Urban Cave by Andrea Star Reese

Urban Cave, photographed primarily in Harlem. is a story about the resilience and humanity of people who live unsheltered on the other side of conventional society. It is about a group of individuals and the full spectrum of their lives, rather than just their deprivations. The images are in response to the beauty of a place, a people, and the dignity, determination, and perseverance reflected in their culture.

New York: 2007-2010 Chuck has been living  in the Amtrak tunnel for more than ten years, Lisa more than seven. Of all the men and women I covered, Lisa has been on the street the longest. ‚"After a while when people live like this it gets to be OK. That scares me more than anything. How can living like this ever be OK?" Lisa is adamant she wants out. She does not want to die on the streets.

When Snow White was ready to leave an abusive partner she was sheltered by people living in an encampment near the river. Homeless men and women had been living in area settlements for more then twenty years.  

Country runs the short, dead end street, called "The Batcave." All hours, day and night, people come and go seeking its shadows. The faces change. Some leave for treatment, jail, family, or housing. Others just leave. Many return. According to the women, it is a safe place for those seeking refuge. Despite the hardships and the uncertainties of his life, Country is the only one that stays. That is because of "the beauty of it. I love the street."

When Krissy was sick from a life threatening illness and threatened with assault from men emboldened by her drug use during a time when Country was incarcerated, Roz showed up saying “ Don’t worry, I’ll stay with her” then D. O. (Daddy O) came down low, then others, all volunteering to keep Krissy safe.

Brooklyn has been living in the tunnel for more then twenty years. She found her home by following the feral cats that befriended her.  During all the evictions beginning with the original purge in the 1990’s, Brooklyn escaped detection.

New York 2011_2014:
Currently most of the people depicted have been placed in housing or are on track to receive their own space, most through CUCS, Center for Urban Community Services, a non-governmental NGO. Many have been evicted from the sites photographed and the encampments emptied of all belongings. Some have lost housing after being arrested and are back on the street. In 2009 Country was arrested 5 times. In 2014 during August and September Country was arrested at least 5 times. As October began he was arrested two more times.

New York, October 2014: The Batcave is raided and emptied for the final time.
Phone call from Country, “We lost that war baby girl”

Fragile and resilient, tragic and beautiful, self-destructive yet surviving, these men and women are just people. Neither more than us, nor less than us they are a part of us. And they are apart from us. Nothing is simple in the shadows of the street.
 
Chuck reads in the light of a sidewalk grate while he waits for his companion

 
Chuck shares his small but well protected makeshift home, high up in the walls of the tunnel, with his companion Lisa.
 
Alwasy vigilant because of the threat of a police raid or an unwelcome intruder, Lisa watches from above as someone enters the tunnel.

After moving into assisted housing Brooklyn found it hard to leave her cats behind. She comes to the tunnel daily to clean up and to  reassure her pets.

Jamaica and Zoe take refuge by the tracks.  They slept in the tunnel for two years before getting married and finding a place to live.

Country and Snow White

Geo takes a shower

After being evicted from the tracks in 2004, Willie made his home in cardboard box near Penn Station. He dismanted his home every morning and rebuilt it every evening.


 
Lisa with some things she collected for the baby she is expecting

Chuck and Lisa lived in their makeshift home above the railroad tracks for nine years