We found Richard Gere this morning huddled between two trash containers on East 10th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, where the actor is filming Time Out of Mind, a movie about a homeless man in New York.
Just blocks away, near Tompkins Square Park, a handful of actual homeless New Yorkers pushed carts filled with bottles and cans they had collected for resale. Over on Second Avenue and East Seventh Street, a group of “travelers” sat outside the shuttered May Chan restaurant. We asked both groups of people to share a little bit about their daily life. Here are six things they said the film should portray about homelessness in New York City.
1. The East Village has changed.
Steve, a traveler and occasional bluegrass musician camped outside May Chan, said gentrification in the East Village has drastically changed the rules of the game for the homeless there.
“Nobody likes fucking homeless people anymore, at all. It used to be tolerated. And now they’re like, ‘Get the fuck out of our city,’” he said. “All the people that are moving into the East Village now are moving here because there is culture. And then they’re kicking the culture out. That makes no sense to me.”
Steve says the changes have convinced him it’s finally time to leave New York after six or seven years here. He plans to go back to South Carolina, where he’s originally from.
2. It’s a struggle to get clean.
Goose, also camped out on Second Avenue and East Seventh, said it’s important to show how hard it is for the homeless to get clean.
On Thursday, he said, his girlfriend was stopped by police for panhandling in the subway, caught with Xanax, and taken to jail. Goose said she had had Xanax with her because they are both alcoholics, and were planning to use the drug to detox so they could go on a plane trip.
“I don’t know what’s happening, now,” he said. “She hadn’t been processed when I called [the police station]. I’m going to start worrying tonight.”
3. It’s hard to stay warm.
Tony, a homeless man who was pushing a cart filled with empty beer cans down Avenue B, said it was just too cold this winter to sleep on the streets. He spent the winter instead at the Bowery Mission, a nonprofit in the East Village that provides food, shelter and medicine to homeless men.
“It’s warm. It’s warm… to stay warm,” he repeated, wearing a sweater and thick green coat Monday despite the 50 degree weather.
4. Homelessness isn’t always safe.
Smiley, a 61-year-old New Yorker originally from the Caribbean, was walking by Tompkins Square Park eating a plate of hot dogs, rice and corn, which he had gotten for free from a local church. But visiting churches or shelters is a rare thing for Smiley, who has lived in the East Village since 1994 and learned to see danger everywhere.
“I try to be by myself. I don’t trust people,” he said. “People do you dirty.”
As he spoke, Smiley gestured to his leg, which he says contains a metal rod due to a shooting incident years ago.
5. Dogs can be a big part of homeless living.
Goose, who lives outside along with his dog Super Max, says more than three quarters of the wanderers he knows have dogs. And he believes the dogs are happier and healthier than they would be living inside. Their owners, he says, are happier too.
“You’d be surprised, you’d say, ‘That dude can’t care for a dog,’” said Goose. “And then you see them a month later and they’re all looking nice, and their dog’s looking good. People get their shit together for something like that.”
Several years ago, Goose lost most of his pinkie finger breaking up a fight between Super Max and another dog. But he doesn’t hold it against his dog, who provides companionship. “Damn Max, love you too, bro,” he said as Max nuzzled his snout against him.
6. Homeless people “fucking normal people, really.”
Steve said that if Time Out of Mind could get one thing right, he hoped it would be showing that people without homes are just the same as people who have them.
“Some people live inside, other people live outside,” said Steve. “But we’re just fucking normal people, really.”