Tribecans mourn the homeless man they called Larry


By Brooke Edwards

A makeshift memorial on Desbrosses St. for Larry, who lived on the streets of Tribeca for years until his death on Feb. 10.

The sudden death of a homeless man, known only by Larry, has sparked an outpouring of sorrow and concern from people who live and work in Tribeca, the place that Larry called home.

Many people initially guessed that Larry had died from exposure after he passed away late at night on Mon. Feb. 10 during a record-setting cold streak. This raised concerns about homeless services and what was being done to get people off the streets during extreme weather.

However, a worker at the Hudson Square Café, where Larry often came for food and a break from the cold, said that Larry had been inside eating when he had a heart attack and collapsed. A café employee called 911, but emergency workers were not able to save him.

According to residents, Larry spent most of his time in the alcove of an apartment building on Desbrosses St., near the corner of Greenwich St. He had become a comforting presence to many people who passed by him each day, and a small memorial of flowers, photos and messages to Larry has sprung up in the alcove.

“We moved here in early 1999,” said local resident Michael Malcolm. “As far as I can remember he’s been there ever since.”

Though he suspects Larry had some type of mental disability, as he was often seen muttering to himself, Malcolm said, “He was never menacing or frightening at all.”

While Larry didn’t communicate much verbally, Malcolm said, “We felt very familiar with him.” Each time Malcolm and his family passed, “He would recognize us. I have two kids and he would wave at them.”

Malcolm said he gave Larry money on a regular basis, although he never asked for it. He only learned Larry’s name after he died.

Momica Kowlaska used to pass Larry several times a week as she walked from her Citigroup job down Desbrosses St. to get lunch at the café at Hudson and Canal Sts.

She said she had been looking for Larry and wondering where he had been. She didn’t know he had died until she stumbled upon the memorial set up in his alcove.

Kowlaska smiled when she saw the empty cigarette packs alongside the flowers and signs on the stoop. She remembers Larry for being kind and friendly, and for loving his cigarettes.

“He never asked for money,” she said, making her wonder how he survived.

“God bless him,” she said. “I hope he is happier where he is.”

As Kowlaska leaned in to read a hand-written note to Larry posted on the alcove wall, a truck drove by and honked its horn as two men called out, “We miss you Larry!”

Larry was also a familiar and comforting face to Bobbie Kanter, who has lived and worked in Tribeca on and off for almost a decade. For several years, Kanter bought Larry lunch each day until he started to refuse her generosity. Lately, she had been bringing him coffee in the cold mornings.

“He was just the most sweet and graceful man,” Kanter said. “He always had a smile on his face.” Larry would look out for her in return, calling out, “Watch, watch, cars coming!” when she would jaywalk across the busy street.

Since his death, Kanter and others who knew Larry have been in touch with various homeless organizations, the First Precinct and the medical examiner, trying to find out Larry’s last name and whether he has any surviving family members. So far, they have not gotten any answers.

Kanter is still trying to arrange a memorial service, and perhaps even a proper burial, for the man she considered a friend. She said the city officials won’t release the body until they are able to determine Larry had no surviving relatives.

Signs posted on the door to the Hudson Square Café and on the wall of Larry’s alcove ask that donations in his name be made to the Coalition for the Homeless.

Shannon Hedrick from the Coalition said, “We have been accepting donations in his honor from a number of individuals who wanted to do something kind in his memory.” Funds raised will go to support the Coalition’s services, which include providing shelter, food and job training to the city’s homeless.