Tag Archives: homeless

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A man lies asleep on a pedestrian bridge above Las Vegas Boulevard. It is sunset, and sweat drips down my back on a warm February day.

Tourists pass him. Some look and whisper to their mates. Others do not acknowledge the man that sleeps on a duffle bag and has a sign nearby that reads “Please Help! Homeless vet; cash-food; God bless.”

He wears a clean navy Las Vegas shirt and cap that appears to be a match. I’ve seen such inexpensive T-shift and cap bundles countless times in gift shops on the Strip and downtown. I wonder how he acquired the clothing. I wonder if someone bought them for him.

I take one frame and pass the man hurrying to get on my way. I have an assignment to get to– the third of four shoots that day. I notice the bridge is shaking ever so slightly yet the man sleeps. He is a child in a car seat in a deep slumber on a long night drive.

My shoot is relatively quick and before I know it, I am crossing back over the bridge making my way to my car. As I approach the man for a second time, I see that he is still asleep. The slow rise and decent of his chest are the only indications of movement from him now or in my absence.

The sight of him takes me in once again. I have passed numerous others begging for money while out on the Strip that day, but no one catches my curiosity like this man. I stop because I’m compelled to do so. I wait for passersby and take a few more frames. The bridge is really moving this time, and I am aware of the sporadic crowds of people that notice me. I wish to know more about this man and his story. I do not want to wake him and time is not on my side.

The man seems so calm and peaceful. I speculate: A sleeping man on a busy bridge must be unaware of the chaos around him, or perhaps he is so comfortable with his surroundings that he is able to sleep. His legs are crossed and his shoulders relaxed. He looks as though he could be my friend passed out on my big comfy gray couch at home. But he is not at my home or anyone else’s. His place of rest is the street.

*According the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition’s homeless census there were an estimated 34,397 homeless people in Southern Nevada last year.

Words that made the cut

Working as a photojournalist has made me extremely vigilant. I know that I am more observant, attentive, and perhaps even intuitive than most of my friends and family.

While sitting in a Starbucks editing, I see a woman to my left that is made up head-to-toe. She looks like a walking Photoshop image of what most American women, sadly, wishes they could be. I suspect this young woman has had plastic surgery by observing her facial features that look too angular, too symmetric, too perfect and unflawed. Her makeup looks airbrushed to excellence. She totes a name brand handbag and a gold iPhone. She oozes money.

On the other side of her is a homeless man. He has been here awhile, I presume, and has been here long after the aforementioned women left. He has nervously table-hopped several times. His sneezes have received many, “God bless you”s. He uses rough brown coffee shop napkins as tissues to loudly clear his nose. He is thin and wears many dirty layers including a jacket that has a small patch of rhinestones on them, bright stones that remind me of the woman.

I can not help but think of how often our lives cross such extremes. How everyone has their own agenda and does not see the world around them. How people get wrapped up in themselves and do not really see their community, their peers, or even their loved ones. Every day I am thankful for my gift.

One day, I will write. I hope. Until then, I think I may go buy this guy a sandwich.

Perspective

“I don’t like to smile. Because of my teeth,” he said pointing to his open mouth while he spoke. A gap was visible where front upper and lower teeth should be.

I met Michael outside his new apartment at The Salvation Army. The apartment was hardly new to the shelter’s campus; however, a home was new for Michael.

Michael is transgender and until recently was homeless. The Salvation Army offered Michael months of safe overnight housing in a dorm for transgender individuals before he was able to receive a caseworker and an apartment.

Colorful necklaces adorned his chest and bright beads were threaded on his long, curly hair. He wore torn tights, knee-high socks and furry high-heeled boots with little pompom tassels. His outward appearance was fun, funky and loud.

His voice was quiet. His eyes were even quieter.

I wondered who Michael was and how he arrived at the door of The Salvation Army in an area nicknamed “The Homeless Corridor” downtown. Where was he from and what was his family like?

Michael me made me think of my Michael–my brother–and all of the hardships and obstacles that my sibling overcame growing up as a gay man. I saw my brother struggle. I’m sure the Michael before me had struggled as well.

Had Michael struggled with substance abuse? His empty mouth and complexion made me wonder. Why does Michael prefer to be called the male pronoun “he” yet identify as a female?

My time, unfortunately as it often is for photojournalists in shrinking newsrooms, was limited. I had two other shoots that day and all were on deadline.

As I drove away from the shelter, my heart was full of gratitude. I thought of my warm and welcoming family back home in St. Louis that raised me well. I thought of my husband, our secure home, and my comfortable bed that I take for granted each night. I thought of my bank accounts that were not empty and realized that late payments owed to me were not the crisis I thought they were that morning. I was thankful that I owned transportation and could drive my car to the nearby library to return items after our meeting and also that I had the cash to grab a quick meal before my next shoot.

But most of all, I was thankful for meeting Michael. Although our meeting was brief and he didn’t want to smile for photographs, he gave me his time and respect. He gave me perspective.

Michael sits on the edge of a bed in the Safety Dorm for transgendered individuals at The Salvation Army Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. Michael spent three months in the Safety Dorm prior to getting his own transitional apartment on campus. The Safety Dorm’s purpose is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of transgendered individuals who come through the shelter. (Ronda Churchill/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Michael sits on the edge of a bed in the Safety Dorm for transgendered individuals at The Salvation Army Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. Michael spent three months in the Safety Dorm prior to getting his own transitional apartment on campus. The Safety Dorm’s purpose is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of transgendered individuals who come through the shelter.

Dear KathyDear Kathy

I met Kathy on a cold November night. I had an assignment to photograph the U.S. Air Force enlisted men and women from Nellis Air Force Base that were assisting with a weekly feeding of the homeless in a rather rough part of town. I arrived early, long before the event started due to wrong information and decided to get coffee and come back. I wasn’t too eager to return because not only was I tired and cranky, but I questioned my safety in the area. The sun had just gone down. I had a lot of camera gear.

Upon returning an hour and a half later, the ruined and desperate neighborhood took on a entire different life. People busied themselves with containers of steaming food and boxes of blankets. About 75 homeless and needy people stood in line waiting for the food serving to begin. Volunteers greeted each other as well as those waiting with hugs and smiles equally. The community blended together for another Monday night on G Street. Their operation was seamless, and I was the outsider.

After photographing military personnel, community volunteers, those in need and even taking a photograph with a friendly and outgoing homeless man (who also proposed to me and called me “blonde girl” as he chased after me), the reporter and I were urged by a volunteer to meet Kathy.

Kathy was sitting in her wheelchair under a streetlight off to the side of the food line. Her lean limbs were bundled and a medical mask was around her mouth. Fresh vomit lay on the ground next to her wheelchair where she had tried to eat and failed. The volunteer hugged Kathy and gave her some gentle pats. Kathy informed us that she had bone cancer and that her time on Earth was short, but that she was okay.

“My Lord has done me good,” She said.

Kathy told us to lean in close as she sang several sweet verses of a bible hymn that I did not know. She spoke ever so soft but with confidence and humility as she asked for our hands and started a prayer. I succumbed to the moment and fought back my emotions. I did not want Kathy to see my eyes watering. I looked over and noticed that the reporter was equally moved.

I left soon after my encounter with Kathy. I was deflated from the evening. There was nothing I could do for Kathy. I could not make her better or take her home with me. I could not pay for her medicines that she could not afford–yet I wanted to. I drove home, and my heart was sad.

I am not a doctor who heals children. I am not in the military fighting for my country. I do not have a momentous job. All I can hope to do is tell one person’s story through my photographs. And I know on that Monday evening, I did my job. I was there for Kathy, even if it was just for several moments on a busy and cold day when all I wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed. I was there to listen, and I’m here today to tell her story. I will forever have our moment together and this photo.

All of my best wishes to you, Kathy. Rest easy tonight.