Grime

This is not an overnight thing. These deep layers of grime in the skin take years not months to develop. I know this man, I have seen him for the last 6 years, spoken to him, bought him a coffee or two. He has always been polite but I got the feeling he would rather have not been engaged in conversation. He has never been clean, always alone and usually asleep. I have heard people remark that the ‘homeless’ are lazy, usually drunk or drugged up to the eyeballs and always trying to get something for nothing, I guess some are. The reality for most of them is that to sleep at night invites hideous intrusions into their lives that we can only imagine the horror of, so they sleep during the day. The night is a safer place, a complete reversal of how most of us live our lives. Night is for being on your guard, for having to be alert, for looking over your shoulder and hoping you survive for another day. Another day to be stepped over, ignored or ridiculed.

This photograph was taken in August 2013 and I have only just realized that I have not seen him since then. I really hope he made it through the bone chilling cold that New York has suffered and has not become yet another member of Hart Island’s growing population. To point a camera at someone who could survive for a year on what it cost to buy is a humbling experience for me. I understand the paradox.

It is a hard call, but grime is only skin deep.

Skin Deep

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16 thoughts on “Grime

  1. I hate clicking the “like” button, but I do it knowing you understand it is my acknowledgement of, and gratitude for, your work. It is much needed. Thank you again for your moving words and photographs.

  2. We can’t know why people are on the street. There are so many reasons. We also might not be able to understand. It’s a hard life for a lot of them, especially women. Horrible, dangerous and rape is common. I don’t have the answer. A lot of them receive help and go back to the street, some don’t want help. Some are off their meds. Others have just given up and for some, it’s just a choice. I’m not sure what can be done, if anything.

  3. A paradox indeed. A shame for this to happen in a world with the resources we have. So much easier to blame the victim. Your explanation of why they sleep during the day chilled me to the bone.

  4. The reversal of day and night – the demons are out at night when “normal” people usually seek and find shelter. The experience of having no place to be safe during the night must be so devastating that to live with open humiliation during the day would be mild in comparison. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Beautiful post! You are right, grime is only skin deep and the homeless are still people, they still have feelings, they still need love. You have captured this man beautifully and your words are endearing and heartfelt. I recently, last week in fact, did a post on the homeless, but in a different light – the homeless street performer. I wrote a poem to accompany the images. Feel free to check it out. The people in the images were also covered in grime, although a bit less so than the man in your image. Blessings to you and thank you for your incredible work! Robyn

  6. Hart Island; now there’s a piece of NYC I had certainly never heard of before. I can only imaginine how many homeless persons have been interred there. It warrants more investigation. More public awareness.

    • Hey, you may be interested in this http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/nyregion/on-hart-island-new-yorks-potters-field.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 visits are restricted and cameras banned. ‘Potters Field’ sounds like some picturesque, wild flower garden that a person could ramble around and feel close to the natural things that comfort us. It is, in fact, a poisoned piece of land that hides the sad and the lost, the unclaimed and the invisible. There has to be ‘somewhere’ I guess.

      • Both of these articles are really good, in your face reporting, and yet I still wonder how many will continue to not know about Hart Island.

        Something else. I’m wondering if there is a shadow grave site for my city? Hamilton does have publicized cemetaries where unidentified homicide victims or the deceased whose families have little money have been burried but there’s only so much room for the dead now that I think about it. For all the years gone by, not to dismiss the potential many years to come; that’s a tremendous, possibly incalculable amount of John and Jane Doe human remains to be responsible for. Why wouldn’t there be some other place or way to put away those lost lives. I suspect that every city in the “modern world” could have a Hart Island somewhere. A place where the unknown are “unceremoniously” interred. Many of them being the homeless.

        It’s a horrific consideration. It may not be exactly the same as a mass grave the like of what was seen in Nazi Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Idi Amin’s Uganda but the outcome of minor consideration for burial rites is similar enough.

        For me to look into this, I may have to do some very careful digging.

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