Newark Penn Station: A Symptom of the Larger Problem

Two years ago we published an article on the human misery in Penn Station in Newark, New Jersey. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the situation today remains nearly precisely the same as two years ago. In Penn Station at least dozens of unhoused people still sleep, roam about, talk to themselves, beg, urinate, defecate, and wash in this busy transit hub. With nowhere to live, little money, and nowhere else to go, what else can they do?

While there has been no serious attempt to provide the homeless of Newark with decent, dignified shelter, local politicians and developers have been working overtime to provide luxury housing for the well to do. Only blocks from the unavoidable suffering in Penn Station, brand new apartment buildings recently opened with studios starting at $2,000 per month. And more are currently under construction. The contrast between the pampered world of those apartment dwellers and the suffering of the unhoused is jarring.

But as depressing as the situation in Newark is, the misery of Newark Penn Station is just one symptom of a much larger problem. New Jersey still has 7,600 unhoused people scattered around the state, about the same amount as two years ago. Many cities throughout the U.S., like Phoenix, Arizona, actually have far larger unhoused populations than Newark. And a new report issued last week by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that the homeless population in the United States increased by 12%, or 70,000 more people, since last year’s count. According to the report, there are currently at least 653,104 unhoused people in the United States. This is the largest number ever recorded.

These numbers remind us that in capitalism, poverty and homelessness are normal parts of the system. Developers will only build housing when they can profit, and they see no profit in building housing for poor people.