Feb. 22, 2022 By Christian Murray
Surrounded by shopping carts, clothes and mountains of other belongings, Lele Yau has become a fixture under the 46th Street subway station.
To some, she’s an eyesore— to Yau she is just going about her daily routine trying to survive.
“I don’t bother anyone, and no one bothers me,” Yau said, who is one of several homeless people living under the 46th Street train station in Sunnyside.
Yau, 69, is particularly visible given the amount of personal property she has.
She is often seen sitting on a patio chair, sitting alongside as many as 10 shopping carts stuffed with items, including bags of clothes, blankets, comforters, and furniture. She also has plants and a collection of bottles—as well as a broom that she uses to sweep her area.
She said she spends most of her time during the day at the station reading books and newspapers. On cold nights, she moves over by the Key Food on 46th Street and sleeps against the wall because the area is more sheltered. She has several blankets and comforters—most of which have been donated by residents– and creates a makeshift bed.
“It’s warmer and I feel safer,” Yau said, adding that the owners of the supermarket have given her permission to sleep by the wall where it is more sheltered from the cold wind.
She said that on cold days she wears six layers of clothes. She gets changed at Noonan Playground on 43rd Street and uses its bathroom facilities when open. “I’m very quick in there. Very quick,” she says.
Yau said she has been living under the 46th Street station for approximately two years and prior to being homeless was a longtime resident of Sunnyside.
She said that she had lived in an apartment with her mother on Skillman Avenue for 35 years until her mother died 3 years ago. Soon after, she said, the owner of the apartment wanted the unit for his children.
She said she had no immediate family to turn to.
“I never got married and don’t have children,” she said. However, she did say that she has relatives in the area—although she is not on good terms with them.
Yau, a U.S. citizen who is from Hong Kong, used to work in the fashion district in Manhattan drawing patterns for clothing designers. She hasn’t worked for many years and said that she was not getting social security.
The idea of going to a homeless shelter does not appeal to Yau—since she fears losing her belongings. She said that she wouldn’t be able to take her property inside the shelter and is not prepared to part from it.
Yau said that she is one of five homeless people living under the 46th Street station. She is one of three who live on the western side of the station—toward 45th Street.
She said that it used to be her and one other man on the western side until three months ago. A new resident has arrived who has a mattress and lies in the corner. “I talk to him, he is nice.”
But Yau said that she is not on speaking terms with the other man who has been at the station a long time.
“He was in the hospital for months but came back. I was surprised,” she said.
Yau said that she rarely goes hungry largely due to the generosity of Sunnysiders.
“A lady today gave me $5,” Yau said Friday. “Some days people give me $20.”
She said that hot food is hard to come by—and she enjoys hot soup. “So far I haven’t gone hungry.”
Yau said that nobody has forced her to leave—nor has attempted to take her belongings.
She said that the police have approached her a few times and told her to leave but have never taken steps to physically kick her out. “I tell them that I don’t bother anyone, and they leave me alone.”
But Yau is nervous that she may soon get booted out, given the changing mood of New York City and its attitude toward the homeless—particularly in and around subways.
“I’m starting to get worried. I think this year might be different.”