“Iʼve been doing this for so long itʼs becoming my normal,” says Mark, age 27. “Thatʼs scary.”
Sitting on his backpack in a dilapidated graveyard next to St. Markʼs Church in Manhattanʼs East Village, Mark is comfortable. Itʼs early spring and the weather is finally warming up. He already has a farmerʼs tan, earned by spending all his waking (and sleeping) hours outside. He has done his morning shot of heroin, his “wake-up,” and is passing time until he gets high again.
Mark has been homeless for the majority of the last nine years, the last two-and-a-half of those spent with his girlfriend Mary. Aside from a five-week stint in a Pennsylvania rehab for Mark, the entirety of their relationship has been spent living on the streets of Manhattan. The constant stress of this lifestyle, coupled with the physical need for heroin or alcohol, has caused considerable strain and theyʼve been arguing a lot recently.
Mary, a 27-year-old mother of two, has been on methadone for the past four months. She continues to drink heavily—she prefers vodka—as much as a liter-and-a-half a day.
She is struggling to get sober and hopes she can see her children again, who are with their father’s sister in Long Island, NY.
Mary moved to Manhattan to be closer to them, but her addictions have made it difficult to leave the city. In March, she was alcohol- and heroin-free for over a month before a conversation with her child brought her back to the bottle.
“Are you homeless mommy?” her daughter asked.
“What makes you say that?” Mary responded.
“Youʼre always outside when I talk to you…I donʼt want a homeless mommy.”
At last count, Mark has been to thirty-three detoxes and sixteen long-term addiction programs.
“Why me?” Mark asks. “I donʼt know. As soon as I found [heroin] it was like, okay, this is my thing. I had found my thing to, like, cope, and to deal with life, society, whatever you call it…
“My mother has been by my side ever since I can remember. When I fuck up like this Iʼm letting a lot of people down. I used to be a good kid.”
Mary is continuing her struggle with alcohol but is still off heroin. Mark and Mary are still together and continue to live in Manhattan.