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Special Report: A night on the New York subway – Homeless find shelter underground during pandemic

By Maurice Tamman

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The lights still scream for attention, but on this night Times Square has the feel of an abandoned Hollywood film set. Gone are the hordes of tourists shooting selfies with Elmo and Wonder Woman. Instead, a lone SUV glides by and a passenger's phone glows as she records the scene from the safety of the car.

The unease grows on the descent into the Times Square subway station. Tutting commuters don't barge past dawdling visitors. The full-time panhandlers have withdrawn. There is no music; the buskers are home, following orders to shelter in place.

On a normal night, in a normal time, you might not notice the gaunt man on the platform, his jeans held up by a cinched belt. But on this night, you notice that his face is uncovered.

"I am so hungry," he says. "Do you got some change?"

As a pandemic races through New York, killing some 14,000 people in the city alone, all the frantic layers of everyday life are pulled away. The homeless – always there, but usually invisible – are now in sharp relief.

Many are spending their nights on the ghost trains and platforms of the New York subway system, finding shelter in a place abandoned by almost everyone else in a shut-down city.

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