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by Salvo Galano
PowerHouse Books, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Feb 13th 2002

Sidewalk Stories

The statistics speak for themselves: between 30% and 50% of homeless single adults in shelters in New York City have chronic mental illnesses.  The cost of bed in a psychiatric hospital is $113,000 per year, the cost of a prison cell is $60,000 per year, but the cost of a supportive housing apartment with on-site services is $12,500 per year.  It’s shocking that the wealthiest countries in the world continue to have so many people wandering their city streets with no room to call their own.  The shock is not just that our society is so uncaring, but that it is so bad at planning – it makes no economic sense to have such high rates of homelessness. 

            Of course, whatever the politics of the situation, the homeless are hard for most people to deal with, especially if they are raving, ranting, or want one’s attention.  Only a few days ago I remember sitting in the waiting room at Penn Station, NYC, when some probably homeless crazy guy sat a couple of seats from me.  The lady he sat next to immediately got up and left.  I did not turn to the man and smile and start a conversation, but instead, kept on reading my book, hoping he would go away.

            These photographs by Salvo Galano show the humanity of the homeless people depicted.  He set up his camera in the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, and the large format black and white photographs are accompanied by short descriptions of the subjects.  They are not presented as case histories, but rather as people who have experienced terrible difficulty, and have ended up on the street.  Some probably have mental illness, others are disabled, others were thrown out from their homes by landlords or parents, and some seem to have chosen to live their lives without homes.  Most of Galano’s subjects smile for the camera, and they all carry themselves with dignity.  Their faces are full of character and experience, and they look like people one would like to get to know better.  The pictures and the descriptions do not try to portray these people as victims, nor as people experiencing their just deserts; nor do they hint at the anger and resentment that many of these people probably feel at their circumstances.  What we see mostly are people with stories to tell, getting by in a harsh city.  These are powerful, warm photographs, and reading through this collection reminds one that the people living on streets and benches and in shelters should not be thrown away like trash. 

 

Links:

·          PowerHouse Books

·          Salvo Galano web page

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.