Spend 10 minutes on the corner of 124th Street and Lexington Avenue and you’ll get a quick glimpse into two longstanding issues in East Harlem: drug addiction and homelessness.
There are seven recycling machines stretched along the wall of the Rainbow clothing store on the corner, offering money in exchange for aluminum, plastic and glass. The most common visitors of the recycling engine, also known as a redemption center, are either homeless or living in local shelters, says manager Auto Ferril, and many of them are either still on drugs or recovering drug addicts. Ferril opens the center at 6 o’clock every morning. In some cases, the change his visitors earn in exchange for digging through garbage for recyclable materials is their only income.
East Harlem is home to several drug rehabilitation centers and homeless shelters. In all of New York City, the neighborhood ranks first in substance abuse hospitalizations for people aged between 25 and 44, according to the East Harlem Neighborhood Based Alliance Corporation. Also, homelessness in New York City is nothing new, but the link between high drug use and high poverty has motivated many supportive services to settle in the area.
This is all reflected on the corner of 124th Street and Lexington, where the traffic of plastic, glass and aluminum collectors and recovering drug addicts has given the neighborhood a bit of a bad reputation, some locals say. As I was shooting photos for this project, a few passersby told me to be careful, warning that my camera may be snatched by an irate drug addict who didn’t feel comfortable with what I was doing.
Those photos are embedded in the slideshow below, providing a detailed view of the redemption center.