Inside Bellevue: What It’s Really Like to Be Homeless in New York [VIDEO]

I checked myself into the city’s largest men’s shelter and co-produced this video with a tenant.

The 30th Street Men’s Shelter, otherwise known as “Bellevue,” is New York City’s largest homeless shelter. But the building itself was once better known as Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, and traces of its asylum past remain. Built in 1931 by Charles B. Meyers, the nine-story red brick structure remains enclosed by a tall, spiked, wrought-iron fence. Dead vines grow up the walls; square windows remain in the doors. Not all the signs were replaced.

It’s hard to ignore the irony of housing homeless people in what used to be a psychiatric hospital. Among those who found themselves inside the building recently were parolees, substance abusers, the mentally ill, people simply down on their luck—and me. Since I wasn’t given permission by New York City’s Department of Homeless Services to do a multimedia project there, I checked myself in and stayed a few nights. Once I got to know some of the tenants, I was able to visit on a regular basis and record what I found.

Narrated by tenant Carl Foye, the resulting video (below) takes you behind Bellevue’s closed doors.

Bellevue from Eric Johnson on Vimeo.


In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.