Can you sleep homeless in Central Park?

New York City in deep sleep: A photo report from Manhattan

It's a sunny Monday morning a week after Labor Day, the official start of autumn in the United States. Manhattan looks peaceful and sleepy. The streets are as if swept empty, the silence eerie. Most of the employees and managers who normally rush into their midtown Manhattan offices still work from home. Tourists who otherwise stand on street corners and try to find their way around with the help of their mobile phones, or enjoy their morning coffee in the cafés, have not come. Neither private cars nor yellow taxis, trucks or sightseeing buses clog the streets.

In Central Park there are a few nannies with strollers, children play soccer or baseball. The start of school for the 1.1 million students in the public schools was surprisingly postponed twice. Only next week they will re-enter their school building, which has been empty since March, in small groups and wearing masks. Six months after the outbreak of the pandemic, the city is far from normal.

For those who know New York, this silence is an extremely disconcerting state. Only during the notorious "Nor‘easter" snowstorms on the American east coast, which throw off considerable amounts of snow within a few hours, do you experience something similar. Or on the most important holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas or Yom Kippur. Even after the attacks of September 11, almost 20 years ago, it was eerily and ghostly quiet, like after the outbreak of war. Back then, the stench of the burning ruins was omnipresent, reminiscent of the catastrophe at every turn. As of March 2020, it has been the invisible and odorless threat of a virus that has brought the city that never sleeps to a standstill.

Disastrous economic impact of the pandemic

The city, where 23,000 people have died of Covid-19, has been in a phased opening process since the end of June. The number of new infections remains stable, with 4 positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants every day. In all public areas it is compulsory to wear a mask, including on the streets, which the population with a few exceptions adheres to in a disciplined manner.

The economic impact of the pandemic is devastating. The unemployment rate in the city is 20 percent, in some areas it is even 41 percent. Many shops, restaurants or hotels had to close, empty or paper-clad displays are in the majority, at least in Manhattan. 180 hotels have been converted into temporary housing for medical staff and the homeless in the past few months, a measure funded by the city. Many homeless people sit and lie with their belongings on park benches or on the street. For the first time in its 115-year history, the New York subway is closed from one to five in the morning. Trains and subway stations are cleaned and disinfected during this time, and the aim is to reduce the number of homeless people in the subway system.

From the end of September you can eat indoors again in restaurants, but only with an occupancy rate of 25 percent. In the summer months, the unique and diverse New York restaurant scene has meanwhile moved outdoors. Streets were cordoned off to give the population more space and restaurants were allowed to open small front gardens. This created an enchanting atmosphere, lively and cozy.

Arts and Culture

Broadway theaters, Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera plan to start performances in January 2021. The city's major museums have been open again since the end of August, but with limited capacity. And the first statue dedicated to women's rights was erected in Central Park in August.

Until the cultural scene actually starts up again, for example, you can virtually enjoy "Hamilton", a musical about the life of the American statesman and founding father of the United States, Alexander Hamilton, which caused a sensation with its music and diverse cast. Some song titles from the musical, such as "Stay alive", "Helpless", "History has its eyes on you", "What comes next?" or "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story" almost seem to have been written for the current crisis. One can only hope that the "Greatest city in the world", as it is sung about in the musical by the Schuyler sisters, will recover, shake off the dust and rebuild, as if after crises in the past. It ends with a video with Jimmy Fallon, the original cast of "Hamilton" and "The Roots". (Stella Schuhmacher, 23.9.2020)