Every noise is threatening in the tunnel, and I find myself constantly looking over my shoulder, ready to face something too awful to name. Now fifty-four, she has been living here since 1982, when she discovered the place by following feral cats. She has perfected her story for journalists along the years.
The father of two sons with two different women, he never cared much for family life, preferring to spend his smuggling profits on parties thrown at his Upper West Side penthouse. By the late 1980s, he was sleeping in the Riverside Park tunnel. It gets me 0 a week, more in summer.” The coffee is nice and strong. Raúl uses a Fairway Market cart to bring empty soda and beer containers to various stores in the neighborhood, where he will redeem them for five cents each. * * * New York’s homeless shelters are a lucrative business.
The tunnel was known by homeless people since its inception in the 1930s, when it was used by trains to bring cattle to the city before the freight operations ended. The legal limit of returnable cans is 240 per person per day, so Raúl has to go to several supermarkets to earn more. The incentives paid by the Department of Homeless Services to landlords renting out shelter units far exceed the ones given for providing tenants with permanent single room occupancy lodging.
Dutch anthropologist Teun Voeten’s 1996 diary “Tunnel People” provided an incredible account of the months he spent with the Riverside Park Amtrak tunnel inhabitants before they were evicted and moved to Section 8 housing units. All the stories I had read about the Mole People before descending myself had two things in common.
In 2000, director Marc Singer released his acclaimed documentary “Dark Days,” filming the same people followed by Voeten and Toth in their respective books. They all showed simple human beings who were in no way comparable to the legends that had been told, and they all included a man named Bernard Isaac.