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He once lived in a refrigerator box on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, but meeting a neighborhood dog and her owner changed Raymond Goynes’ life. “I love the people in this area,” he says. This is Raymond’s West Side Story.

Raymond in action on W52nd Street this morning. Photo: Catie Savage

So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in New York and lived at the Chelsea Elliot Houses on W26th Street before going to live with my grandmother in North Carolina. When I was 12, I came back to NYC and attended PS 33, but school wasn’t really my thing. I was always being tracked down by truant officers for skipping class. At 16, I dropped out of school and started traveling around the country as a DJ. In 1963, I took a bus down to Washington DC and saw Martin Luther King Jr deliver his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Then I spent some time in LA and Venice Beach, back when Venice was cool. I even made it to Woodstock and saw Jimi Hendrix play Star Spangled Banner. It was different being homeless back then, people would just open their homes to us and give us things. I came back to NYC in the 70s and called the area under the 59th Street bridge home before taking up residence in a refrigerator box in the entrance way of 333 W52nd Street. In 2007, I got permanent housing on E28th St at The Prince George Hotel operated by Breaking Ground, but I still come back up to Hell’s Kitchen every morning to work.

What was your first job? What do you do now?
I picked up a lot of odd jobs here and there. There used to be a state employment office on 54th Street that would connect people with day jobs like dishwashing or construction. I also helped hot dog vendors push their carts. I always liked the vendors on W49th Street the best. Now I help out sweeping sidewalks and cleaning up garbage for a couple buildings on W52nd Street. I also walk dogs for a few people in the neighborhood.

Raymond Goynes
Raymond at work on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Catie Savage

What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
Meeting Sonja, the wheaten terrier, and her owner Miss Mary in 2005. Miss Mary took a chance on me when I was living in the refrigerator box on W52nd, doing odd jobs to scrape by. I used to see various people walking Sonja and would tell Miss Mary that I could walk her dog too. One day she agreed and I would wait downstairs for them and help walk the dog. Eventually I became the dog’s caretaker when Miss Mary would go out of town, staying at her apartment to watch Sonja. That’s how I first got into dog walking and the whole experience changed my life. 

Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
I love the people in this area. I’ve met a few celebrities around here too. Before he got famous, Woody Harrelson used to live over on W51st Street. I’ve watched this neighborhood change so much over the years. I remember when Worldwide Plaza was just a big parking lot. But like I said, I love the people. I don’t care what race you are, just if you are a good person. I know a lot of the building owners and supers around here, it feels like home. 

Raymond Goynes, Ms. Kilty and Sonja in 2013.
Raymond with Ms Kilty and Sonja in 2013. Photo supplied

What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I can do a little bit of everything. I was a DJ and even a boxer, but I love dogs. I’ve always had a special connection with dogs.

What else should we know about you?
I’m always looking for more dog walking gigs, but I’m old school and don’t have a cell phone. You can reach me at the Prince George Hotel at 917-286-0358 in the afternoons. Make sure you speak first when I pick up the phone or I might hang up on you! If you see me in the neighborhood, say hello! 

 Raymond’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places

The Great Lawn in Central Park
I like to walk the dogs up here and let them run around. It helps me get my exercise too.

Arkadiy’s Barber Shop — 774 9th Avenue (bw W51/52nd St)
The owners are cool and always let me use their restroom when I’m working in the area.

371 West 52nd Street
I like to stop in and chat with my friend Huey Kim who I’ve known since he was little. Sometimes I help out his mother, who is in her 80s, when he is out of town. They are good people.

Raymond Goynes
Raymond Goynes with his friend Huey Kim. Photo: Catie Savage

Anything else you’d like to tell us?
In the 70s and 80s you couldn’t walk around these blocks. It was raggedy with wires hanging off the buildings and people hanging out on the streets. It was bad, but not like it is now. The city is going backwards. Back in the day there would be no tolerance for these people causing trouble on the streets. The police would lock them up.

If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself) please fill in this form —

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Join the Conversation


  1. ❤️❤️❤️
    What a great story! I hope Ray has a booming dog walking business soon!
    Spread the word!

  2. Beyond wonderful story, everything about it. “Miss Mary took a chance on me when I was living in the refrigerator box on W 52nd.” Thank you.

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