Jacob Riis: Five Cents a Spot. A hundred years ago, European immigrants were crammed into tenement flophouses, paying a nickel a night for a roof overhead. Disease was rampant, infant mortality was extreme, and the immigrants were accused of being lazy, feeble-minded and criminal. Riis himself contributed to certain stereotypes according to the norms of the day, but as a crusading photojournalist, his passion was to show how people were forced to live. He’d been homeless himself, sleeping in flophouses and on the streets.