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The Collector of Bedford Street
A New York Neighborhood Rallys Around One of Its Own

Listen Listen to Joseph Shapiro's report.

Video Watch a clip from The Collector of Beford Street showing how Larry Selman "collects" for charity.

Larry Selman and Alice Elliot

Larry Selman, left, and Alice Elliot, a neighbor and filmmaker who led the effort to create a trust fund to allow Selman to live independently -- and remain on Bedford Street in New York City's Greenwich Village.

"When Larry goes for a check-up, he asks his doctor to buy raffle tickets. When he eats in a restaurant, he'll hit up the owner and the waiters. And when the weather is nice, you'll find Larry Selman, with his dog Penny, perched on the steps of one of the townhouses on Bedford Street."

NPR's Joseph Shapiro



Larry Selman his dog Penny

Larry Selman with his dog, Penny, collecting for his latest charity on one of the stoops of his Bedford Street neighborhood.

"He's a people person, in some ways he's a people magnet. He attracts people in the most unexpected ways."

Documentary filmmaker and neighbor Alice Elliot



March 16, 2003 -- It's a common story across the country -- somebody with mental retardation moves in, and the neighbors are uncomfortable. It's part of a response that has come to be known as NIMBY, or Not In My Back Yard. But in one New York City neighborhood, residents have taken extraordinary steps to make sure they keep a neighbor who has some special needs.

As part of NPR's Housing First series, correspondent Joseph Shapiro reports on the life of Larry Selman, and efforts by his neighbors to help him remain part of the community.


Alice Elliot and Larry Selman, who has mild mental retardation, are neighbors on a quiet one-way street in Greenwich Village. Elliott is a filmmaker, and her short documentary about Selman, The Collector of Bedford Street, has been nominated for an Academy Award this year.

Selman is a well-known figure on Bedford Street, and a genuine New York character. He's also very persuasive -- every year, Selman raises about $10,000 for local charities.

"When Larry goes for a check-up, he asks his doctor to buy raffle tickets," Shapiro says. "When he eats in a restaurant, he'll hit up the owner and the waiters. And when the weather is nice, you'll find Larry Selman, with his dog Penny, perched on the steps of one of the townhouses on Bedford Street."

He might come across as a nudge, or even a pest, but people give -- hence the title of Elliot's documentary. Elliot also says he's the glue that holds the neighborhood together. He knows who's out of town and who's in the hospital. He introduces one neighbor to another.

"He's a people person, in some ways he's a people magnet," Elliot says. "He attracts people in the most unexpected ways."

Selman has lived in the same small studio apartment for 32 years. For most of that time, his uncle, Murray Schaul, came over every day to cook and clean, and give Larry money. "But Uncle Murray is 87 now, and in poor health. He doesn't visit much anymore," Shapiro says. "Alice Elliott and some of Larry's other neighbors noticed."

Elliot and about 30 neighbors raised $25,000 in "seed money" to start something called a "special needs" trust -- created so that parents can feel secure that, after they die, their disabled child will get financial support.

The group that runs Selman's fund has helped dozens of parents set up a trust, but this was the first time they'd heard of neighbors starting one. "We feel good about being generous to Larry because he's always been generous to us," Elliot says.

The fund allows Selman to live independently and comfortably. And Selman also has a caregiver who comes to his apartment three mornings a week to cook and do light housekeeping. "Still, a large part of the caregiving for Larry falls to his neighbors," Shapiro says.


Other Resources

The documentary The Collector of Bedford Street will appear on the Cinemax cable network on May 14, 2003.




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