May 08, 2014

New York City at night... and poverty and homelessness

Sometimes the photos can speak for themselves.

The rain and the lights and the people. This is a bright, brassy city even in the rain.

Everywhere we walked in the city through the night, on any night, it felt safe and comfortable. After an off-Broadway show it was easy to walk and take the subway to our next destination, which might be home or to a late night meal.

There is another side to NYC that we didn't really see. Perhaps if we had spent more time, or had stayed in a different neighbourhood, we would have seen some of the poverty and homelessness that plagues this great city. We know about American cities and their homeless; they must be here somewhere. And they are.

In New York there are about 54,000 sheltered homeless people. About 22,000 are children. These folk can be measured because they spend nights in municipal shelters. There are many thousands more living rough, sleeping in parks, subway stations and the narrow streets of the CBD. No one knows the number of people living on the streets. We do know from the measured homeless that about 53% are African Americans and 33% Latino, sightly disproportionate with the general population.

We also know that poverty is a serious issue here, though walking around doesn't give that impression. This city appears to be all that one would expect from the richest city in the richest country on Earth. However, according to the federal government 21% of all New York residents fall below the official poverty threshold. For those 65 years and older, almost 20% are below the poverty line. In this great city, fully 33% of all families headed by a single mother live in poverty.

Manhattan has the dubious distinction of having the biggest income gap of any city in the US. The mean income of the lowest fifth of the population is $9635. The top fifth of residents has a mean income of $389,000 while the richest 5% showed an income of just under $800,000.

This is a beautiful city, full of wonder at every turn. And if the numbers for New York City trouble you, please recall that 20% of all families in BC now live below the official poverty line, and homelessness in Vancouver has increased by 350% in the past three years alone. Numbers, just numbers. Or...

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.