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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
Manhattan's new homeless
Joshua Rockoff with some belongings
Joshua Rockoff finds himself unexpectedly homeless
Jonathan Duffy

It's not just office workers who have been displaced by the World Trade Center tragedy. Residents of one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in Manhattan are now homeless.

He is not your average vagrant. Twenty-five-year old Joshua Rockoff is a bright and wealthy internet entrepreneur.

President of his own small company, with a staff of seven, he makes a more than adequate living. And until a few days ago he lived in one of the most select neighbourhoods in Manhattan - Battery Park City.


A hotel downtown offered me a normal room for $700 a night

Joshua Rockoff
Then came the terror attack on the World Trade Center and suddenly Joshua, who lives just three blocks from the twin towers, was homeless.

Since that fateful Tuesday, Joshua has spent his days scouring the city for somewhere suitable to bed down.

He has spent two nights in a hostel for the homeless, another two in a public library, one night on a friend's floor, one in a Red Cross shelter and another in the waiting room at Penn Station.

Of course Joshua could afford a hotel. But in New York that is an expensive path to go down and he is unsure how long he will be out of his apartment.

Escalating prices

"I've been told that it could be anywhere between a week and two years. I think I'll be back in a week but you just don't know.

Joshua Rockoff
Joshua Rockoff reflects on his strange existence
"I went to a hotel downtown and they were pretty full. They offered me a normal room for $700 a night. They were just fixing the price up, to what they thought they could get."

Normally, Joshua would be able to call on friends in an emergency such as this. But with the shock of the attack, many young people left the city to stay with their parents.

Those friends who were also neighbours, were, of course, also evacuated.

"I spent one night at a friend's place in Connecticut. In the morning I popped out for coffee and when I got back their landlord was there. He told me to get out."

No aspect untouched

Joshua's hard luck story is trifling compared to the traumas suffered by people who lost friends and loved ones in the tragedy.

Site of the ruined towers
Battery Park City lies to the right of ground zero
But it is yet another example of how life in New York has been turned upside down since the attack.

The office towers and upscale condominiums in Battery Park City, where Joshua rents a studio apartment for $1,900 a month, rank among some of the most valuable real estate in New York.

The 92-acre landfill site, which is a self-governing district, is located on the lower west tip of Manhattan island, between the Hudson River and the West Side Highway. Just across the road is where the trade center's twin skyscrapers once stood.

When those towers came down, Battery Park's 9,000 residents were immediately evacuated.

"If someone told me a couple of weeks ago that I would be homeless, on the streets, spending the night in a railway station, I'd have said they were nuts."

Gimme shelter

Since the area around the ruins was evacuated, several homeless hostels have reported an influx of people they wouldn't normally expect to see.

Open Door shelter
Some evacuees bed down at the Open Door shelter
"I've met all kinds of people at the shelter - bond traders, stock traders, lawyers, doctors, nurses, as well as genuinely homeless people."

A handful of evacuees turn up every night at The Open Door drop-in centre in midtown Manhattan. Situated beneath a busy flyover and, at ground level, fronting onto a major traffic junction, it doesn't look like an enticing prospect for a night's sleep.

There are no beds there - just tables and chairs and lots of harsh strip lighting. But visitors can put their feet up and catch a few hours of shut-eye.

Joshua found a more hospitable shelter, near St Vincent's hospital in Greenwich Village. He had a room to himself, shared a bathroom, and was reassured by the standards of cleanliness.

"I suppose you could say it was fun. It was like being back at college."

No place like home

Decked out in Nike trainers, khaki shorts and a T-shirt, with sunglasses perched on his head and gripping a bottle of Gatorade, he doesn't look like a man whose patience is wearing thin.

But the novelty of this nomadic life is starting to wane. He has just been home to pick up a few essentials - clothes, contact lenses and his laptop computer - and is already tired of lugging around the two heavy bags.

His apartment is in good shape, he says, but as yet there is no word when he will be able to return. He is impatient for answers but clearly the authorities have more pressing matters to deal with.

See also:

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