Amid Bowery Glitz, a Homeless Man Camps Under Tattered Plastic

Homeless man on the BowerySuzanne Rozdeba

The sight of a man huddled under a makeshift canopy of umbrellas and plastic sheets might have been unremarkable on the old Bowery, but the avenue’s new breed of night crawlers have surely noticed William Hernandez’s slapdash shelter, positioned steps away from DBGB and just across the street from another glitzy eatery, Pulino’s. A block to the east and west, respectively, are the vanishing sites of Mars Bar and Billy’s Antiques. Some might call this a crossroads of gentrification. For the past two weeks, Mr. Hernandez has called it something like home.

Mr. Hernandez, 59, said he had been sleeping against the fence of a community garden that abuts the Avalon Bowery Place apartments for the past 15 days.

“I don’t have a home,” he told The Local yesterday in Spanish. “I’m Cuban. I’m a refugee,” he said, adding that the rest of his family still resided in Cuba.

“I’ve been [in the U.S.] for 30 years and I’ve been homeless since I got here. I was in Florida and in Jackson Heights [Queens] before I came here. I’ve been in New York a long time.”

Homeless man on the BowerySuzanne Rozdeba

Mr. Hernandez, who said he had not had a job during his years in the United States, kept a blue plastic bag filled with empty cans by his foot, and said that he made about $3 per week recycling. The open umbrellas that surrounded him were found in the trash. He goes to a nearby homeless shelter for food.

As he spoke, Mr. Hernandez nervously tapped the arm of his coat with a disposable razor. He said that he had yet to be approached by the police, or anyone at DBGB. Daniel Boulud, the restaurant’s owner and a board member of Citymeals-on-Wheels, did not respond to a request for comment.

Asked if he had tried to reach out for help from the city, Mr. Hernandez said, “I don’t want any,” and looked into the distance with bloodshot eyes.

The Department of Homeless Services was not immediately able to say whether it had done anything to assist Mr. Hernandez, but said it would look into the matter.

Additional reporting by Stephen Rex Brown.