The faces of poverty, despair and addiction inside ‘New York’s Red Light District’ captured by an ex-Wall Street banker
The men and women Chris Arnade photographs are trapped.
They are prostitutes and pimps, drug dealers and addicts and nearly all of them wish they could get out of Hunts Point – an impoverished, desperate neighborhood in the Bronx called ‘New York City’s Red Light District.’
All of them want to get out or are trying to get out and find a better life, away from the drugs, violence and sex. But most cannot.
Haunting: This is Vanessa, 35, a homeless prostitute who has worked the streets of Hunts Point in the Bronx, New York. She is one of the few success stories from the neighborhood. She got out and is currently off heroin and trying to get clean
Dreams: Beauty, 21, says her johns tell her she’s pretty enough to be a model. She says she has had nine pimps since she arrived in New York from Oklahoma – and many of them have been abusive
‘I want to get out of this stuff, but I am scared. I guess I could stop at any time. Some of the guys tell me I could be a model,’ Beauty, a 21-year-old homeless prostitute says. ‘Money wise it’s good, but otherwise, f*** Hunts Point. Maybe I can become an RN, or go into childcare.’
Mr Arnade was a Wall Street banker with a passion for photography when he wandered into Hunts Point four years ago.
It is one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city, situation inside the poorest Congressional district in the country.
He began shooting photographs of the characters he found on the street and found that he could not tear himself away from his neighborhood.
Denial: Diana and John are crack cocaine addicts. The pair had six baggies of crack and methodically smoked all of them at once. Then, Diana proceeded to put on a wig and go out to work the streets. Despite this, she claims she’s not a ‘crackhead.’
Cast out: Michael, 35, has been living on the streets has a hustler for 20 years. His parents blamed him for being sexually abused when he was a child and he left home when he was 15
Eventually, his desire to document the neighborhood became an irresistible draw.
He quit his high-paying job at Citibank and now wanders the neighborhood with his camera full time.
Not all the stories he documents end badly. Not all the characters meet tragic ends.
Vanessa, a 35-year-old homeless prostitute, spiraled into the depths of heroin addiction after years of sexual abuse by family members. She spent ten years working the streets of Hunts Point.
Then, one day, she disappeared. After weeks of research, Mr Arnade found that she had gotten out – at least for now.
She has a boyfriend, now, and he takes care of her – giving her a place to live.
She’s on methadone to kick her heroin addiction and seeing a drug counselor. And she’s finally starting to look forward in her life – to a place past Hunts Point.
‘I want to get my GED. My dream at this point is not to go back where I was. I would like to do some artwork, to help people, some charity work. Given where I have been, I can help them understand,’ she told Mr Arnade.
Violence: Takeesha was pregnant when she was beaten by her boyfriend. She went back to him because ‘he got some anger issues, but I live him.’ When he threw her down the stairs, she lost the baby and she kicked him out
Back at it: Even though she lost the baby, Takeesha still works the streets as a prostitute. She needs to feed her addiction, she says. She is seen here before going out to look for johns
Relapse: Neecy was clean, she had found the Lord and was addicted only to cigarettes. Then she returned to Hunts Point to pass out some pamphlets about salvation to her old friends. Two weeks later she was back on the streets – homeless, shooting heroin and selling her body.
Sickened: Jennifer, 21, says she is disgusted by her work as a prostitute – but she doesn’t know what else to do. She’s homeless and addicted to drugs. After years of sex abuse by her foster families, she is not sure how else to live
Hangover: Egypt is ‘dope sick’ and needs a fix. Her addiction to heroin means that her body revolts against her if she doesn’t get at least one hit a day. ‘Everything hurts. I wake up, I throw up and poop all day,’ she says
Defending herself: Brenda, 45, said she once stabbed her husband, the father of her two children, when he beat her. She says it was the only thing she could do to stop the abuse. Now, working the street, she says she won’t let any johns abuse he
Disease: Sonia, 46, says her addiction rules everything about her. She sells her body for sex and immediately uses the money to buy crack. She says her addiction is a disease. ‘If I had all the money in the world, I would buy all the crack in the world’
Loathing: Michael (left) and Pam (right) live in a small crawlspace under the expressway that runs through Hunts Point. Pam says she is addicted to the money that working the streets brings her because she is addicted to drugs. She ‘hates’ the sex, though, she says
Led into evil: Camille, 27, had only been in Hunts Point one month when this picture was taken. She starting using heroin when she was 23 after he boyfriend introduced her to it. She isn’t sure how she ended up in Hunts Point, but she says it’s ‘hell’
Sick: Tiffany is HIV-positive and she is still working the streets. She said she started having sex for money at age 12 after years of sexual abuse. The father of her children gave her the virus, she says. She wants to go back to her native South Carolina, but she doesn’t know how to leave the bad life of Hunts Point
Thankful: Jennifer said she cleaned up for Thanksgiving. She was on the street working extra hard so she would have money to make Thanksgiving dinner for her family