Bench Bugs: Homeless in New York – Excerpt 1 – J.V. Doing the accounts

Alan Emmins is the author of Bench Bugs: Portraits of Homeless New York

Follow the Homeless in New York Blog here.

Homeless in New YorkIf you were going into Madison Square Garden tonight, and you walked up the steps that lead you past the Chase Bank ATM machines in the middle and then past the big air-conditioned reception of 2 Penn Plaza towards the turnstiles at the back, you might catch a glimpse of JV. He is tucked in the far right corner counting his money.

He holds a handful of dollar bills in his right hand and one by one he counts them over to his left. His lips move silently as he counts. Nineteen dollars. He shifts the bundle back to his right hand and, just to be sure, begins to count them once more over to his left hand. Eighteen dollars. Now there’s a discrepancy in his accounting. He pauses for a second and then goes through the bills slowly, not counting them but turning them all to face the right way. Any upside down George Washingtons are turned upright. Only when all the notes are regimented, only when all the bent corners are twisted straight, does JV begin his count once more. But not before taking a peek over his right shoulder, with one eyebrow cocked to check that the coast is clear. Slowly the thumb on his right hand slides the notes over, the following note always going under its predecessor in the left hand before the forefinger snatches it in.

Nineteen dollars. There’s no expression on JV’s face that might suggest this is a good or bad take. He simply folds the bills, having accepted the total, so that George Washington turns in on himself in the middle, and he places the money in his front pocket. He walks back to the front of the station, crosses the street and walks up the block, where he buys himself an ice cream before disappearing into the subway.


As always, these thoughts are my own and are by no means the rule. I would love to hear from people with experience around homelessness, especially about being homeless in New York. Please comment below and I will reply.

Homeless in New York

“Digging beneath the statistics and poverty, Emmins’ is a more than human portrait,” Dazed and Confused

“An absolutely fascinating book, a portrait of life on the streets of New York,” Robert Elms, the BBC

“A book that captured, without drama and urban myth, the reality of life on the streets,” Time Out

“Cutting edge reportage – Alan Emmins sees the world with such a fresh eye,” William Shaw

“Emmins’ portraits are tender and often shake his self-confidence to its core.” the Metro

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