This is the latest installation of Jessica Hall’s weekly column in which she interviews homeless people living in New York City. Today’s is an interview with Sano, whom she spoke with on Thanksgiving Day.
I met Sano under the scaffolding surrounding a church near my apartment. It was Thanksgiving and I was distributing some food from our dinner to homeless people in the neighborhood. There were four other men staying under the same scaffolding, but Sano had the best rap. He said I could use his words but not his image, so the photo is of the homeless encampment I found him near under the scaffolding. If you look closely, you will see there is a body sleeping in what looks at first glance like a pile of garbage.
What are you doing here?
Most of the people in the street are mentally ill, they just can’t afford a psychiatrist. Most of the people in human resources think they’re helping, but they’re just helping themselves.
How long have you been on the street?
Twenty, 25 years. I lived in the subway for 3 months in 1994, then they kicked me out.
Where are you from?
Bed Stuy. Brooklyn.
Do you have any family?
I got family all over the east coast here to Florida, over 100 first
cousins. The few that lived in Bed Stuy are a little off the wall. The
rich people want to live there now, and in Harlem, in the brownstones.
Do you have any siblings?
What? No. I never lived with my parents. I lived with my aunt and her
boyfriend. I got the best childhood any child could ever have; a lot of
freedom, I was smart, had my own key. I was told don’t bring any
friends upstairs. Simple as that.
It’s getting colder now, what will you do?
I love the cold weather. Less people, less murders. In January and
February there’s less murders. In July and August there’s the most
Are you ever harassed out here on the street?
Yeah, daytime working people will harass me. They’re crazy too, they
just have a job. Some people don’t understand the word â€˜no’. They just
give me money and I say â€˜no’. One guy the other day dropped some money
in my bag and I said â€˜I’m going to throw it away.’ I’m celebrating 13
years not using money. It just happened I was in a drop-in center for 9
months. I realized I didn’t need to use money. It’s no big deal. I
don’t need it. I have God, that’s all I need.
What did you do for Thanksgiving? Did you go have a meal somewhere?
It’s just another day. Most holidays seem like Sunday. There’s less traffic.
I’ve been here since October. Before that I was at the Bowery Mission
for a year, being around people I tried to avoid all my life. People
who drink and smoke. I never been a slave.
Have you ever had a job?
Nothing much really. Grocery store, candy store. No big deal. I didn’t
know that it wasn’t necessary at the time. I was working for WEP for 6
1/2 years without missing any time. Welfare stopped paying the
landlord. They kicked me out.
What do you do all day?
Look for food.
Where do you look for food?
In the garbage. It’s a throwaway society. It’s been a throwaway for 40 years. They even make throw away cars, you know that?
Can I take your picture?
This guy wanted to take my picture, down in Battery Park. About 12
police came. He said, "I’m going to take your picture." He didn’t ask.
He just said it like that. Some people don’t understand the word â€˜no’.
He was following me around a garbage can, so I kicked him. Then he came
back with like, 4 friends. I said, "You better help your friend â€˜cause
I’m gonna kick him again!" Then I kicked him twice and he said, "I
can’t believe you just kicked me." So, you know, I had to kick him
again. The ambulance came, and they took me instead! I went to Bellevue
and saw the psychiatrist and he said, "You’re alright. There’s nothing
wrong with you. Get outta here!"
Do you have friends out here?
Everyone I met out here is crazy. That’s why they’re out here.
I’m on an extended picnic.
Is there anything that you’re thankful for today?
Thanks for your time.
You’re gonna love my movie.