We were asked to digitize a text that has never existed in digital form for our first assignment. The goal of the project is fidelity and attempting to transcribe as true to the original source material as possible. I thought of many things to transcribe: natural live births, funerals and police interactions on YouTube. The Youtube videos were great ideas but I wasn’t connected. I felt removed emotionally when I thought of transcribing a live birth. I watched many videos and although I connected with some, it wasn’t in the way I imagined for this project; I felt like a stranger looking in. After much debate, I decided to use something personal and that I’m actively involved in.
I spend time volunteering in the city with a wonderful organization that is focused on human centered design, more specifically, finding ways to streamline the housing process for people currently living on the streets. I distribute care packages around NYC filled with socks, soaps, tampons, essentials for personal hygiene and snacks. We also hand out coats, jackets, sneakers and whatever else we can carry from our storage unit as a team. During distribution, we interview people and ask about their current shelter or housing status. The most passionate response usually comes from the following question: “What would you change in the existing process that could make it easier to get off the street?” or “What would you want out of an organization, how can they help you?” One weekend, I met a wonderful elderly woman named Lisa on the corner of 34th St and 8th Avenue in Manhattan. She was covered from head to toe in heavy colorful wool blankets and sat quietly watching people pass by as she blended in with the scaffolding behind her. I looked directly at her and she gave me instant eye contact. We talked about many things; her life on the streets and her experience with the current shelter system. This interview resonated with me because of Lisa’s sheer passion and confidence. I thought about her for days after our initial interview. Could half of what she said truly exist? Could it be reality? I don’t know… See the transcription and audio below.
Interviewer 1: Audrey (AM)
Interviewer 2: Tawania Reggler (TR)
Homeless Woman: Lisa from 34th & 8th Avenue, NYC (L)
AM: and ah, how long have you been here out on the streets.
L: um, I don’t remember.
AM: You don’t remember? Yeah, and have you been trying to move into housing?
AM: No, um.
L: (Unintelligible) If I start doing it differently, I might mess up my, my, ah, ah…turn.
AM: Your turn?
AM: Yeah? Have the outreach organizations come and talk to you?
AM: No, they don’t?
L: What’s that?
AM: The like outreach workers, outreach teams.
L: Oh! They came, but I told them the same thing.
(Men talking in the background)
L: If I’m in the system, that um, waiting for my turn, for my waitlist, then I give myself everything.
AM: Yeah. Yeah, got it. Um, all right, ah, are there like any challenges that you faced in like working through the system?
L: No, I never want to work through the system because the system can’t help me.
TR: Why do you say that? That the system can’t help you?
L: Sweetheart, system has been broken for ages.
TR: Oh, trust me I know. But I’m asking you.
L: So I’m not giving you no secret.
TR: Right. I’m asking specifically, we’re using this data so that we can help.
L: Uh (Laughs).
TR: We need, we need like, concrete answers so we can take it to people that, take it to legislators and take it to people that can change the system, for you.
L: Talk to, call me when you’re going. I’ll come and talk to them.
L: I, I, have, education.
TR: I believe you.
L: I’ve been CNN person, girl on CNN (unintelligible). I know how to talk.
L: Yeah, I can make them move their heads, move their brains.
L: Because, system says. Help the homeless, give the money to some non-profit organizations. Non-profit organizations means: Pocket, in your pock… eh, ah in your ah…
TR: Money in your own pocket! L: Money in your own pocket!
L: Okay? This is non-profit organization. You think non-profit organization is gonna really give everybody place, so then who is gonna get the money for? If, I’m housed, you housed, she’s housed, non-profit organization don’t have anybody else to go say, hey, there’s so many out there. You got it?
TR: Got it.
L: It’s so simple. It’s just a logical explanation for everything but the system are screwed up because legislature thinks, hey we gave them money. Let’s give more money because there’s more out there.
TR: Mm Hmm
L: Because nobody (unintelligible). It’s simple.
AM: So if you could like picture, um like a system that was working, or an organization that could help you, like, what would that look like?
L: This is how they’re gonna do it, my opinion. It has to be mandatory whoever’s getting a place show the ID, and that have to go through the system, this person, this much long, is gonna be housed from these temporarily, TEMPORARILY, situations. Cause they not giving you apartment immediately. Is that right?
TR: That’s right.
(Sirens in background, people chatting)
L: This is the gap. They not giving apartment, they giving, ah, keep your mouth shut! In about, two three months, they didn’t got nothing? Kicked out. Limit is three months or two weeks or whatever it is. You kicked out. You still the same person on on the streets right? Means, the legislature have to say, whoa we have so much outside but what happened to the rest of the money? Huh? This is non-profit organization never gonna do the job. Have to be system that gonna look above their work, to see how they acting, how they helping the people and how to accomplish the goal. It’s important, important issue. We glad to say, we’re Americans. Fuck America! I’m not joking around. I stand on the corner and say fuck America. I’m not scared. I’m not shamed, because America messed it up, you know why? First of all, when I was working, ah in my (unintelligible) I have six languages. I was working immigration office, because everybody comes, they need the translation. You know how many people who spoke, let’s say you come in, I have to take your paperwork in immigration office right? You speak my language, I speak your language, we’re, oh my God. I’m gonna, I’m gonna put you in. You’re in. Don’t worry about it. We’re gonna get you in. In America. I would put every correct answers. I would not even ask. I know what I’m gonna put for you to get in here because I don’t want to be alone. I want to be somebody from my side, you get it what I’m saying? This is what they’ve done and nobody got checked out. Who’s coming in this country?
L: Every bad person who was kicked out of their country, came to this country. Now we got a mess! Chaos in our country, because somebody, well, plenty people didn’t do proper job to keep this place clean. I feel sorry for Indians. I’m not joking around. I feel sorry for the police department, because they can’t handle the chaos. We don’t pay tax, nobody pay tax. Taxpayers are for sell! They go to work, oh today you’re special. Uh, get one, ah $5 dollar uh, uh, dish uh second monies for fee. For fees the employees going with a stranger! Could be killer, right?
TR: Mmm Hmm
L: This is what we have to face it. This is crazy what’s going on. Our taxpayers are getting someone to kill us. Trai, Somebody who wants to have a citizenship. They take to their country, have a face operation, get, look like the person who went into that country, and then (unintelligible) comes here. It could be espionage. It could be uh, enemy for our country. We don’t know that. So we have to have a stronger regime, stronger system for people get off the system on the streets but have a proper (unintelligible) to go and proper life to live. Not to be in a limbo. That’s not right.
AM: Did you, were you ever in like temporary housing or a shelter?
L: Temporary housing no, shelter yeah. When I was first came to New York, uhh that was three four years ago.
AM: And where…
L: And I went to shelter, then they put me into system.
TR: Where were you, where are you from?
L: I was
TR: Where did you come from?
L: I don’t remember. Ah, I was in the system maybe one month, or two months, that’s it. I was out.
L: That’s it.
AM: Why did you, (pause) leave the (pause) the system?
L: Ah, because (laughs) I don’t want to get into this but because my family had connections with the shelter. Now they own all the shelters. Bad guys. Simple. Bad guys.
TR: So if you could do anything to get into a housing program now, would you do?
L: No, honey
TR: You don’t want to go into housing?
L: Because my family is a bad guy, they’re killers and they’re thieves, and insurance coverers. If they know you, they know your information, they have two kind of insurance. One is a personal insurance.
TR: Uh huh
L: For best friends, for family. Or for the employer right?
TR: Uh huh
L: Where there are different (unintelligible) correct?
L: So, you might go into the purse of friends, special friend’s insurance list, and they get two insurance. One you’re an employee the other one is your best friend. They’re not connected. So afterwards, you’re gonna gone with the wind they get from two places money.
L: This is the system.
L: You got it, what I said?
TR: I got it. That’s why we’re collecting data.
L: You see how sad it is?
TR: Yeah, it is very sad
L: It’s scary isn’t it?
TR: There’s not so much we can do but we’re trying to collect this data to make it useful and helpful for homeless people.
L: Their names is known, everybody knows it, everybody scared of it, I don’t. They killed my husband for insurance scam. They make four million dollars out of one place. They investigate how they can make the most, and that’s the million put them into the system, as a rich guy. That’s, that’s my husband’s life, needed it from them to have their foots into the door. That’s what they did.
L: So, for one, for once they went and checked it. I never knew my husband had any insurance. I had no idea, never checked it, never interested. We live together, so hey. But they went, got into his car, broke into his car, got the insurance claims and stuff, they checked it out. They got friends in the insurance company and said “what is the deal”, they said, the insurance company friend was related to them, somebodies daughter’s husband was a insurance agent. The best money you get when he dies in the car that’s one million dollars just for that. The person dies in the car, one million dollar! So they killed him in the car, they make sure he was dead in the car! Can you imagine that? and then they added added added (unintelligible) 3-4 million dollars and a foot in the door, they start investing and now they’re the biggest guys in all California, New York. Every biggest cities, in fact they have companies in New Jersey. That’s how they invested (unintelligible).
TR: I have another coat would you like it?
TR: I have another coat would you like it?
L: Uh, is it big enough?
TR: Yeah, it’s big enough and it’s nice and warm.
L: You sure? How about you?
TR: I have a coat. (Laughs)
L: You sure?
TR: Yeah, what do you think about this one?
L: I don’t know. (Hesitant)
TR: You tell me
L: It looks warm to me!
TR: Yeah, you can have it.
L: Can I?!
TR: Of course
L: You know what? They say Tuesday, (unintelligible) is giving out the coats.
L: So get a few of them and give them away.
TR (laughs) Okay
TR: What’s your name?
L: Eh, Lisa
TR & AM lift Lisa up to try on new coat. (Unintelligible)
TR: You get it?
TR: It still has the tags on it
L: I know. Ah let’s see if this one goes. (L trying on new coat)
Woman walking with child: want some hot chocolate? I didn’t touch it. It was because it’s buy one get one, you know.
L to child: You like hot chocolate honey? Of course she does. (Unintelligible)
Woman walking with child: Would you like to give it to her (woman asking child to give hot chocolate to Lisa)
Woman walking with child: Here you go!
AM: Yeah it might be a little bit tight.
L: It’s tight is it? It’s small.
TR: You think it’s too small?
L: I think so.
TR: You didn’t try the other arm.
L: Because I can’t even get that
TR: Oh you can’t. Okay. Oh, alright. I’m sorry.
L: That’s okay honey. You’re doing your best
TR: Would you like a scarf? I think I have a scarf.
L: A scarf is good.
TR: Okay, hold on one second (Gets scarf). How’s this?
L: Oh, thank you
TR: You’re welcome
L: Thank you, thank you. Hey listen, when you going (unintelligible).
L: Use me
L: (Unintelligible) I’m not going there but when I open up my mouth, nobody can shut me.
TR: Yes (laugh)
L: Because I go exactly to the point. I don’t dance around. Nah ah, I don’t need 3 hours to talk. 5 minutes I can give you all the picture you need. In the perfect way for them to say hey, we have somebody stealing our stuff it’s not going out properly, let’s do something about it.
TR: Thank you so much Lisa!
L: You’re welcome. What’s your name?
TR: My name is Tee.
L: Tee! Yours?
AM: I’m Audrey.
L: Audrey, beautiful!
TR: God bless you okay? And take care.
L: God bless you, you guys make a perfect, perfect team.
TR: (Laughs) Thank you
L: You know perfect team makes the Holy Spirit get involved. Holy Spirit gets involved, everything’s gonna go smooth like a butter.
TR: Yes (laughs)
L: Thank you so much
TR: Thank you!