The 'Romance' of Homelessness in NYC

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Robert Johnson at Business Insiderhas posted a story about young homeless couple living on the streets of New York.

I don’t want to sound too callous about this but, frankly, I don’t buy it.

Scott and Whitney are adorable. They’re young, healthy and have no apparent vices apart from cigarette smoking. They don’t drink or touch drugs once in Johnson’s story.

Scott’s been homeless for almost seven years. He met Whitney around two years ago and was homeless for five years before that. He is originally from Staten Island, where his mother still lives. His mother is an alcoholic, according to Johnson. His father lives in the Bronx.

Whitney had a job in a supermarket but lost it. She has a close relationship with her mother, although her mother doesn’t know she’s homeless.

Very clearly Scott’s life has been difficult. Something convinced him to move out of his mother’s house in Staten Island and to get a GED rather than graduate from high school. It’s not at all clear why Whitney lives on the street.

The story says the couple makes $50 to $60 a day panhandling. Since they presumably do not pay taxes, this is the after-tax equivalent of earning around $30,000. That’s substantially below the median household income of New York City, which is around $50,000. But this couple isn’t paying New York City rents. The median market rent in New York is $1,350 a month, or $16,200 a year.

They also have access to food stamps, apparently, which probably adds something like another $1,500 a year to their income.

In other words, they are not, in any real sense, impoverished.

Homelessness is typically a temporary phenomenon. Persistent homelessness is usually an indicator of some other malady — typically drug addiction or mental illness.

Johnson’s story doesn’t present any evidence of addiction or mental illness. So we can safely conclude that Scott’s seven year homelessness and joblessness is a matter of choice. This is a young man who doesn’t want to work or have a home.

Whitney has fallen for the young jobless drifter and become one herself. This is not the first time in history this has happened.

The story briefly mentions that they’d like to have a home and jobs but I don’t buy it. I think they might still talk about the idea of working and paying rent, but that is not what they want.

They have the spending power of a couple earning nearly $50,000 each year, without the burden of having to work. They wake up around 9 a.m. each day, an hour when most New Yorkers are at their desks after a long commute over the subways.

In short, this is not a sad story about an impoverished duo. It’s the romantic story of a couple who have figured out that they can live quite well without jobs or a home.

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