Subjective Ramblings and Peripheral Thoughts from the Edges of a Comics Studies Project
Teun Voeten is a Dutch journalist who spent five months in the mid-1990s living with the homeless who had made their home in a closed Amtrak tunnel that ran below Upper Manhattan’s Riverside Park until they were evicted in 1996. His experience there is documented in the 2010 book Tunnel People.
Tunnel People is, in my opinion, an incredibly fascinating book. It documents the life of a group of people that has previously more often than not been sensationalized, described in Dickensian terms and been the basis of urban legends of the “CHUD” (cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers) variety. Voeten’s story instead provides a balanced account that does not hide the existence of drug abuse or mental problems among the homeless, but one which at the same time presents them as human beings with desires, hopes, and dreams of their own. It does not only tell us that they exist, but tries to tell us who they are and why they wound up where they were. Among the most memorable threads in the book is perhaps the complex economy that evolved around can-collection, but there is much more to be gathered, from the romantic (mis)adventures of some of the “tunnel people” to the somewhat surprising comfort in which some of them lived. To this Voeten adds important discussions about homelessness and provides insights into how the homeless interact with and are treated by the shelter system, charities, the police, and each other. And all of this is written not from the perspective of an observer, but from that of a participant (if even a temporary one). Tunnel People is a recommended read for… well, for the way it’s written, the way it treats an important social issue, and the empathy it has for its subjects, I’m going to go ahead and say everybody.