homeless communities and community gardens, has provided temporary shelter for men and women who camp beneath construction scaffolding. Water is obtained from fire hydrants; a glass jar suffices as a toilet. Makeshift bedding is concealed moments before morning construction crews arrive.

Building entrances and church steps still provide protection for the dispossessed, but only after office hours or before Sunday worship.

Even the waterfront is navigated in time instead of space; safe haven ends at daybreak. Only early morning joggers, dog walkers, and park employees see homeless men and women bending over water fountains to brush their teeth, shaking dirt from sleeping bags, bundling possessions into backpacks, and moving on.

September 30, 2000

The ESSAY page will periodically feature current issues surrounding New York City’s homeless people. Previous essays will be archived.

Bushville
Bushville, Lower East Side, demolished 1993


Upper West Side
Upper West Side


Midtown
Midtown



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Revised: October 2000