Vlad was sitting under a small awning on Broadway, a green duffel bag next to him. His cardboard sign said, “Homeless Help Please,” and there was a smiley face that he’d spent some time on in the corner. It was freezing and snowing. I stopped and said, “Hi, I’m Logan, what’s your name?” And he said, “Vlad,” and we shook hands. I asked if I could buy him a coffee. “Yes please,” he said, stuttering on the “yes.”
“Would you like to come with me, to sit inside?”
“No,” he said, “I need to stay here, my bag.”
“Okay, Milk? Sugar?”
“Both please,” he said.
I went around the corner to a chain and got a coffee and also a lentil soup. When I returned I said, “I write about people’s lives and stories, would love to know a little bit about yours, do you mind if I sit with you a bit?”
He nodded and I kneeled to sit on the concrete next to him but he handed me his duffel, “Sit on this.” As we spoke, he stuttered, and on some words, his whole tongue filled the opening of his mouth before a sound could come out. I missed a lot of what he said, and he knew this, keeping most of his answers brief, to a word or two. He apologized frequently for his stutter, for his tongue.
Can you tell me a little about why you’re out here today?
I’m homeless. I sleep outside.
How long have you been sleeping outside?
Can I ask what happened?
I’m addicted to heroin.
So the money you get today …
I’ll spend on a fix.
How much do you spend a day on it?
As much as I have. If I have $20, I spend $20, if I have $80, I spend $80.
And you have to have it every day or you get sick?
Yeah, at least.
Have you had some today?
And you need more?
How do you eat?
I’ll go up the food pantry sometimes, or sometimes people give me something to eat, like you.
How did you end up in New York?
I’m from here, I grew up uptown, 163rd street.
And your family …
They’re still up there. But I’m down here. I’m not welcome there. A lot of stuff went down and now I’m on my own.
Do you talk to them?
I can call, yeah. But I don’t really.
When did you start with the heroin?
17. But I was doing other drugs before that. I’m 28 now, so. It’s been a long time I guess.
Have you ever had a job?
No. I’ve done some jobs, yeah. But I have a lot of anxiety, never been able to hold a job.
Where will you sleep tonight?
Down the street there’s some scaffolding, a bunch of us sleep there.
Do you feel safe there?
I do, yeah. I have some friends there.
Have you lost friends, to overdosing?
Yeah. A lot.
Are you scared that will be you?
No, I never have enough money to overdose.
Do you think about getting clean, getting off the streets?
Do you think about the future?
No. [pauses] Yes. Sometimes. But mostly I just think about my next fix.
At this point a group of five guys came out with shovels, scraping the ice and sludge off the sidewalks, their metal shovels scraping against the concrete in the worst way. The suddenness and loudness of their appearance was almost comical, and I got this clue—this conversation was over. Vlad looked relieved. I gestured to the shovels and shrugged and smiled, getting to my feet. He smiled, too. I shook his hand and said, “Good luck to you Vlad, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Stay warm out here.” He shook my hand, thanked me again for the soup, and I walked away.