In 2012, just four months after my father passed away, some unfortunate events followed his passing, including becoming homeless on my end. I was 19. Lucky enough at the time, I had a few people who allowed me to couch surf, so I never had to sleep on the street, but I also consistently found myself in situations where permission had been giving by people who didn't have the authority to make that call. More often than not, I would be woken up by someone I had never met before- yelling at me to leave their house.
I think the hardest thing for me during this time was the way people looked at me. There were a lot of assumptions that my lack of home was because I had been involved in drugs, or had been in trouble with the law in some way, and neither were the case.
Eventually I found a job locally and that lead to more stability, a place of my own, and control of my life. Even then though, living in Santa Cruz at the time was expensive. I was hungry. I ended up losing 50 pounds in under 4 months, simply because I didn't have the means to afford food.
I forget sometimes that this part of my life existed because I have had the privilege of resources to help me get out of this situation and better my life that others aren't so lucky to get, or don't have the mental stability to seek.
These experiences taught me to never take anything in my life for granted and to be the most kind person I can possibly be.
I am so greatful you shared this. I can only imagine what that must have been like to lose a father that young and be more or less adrift for a while after. I can see so much drive and passion in your work that it really connects with your background. Constantly breaking barriers and overcoming whatever is in your way. I truly hope to get to meet you one day and share more in depth of these times.
Sarah, that's one of the things I remember most: the way people glanced at us and then looked away. I didn't know what they were thinking, but it was crushing. I know people with disabilities often say the same.
Chris, it's that very reason that I make eye contact with every person I pass, regardless. I make an effort to compliment people, smile at them, and engage. I feel if I have nothing else to give, I can at least give love. It may not make my experiences disappear, but it can maybe make someone else's experience a little less painful. That's all I could ever hope for.
That's a lesson I'll take from you. I'm guilty of thinking of my own traumatic homeless experience as I walk by instead of thinking of theirs. Here's what I'll do: on Wednesday I'll be in SF to photograph a vintage wooden boat from a friend. Along the way to or from the train, I'll stop and talk to the homeless and think about them, not me.
wow my heart is heavy, my heart is full.
I finally found my friend again and was able to spend some time with her yesterday. A lot seemed to be on her mind and she was recently released from the hospital. On her way to the doctor she told me that her daughter finally reached out to her and things were looking up. I wished her well gave her a hug and told her I would see her again. I am not naive to a point where I believe everything I hear, or think that all things will turn out ok. More often then not we are dealt the shittiest of hands. But I do still feel the need to hold on to those who are struggling and let them know that at least one person out there cares for them. So thank you again Rachel for letting me take your portrait and I do know we will meet again.
I'm not an expert on who the homeless are, but my understanding is a significant number have mental illness like my mother did. Mom would make a disturbance like many schizophrenics do, someone call the police, they would recognize her as mentally ill and take her to the psych ward of some hospital. By California law, the hospital has 72 hours to treat them and if they are not deemed a threat, they have to be let go if they want to be.
I'm guessing my mom went through that cycle 40 times. And since they don't have medical care, they have to go to the emergency room even for chronic illness like diabetes. It's a hard situation.
I mean that’s just not right! My uncle who is since gone had this condition and I really felt helpless for my grandparents who took care of him. But like your mother in and out of urgent care for 72 hrs I mean.... nothing is even getting done. This is just so sad and I really do appreciate how much you have talked about in this thread and how much everyone had opened up with their stories.
Thank you for sharing this. Can you expand on the experience of how you were able to find a job, what kind of work was it?
It seems that for anyone who has found themselves homeless this is a massive step or hurdle.
I've gone through phases of trying to do this. Sometimes though I have to admit that I have a fear of some of the people I see in SF. Some are seriously mentally ill and avoiding eye contact feels best. I once had a man come up to me and pretend to try and punch me in the face, he missed my nose by what felt like less than an inch. I still try and smile when I can.
Interestingly enough, I actually ended up using the public library's internet to search Craig's List for jobs. I also went into as many places as I could asking for a job application. I was lucky enough that I had access to showers while so many homeless on the streets do not.
It took me about 4 months and numerous interviews (turns out it's hard to get a job without a permanent address) until I eventually saw an ad for Bay Photo Lab looking for "part time positions" I remember turning to someone I knew at the time and saying "I'm going to work here" and they sort of laughed at me. I emailed them right away because I had experience in this industry. I had a job interview that day, and walked out with a full time position.
They later told me they hired me because I was SO enthusiastic about working there.
They didn't know I was so enthusiastic because I hadn't eaten in three days and hadn't gotten a proper night's sleep in about five. I was just so excited to have an opportunity that I would have taken anything, but I was lucky enough to land myself something that was in my field.
The same day I found a job, was the same day I found my house. Now with proof of income, I was able to qualify for living.
It all sort of lined up for me on that day and I feel so lucky to look back and see how far I've come from that moment.
This is a very valid point. There are a lot of mentally unstable homeless on the streets and you do have to be careful with certain interactions. When I walk the streets, I make eye contact first and smile. Generally, their reaction helps me gauge what kind of interaction I might have with this person.
If they yell at me, or start talking to themselves, I leave it at a smile and keep walking. Even acknowledging they are a human is something they really need.
If they engage with me, or respond to me, I'll sometimes stop and talk with them for a minute.
More often than not, when I go out to eat, I can't finish my food. Depending on where I am, I generally look for someone as I walk home to give it to. It's always risky because I would never want to offend someone by offering them food, but if I see someone digging through a trashcan, I always ask "Hey Man, are you hungry?" and offer my leftovers. I've never been turned down and I've gotten a few hugs out of it.
That food thing... Mom and I used to check trash cans when we were hungry. It wasn't the same back then because there was much less packaged food. You'd see sandwiches wrapped in paper, potato salad on a paper plate, etc.
Potato salad used to be a thing with real mayonnaise and I got food poisoning from it. I've told my kids many times that I'm not mad at potato salad, it's just that it has never passed my lips again and never will. It became a famous saying in our family: "That's potato salad to Baldy." Translation: I'm done with that and never coming back to it.
I know this sounds strange to almost everyone, but dog food was great for us. It was cheap, it stored well, it didn't spoil, it tastes fine, and much healthier than what we feed children. So we could eat it without getting cavities because there are no dentists when you're homeless.
They allow dogs at various places I've worked and sometimes I'll sample the dog food out of curiosity. When people see me to that they just freak the heck out. Loud screams of EWWWW!!! THAT'S DOG FOOD!! It must be some cultural thing from people who haven't tasted it. Dog food sure beats potato salad.
In Boy Scouts at the Klondike derby we ate dog biscuits for “energy” I’m certain it was more for team building then the energy factor but we all did it and it was like the in thing to do.
Although I will admit it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought it would be how ever I couldn’t imagine turning to it for the better chunk of my daily sustenance. My heart goes out to everyone is has had to and currently has to.
As for mayo.... yeah room temperature or higher mayo for any length of time will certainly get you.
But I see such a universal look in their eyes.