The harsh life of a veteran living inside an abandoned mill

When the VA neglected to find Bob Mulcahey housing, he set up at a homeless encampment in the abandoned mills of Paterson, New Jersey.

Apr 27, 2018
The Harsh Life Of A Veteran Living Inside An Abandoned Mill In Paterson, New Jersey

August 10, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey (50) after his friend Drew, who overdosed on heroin, and died. Friends are always popping in and out of Bob’s life. The mills provide a transit point for many people who are homeless for one reason or another. But Bob has stayed for 3 years. Bob has lived amongst the ruins the of the Allied Textile Printing complex in an old furnace. Bob is a veteran and has been homeless since 2014. Today, he is struggling to get housing assistance from Veterans Affairs. Aside from being a veteran and homeless, he works when he can find work and cares for a sick loved one. The ATP complex, located along the Passaic River, was the site of the first mills built in Paterson in 1794. Throughout its history it has been the production site for the first Colt revolvers and America’s first skein of silk. Collaborative caption written by Bob. Photograph by Todd R Darling

Todd Darling didn’t know what he was looking for. He was just sort of wandering with his camera down by the Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey. The 70-foot falls, he says, are the “heartbeat” of the now-derelict town, which was founded by Alexander Hamilton and once served as` the lifeblood of the industrial revolution.

As he stood there, just observing and reflecting on the evolution of America, he noticed a person with what looked like clothes and food walking down a nearby path into the woods.

“I thought ‘I’ll go take a look,’” recalls Darling.

He then followed the man through the trees to an abandoned, two-story textile mill. The entire center of it was collapsed and, around the back, there were people—living in the long-forgotten structure.

“I was shocked to find that there was basically a camp set up along the perimeter of the mill underneath the part of the roof that hadn’t collapsed,” Darling said. “There were fold up beds. A little television run by batteries. Sheets hung up over clothes lines. It didn’t feel like temporary housing, it felt permanent.”

And that’s because it was. Darling returned several times, not just to this mill—but to others with homeless encampments in the area too—before he met Bob Mulcahey, a 51-year-old army veteran and unofficial “mayor” of a mill used for manufacturing until the 1970s. Bob ended up at the mill—like others in his community—after losing his job and, then, his apartment several years ago.

The Paterson mills are not easy places to live. The homeless have survived there amidst harsh winters, wild animals, no electricity (except through batteries), and even a hurricane. Bob has experienced severe bouts of depression through it all.

But he and about a dozen others there make do, diving their rooms with sheets or setting up in different parts of the mill.

Bob lives in an industrial furnace, which Darling describes as a large pipe. It’s one room, so small Darling couldn’t fit in it, with a bed, books (Bob’s an avid reader), a battery-powered light, and a fireplace, which Bob built himself. He’s got a partner too. A woman named Jackie, who he first met in the 1980s and who has difficulty walking due to a leg infection. He helps her run errands and bathe.

It’s a harsh life, but it’s not devoid of joy. When they receive their food stamps, they and the others at the mill, organize barbeques. And Bob—in many ways—has learned over time to become one with his environment, interacting with the wild birds and groundhogs as though they are pets.

To Darling, it’s important to document the lives at the mill—and the lives of the homeless, more broadly, as a way of bringing visibility to those who he says feel “forgotten.” Darling estimates there’s 10 to 15 unregistered mills with homeless encampments near Paterson. But this story isn’t just about those people—it’s also symbolic of how America has changed and who it has left behind in the process.

Bob joined the U.S. army as a mechanic in 1987, serving at Fort Hood, a military outpost in Texas. When he returned from service, he worked at his father’s machine shop until it closed. He then took a job with a contractor, who also closed shop. And now, he lives on the fringes of a town which—like towns across America—is defined by shuttered factories and overgrown mansions.

Everyone knows the world is changing. But what will happen to the people who are ill-equipped to change with it?

Darling 170511  2 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
May 11, 2017—Paterson, New Jersey: “17 inches to get in and out. Gotta be skinny like me. 2 layers of steel and 3 of brick. Safe. Lived through a hurricane in here. Not much in the way of plumbing though. I’m just camping. For 3 fucking years. I’m warm in winter because I built a fireplace. I’m cool in summer because I’m underground. And the art is exceptional!” (Collaborative caption by Bob Mulcahey; Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170805  Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 5, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: (From left) Colleen, Drew, and last on right, Steve are Bob Mulcahey’s friends who live with him at the mill. They have a bbq when they receive their food stamps. Drew and Colleen were a couple but Drew overdosed from heroin and died shortly after this photo was taken. Friends are always popping in and out of Bob’s life. The mills provide a transit point for many people who are homeless for one reason or another. But Bob has stayed for 3 years. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170805 3114 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 5, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: (From left) Steven, Bob Mulcahey, Colleen, and Anna sit around while Steve prepares to inject heroin. The mills provide a transit point for many people who are homeless for one reason or another. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170810  2 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 10, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey after his friend Drew overdosed on heroin and died. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170810  3 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 10, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey amongst the ruins of the Allied Textile Printing (ATP) complex where he lives in an old furnace. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170810  Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 10, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey and his friend Colleen a few days after Colleen’s boyfriend Drew overdosed on heroin and died. Friends are always popping in and out of Bob’s life. Colleen has disappeared now. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170810 3624 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 10, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey holds up an agreement between him and his friend. Most of Bob’s friends are addicts. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170811  Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 11, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey sitting at the entrance to part of the Allied Textile Printing (ATP) complex, in front of the smokestack that marks the area where he lives. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170815  2 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 15, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey bathing in the Passaic River that runs along the derelict mill that he lives in. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170815 2 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 15, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: “Does this picture look like it’s from the USA? That’s fucking me! I’m 100 yards from TV, computers, houses, cars… And showers and toilets. But the river is where I have to get clean. I even built a jacuzzi. But the weather always destroys it. Don’t normal people want a jacuzzi?” (Collaborative caption by Bob Mulcahey; Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170815  Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
August 15, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey gets dressed after bathing in the Passaic River that runs along the derelict mill that he lives in. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 170908 5152 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
September 08, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: “Grandpa’s yard. What you can’t see is that I’m 10 feet in the air…LOL…I’ll work. Sometimes I just need a shave.” Bob Mulcahey cutting down over-growth vegetation on a mountainside in Haledon for his girlfriend’s grandparents. Bob relies on part-time work from people, such as landscaping and snow removal as income.(Collaborative caption by Bob Mulcahey; Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 171004 6395 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
October 04, 2017 – Wayne, New Jersey: “What do you play with when you have nothing? I don’t even have a hoop and a stick. But I do have the sun and a smoke. My name didn’t make it. But I tried.” – Bob Mulcahey. Bob Mulcahey smokes in his room at the Kings Inn, where Veterans Affairs has placed him temporarily while they address permanent housing for him. At the Inn, he is bored and isolated from his friends in Paterson at the abandoned mill. The housing is only temporary and may run out before a permanent solution is available and Bob may have to return to the furnace where he was living. (Collaborative caption by Bob Mulcahey; Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 171104  2 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
November 04, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey visits his girlfriend Jackie, who suffers from a severe infection in her leg. She lives near the mill where Bob lives. Bob dedicates several hours per day to caring for Jackie. Although Bob considers Jackie his girlfriend, Jackie does not feel the same way about Bob. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 171104  3 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
November 04, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey helps his girlfriend, Jackie, do her hair at her house near the mill.(Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 171104  Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
November 04, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: Bob Mulcahey leans in to kiss his girlfriend Jackie. (Words and Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Darling 171104 8229 Its Official: Michigan is set to vote on recreational marijuana this fall
November 04, 2017 – Paterson, New Jersey: “Love of my life. Look at her pain. Part of her hates me for needing me. Without her I have no purpose. We’re quite the pair.” (Collaborative caption by Bob Mulcahey; Photograph by Todd R Darling, @toddrdarling)
Apr 27, 2018