— An exclusive photo editorial piece by photographer Alberto Alcocer. Words by Maya Amoah. Images below were shot in New York City and Madrid.
It’s 2 AM and the lights of Time Square brilliantly shine like no other place in the world. Pixelated images in every direction flash before the eyes of both tourists and New Yorkers alike and if this doesn’t keep them transfixed, the juggling street busker who breathes fire surely does.
On a sunny day in hot July, children eagerly lap up melting sundaes and chow on some Coney Island chili fries, strolling the sand dusted boardwalk with mama and old Pops. “Isn’t life grand, dear?” Mom whispers into dad’s ear as she sweetly kisses his head.
Indeed it is, for those who can afford it.
Nestled under the steps of a merry go round just meters from the Coney Island boardwalk lives an invisible man. His decrepit figure and hapless fortune has deemed him unseen to society, yet he is just 1 of over 60,000 New Yorkers who hold membership to this impoverished underworld.
“It wasn’t always like this” the older folks wistfully recalled as the youth huddled together in a subway station. Times were never easy for all, but with the city’s homelessness now being at its highest levels since the Great Depression, the grandfathers of the underworld knew that things were easier then and more families could make ends meet. Now, no ends were met and the gap between classes continue to expand before their very tired eyes.
The Machine had done this to them, oh that darn money making machine. Its greedy system had created a society that championed those who came in first place of the rat race and left behind those who finished last. So many citizens were unable to keep up, but how could they with an upbringing of domestic violence, no education or inherited financial backing? The lengths they had to leap were unfathomable and their privileged counterparts got the lead.
So they were thrown into the underworld, where they dwelled in cardboard boxes for shelter as life in the big city became virtually unlivable.
Word on the street had it that this epidemic was universally symbolic to large cities across the globe -the crisis of homelessness, symptoms of mental health problems and unemployment had infected citizens from London to Madrid to Tokyo. The queues for safe havens grow longer as the wolves of Wall Street continued to devour on the economic wealth disproportionately.
Corruption. Capitalist priorities. Hidden corporate agendas. These societal norms were some of the destitute people worst enemies, the poisonous roots to their sorrowful fate. Tuition fees skyrocketed to planet Jupiter. Housing prices inflated like balloons and floated out of their grasp while unemployment rates continued to rise. This deadly recession caused a shocking wave of laid off workers and heavy cuts on the very income these people relied on to survive. Some were battling the enemy of their own mind and psychiatric hospitals refused to let them stay long enough to even win the war. With money completely scarce, they couldn’t even begin to afford health care anyway.
Now, they live like trash in the gutter gone unnoticed and uncared for. The battlegrounds of addiction are tough but, sometimes, it is all they have to numb the pain, even just for a second. They suffer from sleep deprivation, crime, substance abuse, depression, nutritional deficiencies, violent relationships, family estrangement and it seems like a downward spiral impossible to wriggle out of.
As the wind becomes colder and the days darker, many still find light. They feel it through faith and prayer, or just a passionate hope that one day these injustices would be eradicated and the gluttony of the world would be abolished. Wounds would heal, knowledge would grow and the true wealth of equality would spread like vines on a magnificent home.
14,553 families will sleep in homeless shelters tonight. For more information and facts visit “The Catastrophe of Homelessness” at the Coalition for the Homeless website. You can donate or collaborate with many other organizations in NYC such as the Ali Forney Center or the True Colors Fund which aims to end homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, creating a world in which young people can be their true selves. All images by photographer Alberto Alcocer.