This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
Abstract: This research utilized an ethnographic approach to advance our understanding of the survival strategies employed by the homeless in our society. We examine the types of possessions consumed, how possessions are acquired through nontraditional employment and scavenging, and why some products are purchased while others are scavenged. We also look at the tools used to facilitate search, acquisition, storage, and consumption of these products. Finally, we consider the importance of community for protection of self and possessions and how community among the homeless affects consumption. Emergent themes that allow interpretation of the description are presented.¹
Sometimes, it’s forgotten that we all want beauty.
Jason, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
The black of Jason's beard grows with patches of grey, so he stays clean-shaven. Just for Men, drug-store hair color, saves him. Even his roots stay natural. He buys the darkest kind and re-colors it every couple of months. He parts his hair at the scalp to show: nothing but black.
Takeesha, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Takeesha likes outfits to match. If you’re going outside with a purple shirt, you need to have purple shoes. She cultivates her collection in the suitcases she hauls between temporary places, between abandoned buildings, short-stay hotel rooms, and shared rooms. She gives how-to-dress advice to others, shops for sales. Always in need of coat hangers.
Shelly, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Shelly stows seasonal collections of clothes here and there. Broken rolling luggage full of winter things (boots, sweaters, pants) at a friend’s apartment and more suitcases for summer (sandals, brightly colored tops) under the bridge where she stays. She finds some of the clothing on the street, buys others from a Mexican woman selling secondhand on the sidewalk, and steals most from Rainbow and Pretty Girl, shops across the expressway. She gives a large portion away to friends, determining what someone will use for what season, keeps a small amount.
Shoplifting is mostly successful, every now and then lands her in jail.
Chanel, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Chanel loves shoes. These are a pair of LeBrons, and she has more colors where she stays. Any extra money goes straight there. They're her babies.
Eric, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Eric wants hair conditioner. In prison, you’re not allowed liquids over 32 ounces in size, cannot have those that are not clear, that are not vacuum sealed, that contain any traces of alcohol in the ingredient listing. After two tries at having conditioner sent to him by friends, only to be rejected, he gives up. And so, his hair splits and becomes dry, which sucks. You remember, he has nice hair.
Pepsi, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Pepsi likes lipstick, purple or bright red, something that will pop. She lines her lips with a pencil darker than the shade she’s chosen, draws careful lines in the side-view mirrors of cars. She plants kisses on cheeks of friends, laughs as they smudge it away. The color lasts until soap can be found, at times, all day.
Diana, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Diana wears a new wig every few days to pretend to be someone else. Blonde and curly and she's a Barbie; short and red for a rocker chick. The glamour helps her forget that she lives on the streets, spends most of her time in a bucket seat torn out of a car. She buys a new outfit as soon as she can afford one, dressing up until money runs out. She takes the wigs off to smoke crack, exposing the dark fuzz of her hair, doesn't want the smoke near them.
Sarah's animals, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
Sarah collects stuffed animals that she finds on the streets, spruces them up, to save for her kids. She hopes to get clean and regain custody, to be in the same shared space with her toddler daughters for the first time in two years. The dolls live with Sarah and her husband in a parked car; watch over and remind from the dash.