Alan Emmins is the author of Bench Bugs: Portraits of Homeless New York
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I remember saying it the day I walked away from my project living homeless in New York: if my previous book destroyed my faith in humanity, this book has given it all back with interest.
My previous book, Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners, exposed me to endless displays of greed and questionable behavior. No matter how much humor I might claim to have injected into it, it was still a book set in a world of death and greed (but really funny, I promise). The greed came often from those who already had an awful lot. Is this a great crime? No. Is it a wonderful human characteristic? No.
Bench Bugs, on the other hand, exposed me to people who while they had very little themselves were, more often than not, willing to share half of it with you. Not only did many of the homeless people I met go out of their way to make sure I was safe, there were occasions where homeless people I hadn’t met gave me food because they hadn’t seen me eat all day. One homeless man who I had never met even woke me up with a freshly purchased hotdog as I dosed outside Madison Square Garden. He told me I had been shivering, and offered to walk me to a rehab center he knew about. It took a little effort to convince him that I wasn’t a user, but in fact just a naïve writer feeling the chill as the early morning wind swept down 7th Avenue.
Such generosity and concern was not particularly rare. Nor was it charity. There was no expected return. In its simplest form it was just sharing the little you had with those who had less than you, but sometimes it was genuine concern.
There’s a lot of love on the lower rungs.
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.
“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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