Sunday, August 7, 2011


Thanks to my lovely friend TMW, I just listened to a story on the last of the flophouses on the Bowery in New York. For as little as $5 a night, men can rent a cubicle in these hotels, which are described by one hotel manager as “the last stop.” The conditions described are pretty intense - in the Sunshine Hotel, men live in 4 x 6 cubicles, with chicken wire ceilings.

Despite this, the guests at these hotels tend to stay there for months, years, and even decades. One man, who first arrived as a teenager, has lived there for over 20 years and now refuses to leave the premise at all. He pays another resident to run errands for him. When he starts to feel like he is missing the outside world, he opens his window to feel fresh air, and the desire diminishes.

It seems like these hotels become almost like black holes for the residents - though many entered at a relatively young age, they eventually resigned themselves to the reality of never leaving. I always find that type of collective resignation interesting. What is it about a place that can cause it to extinguish hope?

The story originally aired in 1998 on NPR, and I know this area of New York has been undergoing gentrification over the last few decades. I was interested to see if these hotels are still operating. This website says the Sunshine Hotel's sign has recently been removed, as part of a diner renovation on the first floor. It seems like the hotel's days might be numbered - I wonder if the shut-in residents are still there, or if they've already moved on.

Photo Credit


LH said...

So interesting. I read about a group in NY that's trying to renew the flophouses. Common Ground, maybe? I forget now.

At any rate, thanks for this interesting b post.