Homelessness: An Ignored New York Epidemic

Mark Reay strides out of a public bathroom in Tompkins Square Park, with a leather briefcase in hand. He is cleanly shaved with slicked back silver hair and is sporting a designer suit. Reay, who is 56, has established an extensive résumé as a fashion photographer by shooting for magazines like Dazed & Confused and turning up backstage at Alexander Wang and Hood By Air shows. At first glance he might seem like the fashion world’s Anderson Cooper, excelling in his field of passion and enjoying the fruits of his labor, however, his private life is far from glamorous. The dashing photographer has been homeless for six years, resting his head on an Alphabet City rooftop. The award-winning documentary Homme Less recounts the struggles of the model-turned-photographer and explores the hardships of living in a competitive city like Manhattan.

“The film is a unique look at the life of a homeless person, in that Mark is a charismatic, individual who remains fully integrated in society, but lives on a rooftop in SoHo,” HELPUSA’s chairwoman, Maria Cuomo Cole, told IndieWire. “The idea that he is living on the margins of society, is a wake up call to the issue at hand and that it is not an issue of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ it is truly all of us.”

It’s easy to walk by a homeless person and think they are the victims of some sort of life changing tragedy. Homme Less depicts how even if you follow your dream you can still end up in the unfortunate circumstance of not being able to afford a home.

New York City has struggled with high rates of homelessness for decades. The high cost of living coupled with limited housing space results in an uphill battle for many people who try to make a living in this concrete jungle. NY Daily News reported that there are roughly 60,000 homeless New Yorkers that stay in shelters each night, the highest number since the Great Depression. These numbers might seem staggering, but they don’t even take the thousands of people who sleep on the streets every night, like Reay.

With rent averaging $3,000 a month for a one bedroom in the city and the average cost of rent rising about 4.6% every year, it is no wonder those earning minimum wage (roughly $15,080 a year) have trouble making ends meet.

“The cost of housing continues to skyrocket,” stated a Vocal-NY report. “A recent Bureau survey found that, since 2011 alone, median NYC apartment rents rose more than 3% faster than the rate of inflation, while median incomes barely increased at all. And over the same period the number of apartments affordable to low-income renters fell by 13%.”

In response to these tough aspects of life in NYC, a labor protest movement has succeeded in its efforts to raise the minimum wage of fast food chains to $15 per hour by 2020. This change aims to create a ‘living wage,’ which will allow Manhattan residents to be able to afford the high cost of living in the city. This is a stark change from the $8.75 minimum wage that barely covers a few months of rent.

Homme Less highlights a serious issue that has become the unfortunate norm. It seeks to create more awareness for those who have come to New York to follow their dream, but simply could not support themselves because of the counteractive features of the city’s life. It’s still unclear whether these newly enacted measures will help reduce the ever growing homeless population, but they will certainly aid those working minimum wage jobs stabilize their financial situations over the next few years.

Homme Less will open on August 7 in the IFC Center

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