6 Homelessness: Forgotten Histories

Sign 6- Homelessness: Forgotten Histories, obverse side

Sign 6- Homelessness: Forgotten Histories, obverse side

Member Tom Klem designed this sign to bring to mind a traditional historical marker through its elevated language and resemblance to a brass plaque. In New York City, historic place markers are used to commemorate people, places, and events significant to its history and identity (Public Design Commission 2017). This temporary historical marker commemorates the three homeless people who spent the night sleeping and the spot where they slept on the street on March 4, 1991. The text describes their physical struggle for survival and social invisibility as acts by brave, proud, and independent people. Despite the fact that the sign says they left “no trace that they had ever existed,” the creation of the sign commemorates one night of these individuals' lives.

Although the sign narrates the social invisibility of the three homelessness individuals, the City notes the homeless who live on the streets are the most visible, and often the most distressing to New Yorkers (The City of New York 2017, 57). In fall 2016, the number of people living in homeless shelters operated by the Department of Homeless Services approached 60,000 people (Goldberg 2016). The city estimates there are another 3,000 to 4,000 people who sleep on the streets, on subways, or in public spaces (Mathias 2015). Unfortunately, there is no accurate measurement of New York City’s unsheltered homeless population (Coalition for the Homeless 2017). However, homeless advocates believe the city underestimates the number of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers, and estimate the number is higher, somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 (Coalition for the Homeless 2017; Mathias 2015). Some choose to risk the streets or sleep on subways viewing it as the safer option due to violence within the shelter system (Mathias 2015; Sandoval, Eisinger, and Smith 2016).

While these three unnamed individuals survived the cold night, others, such as June memorialized on Sign 33, do not survive. Homelessness greatly increases the risk of illness, injury, and death (National Health Care for the Homeless Council 2006). Since 1990, when the Lower Manhattan Sign Project was in its research and planning stages, the National Coalition for the Homeless has sponsored National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day each year on December 21, the first day of winter and longest night of the year (National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council 2015, 2). National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day serves to both remember those who died while living without a permanent home and bring attention to the issue of homelessness (National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council 2015, 2). Events across the country have included vigils, memorial services, and marches (National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council 2015, 3). Organizers are encouraged to find the names and ages of each person who died and to include a name reading and identify the number of people who died in the local area to remember those people and connect to the issue of homelessness (National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council 2015, 3).

Location

South side of Stone Street, just off Whitehall

Title

6 Homelessness: Forgotten Histories

Creator

Tom Klem

Contributor

REPOhistory

Date

1992

Rights

Tom Klem

Bibliography

The City of New York. 2017. Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dhs/downloads/pdf/turning-the-tide-on-homelessness.pdf.

Coalition for the Homeless. 2017. “New York City Homelessness: The Basic Facts.” Coalition for the Homeless. Updated March 2017. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/NYCHomelessnessFactSheet_1-2017_citations.pdf.

Goldberg, Eleanor. 2016. “Homelessness In NYC Hits Record High With Nearly 60,000 People in Shelters.” The Huffington Post, October 16. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-york-homelessness-record_us_57ee8285e4b024a52d2e8964.

Mathias, Christopher. 2015. “There’s A Good Reason New York’s Homeless Often Sleep In The Subway.” The Huffington Post, October 23. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-york-homeless-subway_us_56291c1be4b0aac0b8fc0729.

National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless. 2015. National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day Organizing Manual. National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless. Updated December 2015. Accessed March 22, 2017. https://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/hpmd-organizing-manual.pdf.

National Health Care for the Homeless Council. 2006. “The Hard, Cold Facts About the Deaths of Homeless People.” National Health Care for the Homeless Council. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/HardColdFacts.pdf.

Public Design Commission. 2017. “General Information on Place, Commemorative, and Other Historic Markers.” The City of New York. Accessed March 25, 2017. http://www1.nyc.gov/site/designcommission/review/design-guidelines/markers.page.

Sandoval, Edgar, Dale W. Eisinger, and Greg B. Smith. 2016. “NYC homeless would rather risk the street than hellish shelter system.” New York Daily News, March 14. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-homeless-prefer-streets-violent-shelters-article-1.2564370.

Images

Citation

Tom Klem, “6 Homelessness: Forgotten Histories,” REPOhistory's Lower Manhattan Sign Project, accessed October 30, 2020, https://thesis.ckthompson.com/items/show/8.