Tiny House Under the Subway

Carlos lives in a tiny house under a subway tunnel in New York City. This homeless man has created his own hidden sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle in an abandoned sewer hole under the train tracks.

He has electricity and light that he implies comes from a nearby utility area (most likely it belongs to the transit authority) and he is able to store food, cook and heat his tiny home. He uses a few plastic containers for water  and washing.  When a friend first showed Carlos the space, he thought it was dirty but proceeded to clean it up, painted it and moved his few belongings in. Carlos has a refrigerator, a stove and toaster oven and even a small espresso maker. He is able to keep himself safe, warm and healthy in his little space.

Carlos is not alone in his lifestyle. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, 1 in 20 people in New York have experienced homelessness and the number of homeless families has doubled over the past decade. Many of these homeless are military veterans.

Since it is Memorial Day here in the U.S., take some time to remember our fallen veterans, and think of the veterans who may not have been welcomed home the way they should have been. In addition, be appreciative of any home you have, no matter what the size.

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

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robin yates - May 30, 2011 Reply

good luck to Carlos and anyone else who finds a way round the system,So many cities worldwide ignore the homeless, some cities penalise/criminalise these people. We are all citizens of this World so why not help the needy ?

    Dave Cluster - June 11, 2011 Reply

    Robin Yates…? did you ever live and work in O.C. Md. in 1980-81?

Cathy Johnson (Kate) - May 30, 2011 Reply

It is a day to remember, and to be thankful, Kent, thank you.

charlie bucket - May 30, 2011 Reply

there is a GREAT documentary about various people living in these underground parts of abandoned subway its called Dark Days by Marc Singer. You can get the dvd from netflix but its not on netflix streaming

Kregg - May 30, 2011 Reply

Way cool!

Seth - May 30, 2011 Reply

I hope the video doesn’t get Carlos evicted by other homeless or the City. It’s amazing what you can do with a little ingenuity and desire. Definitely one of the coolest videos you’ve posted Kent.

I would also like to second your notion of Military appreciation on this Memorial Day.

Lorri Kennedy - May 30, 2011 Reply

I hope sharing this info doesn’t get Carlos or anyone else evicted. You do what you have to do and some folks have a lot of imagination and ingenuity. Kudos! I have an old crappy trailer, but it is shelter and cheap and I can work on it when I have money. All I have to worry about is tornadoes. Carlos has the city and criminals to worry about. I hope he is able to keep going in his tiny house.

mike - May 30, 2011 Reply

That is *&^%#$ WILD!

But why are you mentioning veterans, is he a veteran? Doesn’t say that he is…

Leslie - May 30, 2011 Reply

@Mike: There is no mention of whether Carlos is a veteran. But it’s Memorial Day and the article mentions homeless veterans.

I wish Carlos the best.

    mike - May 30, 2011 Reply

    I realize it’s Veteran’s Day, but if this guy isn’t a veteran then it is totally unrelated…

beavis - May 30, 2011 Reply

Why is everyone applauding this guy? Hes breaking the law and stealing electricity. I think I’m speaking for many of the readers when I say I come here to read about people building/living in small houses in a sustainable way on their own land that they pay taxes on because they value the lifestyle and not homeless bums living in holes.

    Irene - May 30, 2011 Reply


    Virgil - May 31, 2011 Reply

    Agree with you… While the ingenuity is laudable, in terms of using the parts of the city that are “trash” to others, that clearly doesn’t extend to the theft of electricity or other resources. Dumpster diving is one thing, but stealing food from inside the store is another.

    This website is full of many inspirational stories about people who’ve managed to save up and own a home, doing things within the limits of the law, but in this case I think they crossed the line. Sure, do all you can to live off-the-grid, including sustainable power sources, but encouraging utility theft is not cool.

    jon - May 31, 2011 Reply

    Dude, he’s HOMELESS. There are sure to be underlying reasons why, he doesnt look disabled, or
    especially dirty, he is a street dweller, and the electricity he steals wont add up to one Lear jet trip that many New York Politicians pay for out of the taxpayers pocket. Its a cool little rathole, nothing more, he didnt bankrupt anyone…dont be a hater!

    Zer0 - May 31, 2011 Reply

    Sure, he’s breaking the law. But so are we if we download a movie from the internet, dare to live in a tiny home, or do any number of things that don’t really hurt anyone else. Carlos needs electricity so he doesn’t freeze to death. Please get some perspective.

      John - June 4, 2011 Reply

      Zer0. You get someperspective, he is stealing. What he is doing is WRONG & ILLEGAL.

Julie - May 30, 2011 Reply

Beavis, not everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Aren’t you lucky that you aren’t in Carlos’ position?

I, too, hope that this video doesn’t get him in trouble.

alice - May 30, 2011 Reply

I think people are applauding the fellow’s ingenuity in making use of his local resources to not be a burden and to take care of himself by using his own abilities without causing harm. A little bit of diverted electricity (as long as it’s done with safety in mind) is pretty minor compared to the wasted electricity throughout the subway system and other places in the city. It’s the same impulse that motivated frontier people to cut trees and build a cabin, often on land that was not owned by them either. At least he hasn’t taken someone else’s home away from them.

    dave - May 31, 2011 Reply

    yes,yes! alice

Joe3 - May 30, 2011 Reply

beavis…….( Speaking only for myself) I think you missed the point, while I agree he is ‘breaking the law?/stealing’ I applaud him for doing something to help himself. There’s too many people waiting for a “handout” or the government (“entitled” comes to mind)to do something for them. I like his ingenuity and creativity, this is a Tiny House blog….it IS HIS TINY HOUSE…
I too, like to read about small houses/building/sustanibility and may go there someday myself, but I also like reading about peoples solutions…and he found a creative solution. Is this different from building – for example – a Tumbleweed and living on someone elses property? I don’t think so…..my .02

Josh - May 30, 2011 Reply

A little bit of diverted electricity (as long as it’s done with safety in mind) is pretty minor compared to the wasted electricity throughout the subway system and other places in the city.

So if a person works for a large company that makes billions of dollars but is wasteful with some of it because of inefficiencies, it’s ok to steal a small amount of money from them?

I understand that some people have problems, and I sympathize with that. I applaud those that go to missions to try to get back on their feet and don’t fault them for taking handouts.

The word “diverted” in your post should have been “stolen,” because this guy is a thief. The subway system is not 100% efficient, so it loses some electricity – this guy isn’t capturing that lost electricity. Restaurants aren’t 100% efficient and have to throw away food that is spoiled or sat out too long after being cooked. That doesn’t mean it would be ok for this guy to sneak in the back and steal good food!

I’ll give him credit for his creativity, but I’ll certainly disagree that it’s ok to steal electricity because it’s just a little bit.

    dave - May 31, 2011 Reply

    …hmmm….funny how it’s Legal for you to fund wars w/your tax payments killing innocent people…for what? It’s murder-your “legal” sucks

      Josh - May 31, 2011 Reply

      …hmmm….funny how it’s Legal for you to fund wars w/your tax payments killing innocent people…for what? It’s murder-your “legal” sucks

      Is that implying that you don’t pay taxes? I guess you don’t understand legal. I don’t know about killing innocent people, but I can tell you that every person I killed in Afghanistan was trying to do the same to me, or would have if given the opportunity.

        Breh - June 7, 2011 Reply

        Yes, stealing is always wrong. But let’s not forget that we don’t know that Carlos is stealing electricity (that is only what the author of the post thought was most likely).
        Second, get some perspective. legality/illegality is not the end-all and the be-all. Sure, squatting is “illegal.” But what options does someone like Carlos have? In such a vast country, why can’t he head out into the wilderness and set up a homestead? It seems to me that the reason is because a group of people who call themselves the government claim “legal” ownership of every inch of non privately owned (or do they ultimately own that too?) land from coast to coast? So how was this “legal” ownership established? Correct me if I’m wrong, but IIRC it had something to do with decimating the Aboriginal populations and stealing their lands. Many very crooked and immoral things have been done within the boundaries of legality.

        “Rules are for the guidance of the intelligent and the blind obedience of the idiot.” This quote may be all the more pertinent to those who are struggling to survive.

        And on the unrelated subject of your experience in Afghanistan… Was that even a legal war? And if you had to (invade a country to) KILL people who were trying to kill you, then I hope you had a damn good reason for being there – for your sake and theirs. And lets not pretend that innocent people are not being killed (even if not by you directly). State funded wars always involve the slaughter of countless innocent people – children no less!

        When you make the argument from immorality, I’m with you – although I prefer to keep things in perspective and not nitpick (don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water). But when you get into illegality, I feel you’re walking on shaky ground.

          Breh - June 7, 2011 Reply

          Edit: My second point above was in reference to a later post of yours where you state that:
          “He is, in fact, committing crimes. Squatting is a crime. When you settle on the land of another person without legal authority to do so or without legal title, you are breaking the law. It’s trespassing.”

          Also, when I wrote: “When you make the argument from immorality…”, I should have wrote “morality.”

          Josh - June 8, 2011 Reply

          …And on the unrelated subject of your experience in Afghanistan… Was that even a legal war? And if you had to (invade a country to) KILL people who were trying to kill you, then I hope you had a damn good reason for being there – for your sake and theirs…

          I guess you missed the news – some terrorists flew some planes into some buildings in NYC.

Julie - May 30, 2011 Reply

I’ll give you that, Josh, but what do you want this guy to do? Roll over and die?

Josh - May 30, 2011 Reply

No Julie, I don’t. Ideally, I guess I’d like to see him seek some help and become a productive member of society, but that’s not the point of my post. My post was to address the notion that it’s not stealing, it’s “diverting,” and it’s ok because the subway is inefficient anyway. Let’s take it a step beyond being inefficient. What if he was tapping into the water and electricity of a big mansion because they were not only inefficient, but wasteful – they leave their lights on when they’re not home, they let the shower warm up for ten minutes before getting in, etc. Is that ok?

Trying to rationalize theft by saying it’s only a small amount compared to the total sum is the same thing that tellers at Wal-Mart do when they steal money from their drawers. Then they learn the hard way that, although that thousand dollars they stole is nothing compared to the billions that Wal-Mart makes, it’s still theft.

    Irene - May 30, 2011 Reply

    Not everyone is ever going to be what is in your view a productive member of society. They’re going to have to go through trash, live in hidden holes, “divert” electricity, and find used items to make their little space theirs. They may never hold a job because they can’t read or have no place to shower to show up for an interview clean or just can’t sit still because of untreated ADHD or some sort of mental illness. AND, this is hurting you? I’m gonna make some assumptions here: that you have never been poor or homeless, have never been evicted, never have been through a divorce where you got jerked around and did everything you had to to protect your kids from an abusive other parent, and maybe have some kind of a safety net in the form of a family that might take you in should your luck turn or some friends who could have you live in the basement for a few months while you find a job. Maybe I am wrong, but this is my guess. As someone who HAS been evicted and packed what I could along with my 2 children and 2 dogs into a sedan, leave the state I’d lived in for 20 years, and had to live a year under horrid circumstances with my parents at age 45, I say LIGHTEN UP ON CARLOS. You don’t know what he’s been through. Everything I owned other than what I carried with me was in a storage bin that was ultimately auctioned off because it took me months to get a job, yet somehow with 2 children, without my own place and without work I didn’t qualify for food stamps. Were it not for my family, I might very well be living with my 2 kids like Carlos. I climbed back, got a job and now live more or less check to check with some money socked away, but my kids are stable in the same school district for 5 years and they have what they need. If you have not known such fear and have not lost your “stuff,” your history, then you are in no position to judge how this man is living. He is not hurting anyone, he is not committing crimes, and he has fashioned a life for himself. I doubt his electrical draw is more than the cost of a cup of coffee a day, and it’s cheaper for the state to have him live this way — on his own terms — than to be housed in a state program (New York provides a lot of services for people, I have a profoundly retarded brother who needs constant supervision and has been housed for decades in Western New York in a group home, and their services for children with autism are phenomenal, so families from New Jersey often move to the city to get early intervention for their children). So before you or the other beavis fellow judge and run your negative mouths (Josh, this is par for the course for you), how about spending the next 4 Sundays dishing out food in a homeless shelter with a church group? You know, serving soup and yams and chicken legs with plastic food-service gloves on and talking to the people who benefit from such kindness? Sitting down and treating them like peers instead of wishing they would become “oroductive members of society” as you view the term? Everyone has a backstory, sir, and I guarantee many of them are far more sad than your own. FEH

      Josh - May 31, 2011 Reply

      I guess you’re not understanding the point of my earlier posts. I applaud the guy for being creative. And perservering. He’s clearly a unique character who is doing what he can to survive.

      I’m aware that there are stories far more sad than mine. And I have volunteered to serve homeless people before. And I’ve spoken to some at the Veterans Hospital where I’ve done a little volunteering (seemed appropriate since I’m also a veteran). I’ve also heard some sad stories from graduating seniors whom I’ve interviewed for the four-year, full-ride scholarship that the committee I’m on gives to several students every year. I’m well aware that I’m very lucky.

      He is not hurting anyone…

      I didn’t say he was.

      …he is not committing crimes…

      See, there’s where you’re not understanding the point of my posts. He is, in fact, committing crimes. Squatting is a crime. When you settle on the land of another person without legal authority to do so or without legal title, you are breaking the law. It’s trespassing. Taking electricity that you are not paying for from someone else is also a crime. It’s called “theft of services.” And it usually falls under the broader crime of larceny.

BenBrown - May 30, 2011 Reply

Under one of my state representatives, a man like him should ultimately be put in a $50,000 a year jail for breaking the law or if not fully competent put in an institution at several times more money to taxpayers Of course in some areas, having a tiny home is breaking the law, whereas spending money on special lawyers, fees court time and such to get an exemption to build a 5,000 sq ft home for two people is a good investment in the community. I know full time workers making $12-15k, that if they paid to have insurance would take 10 years to pay for the materials of a tiny home.

I think so far as the planet is concerned, Carlos is doing a great thing. So far as I am doing, I’m not so sure creation or the Creator is so pleased with me.

I would wish there were no military homeless… or people made homeless by the blind choices I make…(just a prayer…)

    Virgil - May 31, 2011 Reply

    Really? $12k a year, 52 weeks a year, 40 hours a week, that’s $5.77/hr. Federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr.

    By my calculations, working a reasonable week (50 hrs, as I do) at minimum wage, for 50 weeks a year, gets you to >$18k/yr. That’s about what I was earning when I saved enough for a downpayment on my first house.

Seth - May 30, 2011 Reply

Carlos’ theft pales in comparison to the corporate theft that takes place in America everyday. Does it make it right? No, of course not. However, It astounds me to pick on someone for doing what they have to do in order to survive. I’m sure all of us would do the same in his situation. I consider myself blessed that I’m not in his situation.

    Irene - May 30, 2011 Reply

    Thank you for this post and for that of Ben Brown, above yours. I am heartened that there are some soft souls out there who have compassion for their fellow man.

    Zer0 - May 31, 2011 Reply

    Absolutely. People do what they have to in order to live.

Corby - May 30, 2011 Reply

Why do we get so locked on sometimes? Should Carlos be stealing electricity from the subway system? No. Should corporate execs screw people over through their schemes? Of course not.

Is there something we can learn from this man and how he lives simply on the edges of society? I would hope so.

I’m a pretty staunch opponent of moral relativism, but I think objections raised to the exclusion of learning something useful and not seeing a bigger picture here are a bit overdone.

Remember, if your dinner guests talk only about virtue all evening, be sure to count the silverware when they leave!

Keith - May 30, 2011 Reply

For starters, starting the film ranting about the end of the world does not help his credibility.

Not a fan. of this “Tiny House.” I hope I never live in a hole under railroad track to get on this site. No toilet. No air conditioner. No window. No bed. No internet. Rats? Bugs?? It’s “wild” and “creative” — how about commenting “almost homeless?”

Frankly I hate to see people live like this. It’s sad that society is so advanced, in so many ways, but Carlos lives in a hole with no running water. Wish everyone could afford a Tumbleweed or some other comfortable affordable home. Thanks for covering every Tiny space imaginable. Makes us think more seriously about the other homes on this site!

    dave - May 31, 2011 Reply

    maybe the point is -he is not “credible”. maybe he’s a bit impaired and others like him are a burden on society yet he takes responsibility(in his way/as he can) for finding a place w/little impact/burden on others. yes-in a perfect world he would not steal electricity—this view like “what if everyone did this/that…” well everyone isn’t-that’s how this world works. If everyone in NY flushed their toilets at the same time…we don’t need to plan for it-it won’t happen. hmmm…time for breakfast-shouldn’t get on line so early…

31 | Mai | 2011 | Architekturlinks - May 31, 2011 Reply

[…] Tiny House Under the Subway (tags: Minihaus NewYork Einraum) […]

Harvey Pwca - May 31, 2011 Reply

Since when did homelessness become a “lifestyle choice”. I didn’t “choose” it, it “chose” me! I think it’s despicable when this happens to someone but completely insane to romanticize it and imply that people who live in this manner choose to do so.

Now that this has been so publicized I don’t give this fellow a chance in hell for his safety from those who would kill you for the lint in your pocket (New York’s Transit Authority & Streets and Sanitation Dept), kill you just to steel your stuff (the local goon’s looking for fun & or the druggies looking for something to sell for their score).

Great job ya’ll. This guy is now thoroughly screwed.

cj - May 31, 2011 Reply

Excellent post. Certainly shows what is wrong in our society. And what is necessary; which is why I love this blog.

To the all too moral: Hope you never need to run from a twister/fire/wild animal and the only way out is by trespassing on another’s property.

    Irene - June 1, 2011 Reply

    I have to say, reading some of the comments on here have made me feel a bit soul sick. Here’s a man who is shown talking about the Rapture, truly believing in it, so clearly he is a man of profound faith with not all that much logic who does not think like the vast number of people in the typical office about to hold a 9-5, he’s using a refrigerator with a door that’s not attached (which is how people generally dispose of refrigerators when they get rid of them so no child gets trapped inside). He’s living in a hole, using discarded appliances to store and heat food, he’s keeping his hole clean (if you notice, he said he scrubbed it when he arrived and it does not appear to be grimy), he manages to keep his body not filthy looking, and we are judging him for using electricity from under the ground in the New York subway? He doesn’t mug, violate, harm or molest, he truly believes in Jesus and is devout, but this is our criticism of this man who is not using city services/monies in the form of mental health, shelter, etc? I hope to God you people criticizing Carlos are not church-going people because having your type show up in His house must make Jesus just wanna flat-out throw up.

      Marcia Weber - June 1, 2011 Reply

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. We have not walked in his shoes.

Alvaro - June 1, 2011 Reply

He is a poor homeless but definately made a good decision. It could be better than slepping in the floor. The most important thing he need he has. This is some kind of a a shelter, not a home but a good place to survive and have a pace to sleep, eat and stay secure.
From a European wiev I can hardly understand the problem that he steals electricity. Ok. It is not a good way to live but what can he do? Collecting solar energy?

OzPolly - June 1, 2011 Reply

Thank you Christina for posting this. I don’t understand the upset it seems to have caused. Trailers are not exactly tiny houses either, but don’t they seem to disqualify for posting.

I come to this site to learn about how people can live, whether it is a dinky hotel pod, a caravan, trailer, super self contained upmarket ‘cabin’ or a converted shipping container (all of which have featured here). Some are ‘lifestyle’ choices, some, like Carlos’ digs are probably not.

I appreciate all the owners and contributors do towards making this the great blog it is, and all for no cost to me.

Some articles are of no help for my personal use, but I’m still interested in learning something I didn’t know, or understand well. If I don’t want to read an offering, I’m free to skip it.

I don’t know Carlos’ story. He commented he was happy to have no rent, so what element of ‘choice’ entered into his choice of ‘house’ is unclear. It’s probably safe to say he isn’t collecting much from the city on welfare, so regarding his theft of electricity from the city, I imagine the city is still ahead.

    powpowpow - June 4, 2011 Reply

    So true! His burden on society is so minimal if he is living simply like that. He is being resourceful and managing to survive on his own. Riding on the buses in Baltimore, I hear many people on the bus talking about how they’re collecting welfare and food stamps and other gov subsidies, while they’re dealing drugs and such. Those are the true burdens to society.

Moontreeranch - June 2, 2011 Reply

The fact that he is stealing electricity is the main beef people have here…if he set up his own solar system with a panel and battery it would attract attention…at least until it was stolen…

After all this is the big city…

He is simple doing what he can with the “materials” he can scrounge. No running water is not a big deal…My simple 200 sq ft cabin has no running water, or a readily available source, carlos can visit local sources to fill his jugs and use restrooms etc.

I hope he can stay

Phil - June 2, 2011 Reply

great post, even better it got all the yuppies on here riled up! The dude is stealing electric, so what? He’s a homeless person trying to do the best he can. Much better than stealing people’s wallets or cars. This is the real world, things aren’t always black & white folks.

Ronald - June 2, 2011 Reply

Wow. I thought this kind of housing only
existed in the movies. I really hope that
this guy can stay forever there, it looks
like a nice place.

Uptown Charlotte Dentist - June 3, 2011 Reply

I just wonder how safe it is for that guy down there….does that hatch have a lock on it?

BK - June 4, 2011 Reply

So a guy living on property he doesn’t pay for, and using utilities he doesn’t pay for, is commendable? I want to see how quickly Irene (and others) step up to defend this practice when obviously mentally unstable dudes like this set up house in their neighborhoods.

He moves into the vacation cottage next door that mostly sits vacant, a business that’s in between owners, a tool-shed where the elderly folks don’t realize he’s there – is that OK too? I find it hard to believe these commenters would be rushing over to welcome them with milk & cookies, and that makes them hypocrites of the highest order.

Antibubba - June 5, 2011 Reply

I’m breaking the law right now. Which law(s), I don’t know. There are a lot of laws which do not contribute to my welfare or well-being, which contradict other laws, or were great laws when they were enacted in 1903, but which don’t work now.

In all too many places, being homeless is a de facto crime; sleeping on a sidewalk is illegal, loitering is illegal, disorderly conduct is illegal, etc.

There are legal places for the homeless to stay, if they are in the first 40 of 1000 people to show up for a bunk. Some of the homeless are eligible for public benefits, but for most of them it doesn’t begin to cover what they need to become “respectable” citizens again. And many more receive no assistance at all.

Where I live, recyclables go into their own cans, and there is a cash return for glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers. It is illegal to rummage through those receptacles. Want to guess how well that law observed? Here is a way for homeless and low-income people to make a little money. The law was passed because the garbage collection company wasn’t getting enough money out of the garbage. Would you care to guess how many people are detained or arrested for rummaging through cans? To be fair, it does happen, but only when the rummager is loud, obnoxious, and disturbing the peace; this allows the cops to add on another petty charge.

Carlos is squatting and stealing electricity, no question. Were he not in that hole, would he be in a rented studio in SoHo? Probably not; he’d be sleeping under a bridge (illegal) trying to keep warm by a fire in a steel drum (illegal). His dinner might come from a grocery store dumpster (illegal). He might be trying to get enough money to stay at a fleabag hotel by panhandling for change (illegal), or to buy some liquor to try to blot out his memory for a little while (which will break the “open container” laws). Which you prefer: Carlos in his hole, out of sight, or Carlos sleeping in front of your workplace, where you might have to step over or around him, and would have to do that “stare ahead and don’t see/hear/smell that bum” act we use to avoid being asked for change?

I’m rooting for Carlos; not because he’s “only” breaking the law a little, but because he’s shown initiative and the willingness to make the best out of a bad situation. I have the feeling that he’ll be one of those who escapes his current plight and becomes a productive member of society.

    Josh - June 5, 2011 Reply

    Is Carlos still there, or did he get taken up to heaven with the “true believers” on May 21st?

Nonbeliever - December 6, 2013 Reply

The only threat I see here is the one to privately onwed business and their Wall Street and goverment criminal friends and insipid “yuppies” gatekeepers, granted the only reason any of this activities are “illegal” is PROFITS! Carlos lives an alternative lifestyle wheather be by choice or or not, and because of this very fact is showing people that it is possible to live off the stablished-criminal-legal-cartel (business and goverments)-grid with a little ingenuity and imagination…in a way homeless are mostly a threat to those I control and with business interests. Imagine if only 80% of the population decides to live off the grid? Think about it.

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