For the homeless in NY, casino buses provide sanctuary

August 1, 2014
A man steps onto a casino bus on Roosevelt Ave. in Flushing, Queens, on July 31.

A man steps onto a casino bus on Roosevelt Ave. in Flushing, Queens, on July 31. (Chun Ji-hoon / The Korea Times NY)

By Ham Ji-ha

A homeless man in his 80s gets off a casino bus on Wednesday in Flushing, Queens, a $20 bill clutched in his hand.

Jang Jung-soo* lives in and makes money on the bus, where he’s handed a $45 game voucher for each $15 bus ticket he buys. After a $3 tip to the bus driver and a $38 sell of his voucher, the money is profit.

Jang’s story reflects those of 30 to 50 elderly homeless Koreans who increasingly call the casino buses home.

The routine is the same: Jang gets on the 7 train toward the Willets Point – Mets station, where the bathrooms provide enough space for him to wash his face and clean his clothes. A visit to a Chinese market in Flushing yields a few fruits for lunch before it’s time to go back onto the bus.

Another man, Lee Young-choon*, is a 70-year-old who said he used to boast several chauffeured cars in his heyday in 1970s Korea. He recently met his 70th birthday on the casino bus, where he lives not to gamble but to sleep and make a living.

These buses, once heavily criticized by the local Korean American community for encouraging gambling, have become shelter and an exit from starvation for elderly homeless people like Jang and Lee.

“The number of elderly homeless people who are using casino buses as homes keeps growing as the number of buses keep growing,” said Park Sung-won, owner of the Home of Sharing for a homeless shelter in New York. “To solve this problem, we need to do more than just provide a space for sleep and food. We need a long-term program to protect these elderly homeless people.”

There are 30 buses that travel from Flushing to casinos in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey.

“This isn’t something we can stop, as they can make a small amount of money by going onto the buses,” said Kim Kwang-seok, president of the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York. “The most urgent thing to do is to help these elderly people find a livelihood. It’s time for the Korean community to step forward and figure out a solution.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the two men.

One Comment

  1. Victor Park

    January 19, 2016 at 7:46 PM

    This article really touched me as I know of an elderly homeless korean woman that stays around 74th st roosevelt ave. I want to know how I can help possibly help. The Korean Community really needs to step its game up in New York for these people. As the weather keeps grtting colder, I worry more about her health…