The Reality of Poverty in Brooklyn, NY

Brooklyn is the most expensive housing market in the U.S., outpacing San Francisco and even Manhattan last year. But that doesn’t mean everybody who lives there is wealthy. Photojournalist Andrew Lichtenstein recently profiled Brooklyn residents living blow the poverty line to show the reality of life in unaffordable conditions.

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Ali King prepares to distribute food to the poor and hungry outside of the Lighthouse Mission food pantry in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Ali has lived in Coney Island for over sixty years. “Hunger is definitely on the increase,” he says. “Lots of young people are coming for food now.”

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Cheryl McCary waits in line outside the Lighthouse Mission. Cheryl and her husband lost their apartment and became homeless after she had a stroke and he lost his job. They have now found assisted housing in the neighborhood but still rely upon places like the Lighthouse Mission to get by.

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Families line up for donations at a Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger toy drive in Brooklyn. The largest food pantry in Brooklyn, the Campaign Against Hunger has operated since 1998, serving approximately 30,000 individuals per month and providing meals for about 3 million New Yorkers a year.

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The organization delivered toys to nearly 500 children this Christmas and “it still wasn’t enough,” says Melony Samuels, Campaign Against Hunger’s executive director. The organization had to hold three Christmas events this year to accommodate all the children who needed gifts. “These are things many New Yorkers take for granted. People have no idea of the reality of poverty,” says Samuels.

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Greg Ardon is the owner and trainer at Ardon’s Sweet Science Gym in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. He says his gym keeps kids off the street. “They learn discipline [and] if they can’t afford it, they come for free.” Ardon sees himself as more than a trainer. “I try to encourage them to continue their education. I make them show me their report cards.”

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Elvorn Thompson started coming to Ardon Sweet Science Gym nearly four years ago when he couldn’t afford to go to college. I was frustrated and had an anger problem. “Boxing changed me. It opened me up. It made me see what I can achieve through hard work.

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With rents soaring across the borough, the YWCA provides affordable housing for 300 low-income women in the heart of downtown Brooklyn. Valerie Berger never had a home of her own. She lived with her boyfriend in Park Slope, Brooklyn, until he passed away and she found herself with nowhere to go. She now lives in a single-room occupancy at the YWCA, where rents start at $625 a month and residents have access to a shared rooftop terrace, wifi, yoga classes, and women’s economic empowerment programs, among other amenities.

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Roberta Hayes works part time helping former prisoners re-enter the workforce. Like most residents of YWCA Brooklyn, Hayes has a stable income, but doesn’t make enough to cover the price of a market-rate apartment in New York City. Other residents include home health care aides, receptionists and retired teachers.