Carole did sell one or two of her poems to a magazine. She also worked at entry-level jobs, in factories, soup kitchens, and restaurants. Although was continuously working, she could not earn enough to pay for an apartment. She remained homeless for 12 years. I asked her how did she go from homelessness to having a place to live. "They get you a room," the "they" being a social service agency, whose name she could not remember. "it is a hotel, and it is very dirty."
Carole never married and has no children. She lost touch with her brother about 15 years ago. He moved somewhere in the South because he too was homeless and he could not tolerate the New York winters. She is food insecure. She used to shop for herself and cook on a single burner electric hotplate in the hotel. However, because of her cancer in her leg, she can not stand for long.
I saw Carole sitting on a bench on a cold sunny New York winter day. I sat down and asked how she was doing. She immediately started telling me how her left leg was swollen because of the cancer treatment she was getting. She never identified what kind of cancer, despite my asking twice.
Carole is 87 years old, born and raised in the Bronx. She lived with her parents and brother when much of the area was still farmland. Sometimes, she and her brother would go to one of the farms, take a couple of eggs and run home. Her parents divorced when she was 16. She had wanted to be a poet. She left home to live in lofts in abandoned factory buildings in lower Manhattan and life was tough. She was a squatter and often did not have enough money for food. She lived a marginal lifestyle, with a community of squatters artists, not paying rent, fighting with the building owners and police who were trying to evict them. She eventually left to live with a man in an SRO (single room occupancy.) When that relationship ended after 15 years, she was homeless.
Carole now buys food at fast food places or eats meals at either Hamilton House or Lincoln Square Community Center. She said she did not like the people at either place but the food is good. She lives on Social Security so she has to be very careful about spending what little money she has.
Carole has lived a marginal street life in New York City. She related two stories about the times she was almost raped in the hotel. " you got to be tough to make it in New York." But she said she loves living here. And she would not want to live anyplace else. Carole is getting old and making sure to get out every day that she can in a city that requires her to be tough to survive. And, that is exactly what she is doing.