It’s 8:30 am, the street Lexington Avenue on 125th Street in Harlem is filling up slowly with daily commuters. People are rushing through the small crowd to catch their bus/train to work. Parents with young children walk dodging commuters coming off of the Metro North rushing to avoid panhandlers and speeding cabs. Teenagers laugh and point at the many inebriated and high individuals that lay on the sidewalk or walking as if a scene from the living dead. There are many middle age and elderly men milling about as they talk randomly to each other or themselves. Young hooded men with anxious looks and African hair braiders intermingle as they both to seek out clients. Used needles lay in corners and crevices of the sidewalk. There is garbage strewn about as storekeepers work feverishly to try and maintain the area in front of their stores. The street and sidewalk has garbage and the smell of urine overtakes your senses if standing too long at a building corner. If I close my eyes and open them again I would believe I was anywhere but one of the richest cities in the world.
This is Harlem on any given morning. Historically, Harlem is best known as a major African –American residential, cultural and business center. Harlem has been going through a renaissance as the gentrification of Harlem is at full steam. At one time to see a white face in Harlem besides European tourist was an event. Today the population is becoming more and more diverse as the abandoned buildings are turned in C0-Ops and tree-lined streets are beautified by the minute.
Unfortunately this area has somehow avoided the growth of Harlem. The faces that line these streets tend to be primarily African-American and Hispanic. These individuals are predominantly men and range from their early twenties to upper middle age. A lot of these individuals come from the shelters and psychiatric centers on ward Island. There is a bus that stops on Lexington and 125th that route too and from Wards Island. These shelters have the individuals leave the setting in the morning by 9 and are not able to return until after 5 PM. The hope is these individuals to attend programs, seek employment and find appropriate housing.
A lot of these individuals just walk from corner to corner-engaging bystander as well as “friends”. Some are panhandling, as there is a large commuter activity from Metro North as well as subway station at corner of Lexington and 125th. There are people hurrying to get breakfast coffee from the many delis and stands in the area. There are long lines for bus as people are going to school or jobs.
There are needles on the side of the local Duane Reade as well as passer-by walking around appearing “high or drunk” with an unsteady gait. As I walked around the block there were people asleep and the mix of urine and garbage fill up the air. It...