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.


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  • Eric is a graduate of the International Center of Photography (ICP) school of Documentary Photography and Photojournalism Program and received The New York Times Company Foundation Scholarship in 2010. He enjoys telling intimate stories that evoke a strong sense of place.