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A Block In Harlem

virginia allyn | New York, United States

The Block. Homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, mental illness...A tapestry of loneliness and desperation.

An American tragedy.  This is a story of a block in east Harlem.  It is a block of misery.  Some of the misfortune is self made.  Some not.  The block is a desperate place where crime, violence, poverty, mental illness, addiction, homelessness all exist.  

I met great people struggling with their lives.  Tangible solutions far too remote.  Some had little hope for a better day.   Others valiantly forged ahead with dreams in their mind and visions of a better life.  One woman hopes to write children's books.  One man sees himself as a poet.  Another would like to have a farm.  And another take over vacant buildings in Harlem and employ those in similar situations to rehab those buildings - making them homes.

One year after these photographs were taken the block looks very different.  Have the issues been addressed or just relocated to another corner, another avenue, another street?  That is another story to be told.  

While we may not walk in their shoes, we can at least gain a better understanding of the realities of their lives.


The block I photographed over one year no longer resembles the photographs in this exhibit.  I am glad I had the opportunity to document this place and to meet the people I did meet.   I found this block to be so sad, sometimes frightening.  The police parked a mobile command unit and the block has utterly changed.  Even the Pathmark grocery store at one corner will be demolished and luxury housing is to be built in its place.  

There are blocks like this - the "skid rows" of America - to a greater or lesser extent - in every large city where lost souls gravitate to.  How can cities and this country address the problems?  What resources must be in place that are lacking today?  Getting back on one's feet is more than a daunting challenge when considering the obstacles that must be overcome:  education, employment, housing, opportunity, among other issues must be considered.  Hope must be greater than an act of faith.


interviews with the men and women on the block

Virginia Allyn

718 422 7977


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