Amtrak Waiting Room -Pennsylvania Railroad Station
For years I have been drawing the street people of New York City. During the late 1940's, when I arrived here, these seemed to be mostly men and few appeared to be homeless. Gradually, however, more and more women were to be seen sleeping in doorways, on benches and over gratings. During the mid-eighties the number of men, women and children increased dramatically and soon Penn. Station was inundated with people sleeping in the halls and on the stairways.
During this time a friend urged me to show this in a painting. "The homeless will be dealt with," she said:" either we'll find ways to prevent such poverty, or we'll imprison or hide those whom we need to render invisible. Don't allow this part of our history to be forgotten." And so I began this painting of the Amtrak Waiting Room in Penn. Station, and I rendered the homeless as visible and as a part of who we are. There is a woman sitting on the lower right, sitting on the bench. I drew her as she was taking objects out of a bag and polishing them before putting them back. A young woman sat down next to me and watched her also. "Do you know why she does this?" She asked me. "No, tell me." "She's house keeping. She probably lived in a poor 4th floor walk-up. When it was torn down and she couldn't afford the higher rent, she packed her belongings and moved into the streets. I"m a social worker and we're seeing more and more of this." The homeless woman walking in front of her carried all of her belongings in the cart. One day I watched as she took a dress out of one of the bags, sewed a few stitches on a sleeve, and put the dress carefully back. Was she also housekeeping? In back of the bench a young man is grasping a girl's shoulder. One afternoon I saw her leaning against a pillar and he had one hand on her shoulder and he had made a fist of his other hand and was hitting the pillar a few inches away from her face. The blows against the tile were terrifying. A policeman came by and told them to move on. The man on crutches is a Vietnam veteran. Our streets and alleys house many of them. Cast aside as non-persons, they are the veterans of a war that we have not yet come to terms with. On a Sunday morning I spotted a homeless woman at a deserted construction site. She had found a half-eaten sandwich and I drew her as she wolfed it down. I placed her into the painting on the front bench to the left of the canvas. On the right side of the painting in back of the first bench, a man is selling the "Street News". According to its own definition, it is the world's oldest active motivational homeless newspaper. By selling these papers employment is created for people unable to find jobs. Seymour Durst wrote many of the Street News editorials. He also wrote letters to the editor of The New York Times and published articles in various publications. Because he had intelligent solutions for the crisis of homelessness and high standing in the N.Y.C. real estate world, his articles were widely read. He is shown on the extreme right behind the first bench buying the Street News. Seymour Durst supported what he believed in by word and deed and I placed him into the painting as a symbol of those who look for answers and don't turn away. The resemblances in this painting have been taken from my drawings and from my memories. In order to respect the privacy of my subjects, I slightly changed their resemblances. The only true likeness is that of Seymour Durst. This painting was done as a statement that whether we wish it or not, we exist in the same world. The Amtrak Waiting Room during the 1990's seemed a good way in which to say this.