While in Atlanta last week, something amazing happened. Yes, I was able to meet a bunch of talented photographers, but more importantly I was able to meet a group of people I would never have the guts to meet on my average day.
Living close to NYC, we are constantly looking in the face of homelessness. Sadly, it becomes part of the scenery, such a common part of the everyday sites in New York City that you don’t really notice it anymore. At least, for me that was the case. That, however, was before going to visit Safehouse. I know I won’t ever NOT notice a homeless person again.
I was lucky enough to have been invited to take a city walk at night to see and learn more about homelessness. To see that your average faces weren’t much different than yours and mine. While there were the alcoholics and the junkies, there were just as many people who were simply down on their luck, maybe one bad decision too many or someone who just didn’t have any family to turn to. Those were the faces that broke my heart.
So, here I am, photographer – going to take pictures of these faces… right? I have to say, I chickened out. I didn’t want to offend anyone and I was really out of my element (and, to be fair to myself, I really was taking everything in). I was even nervous to post this as it’s so outside of what I see here in Westchester that I didn’t want to make mom’s uncomfortable or post something so different than I normally do – smiling faces of happy kids.
That’s when I realized I needed to post – maybe this will get to the right person. Maybe it will inform just one more person who will make a difference. So, thank you to my friend Lauren for bringing me and her amazing friend Johnny for introducing us to Drew and Safehouse. So while the photos are not of the incredible people I met that night, maybe the stories that go along with the images I did take can paint a picture of what is really happening on the streets of Atlanta.
This is the top of a parking lot next to Safehouse. While it looks like a pretty building at night it’s a bit deceiving, and a level below we met two really nice men who sleep here. They liked it because it was covered and the security guard let them sleep there until 6 AM, where on the street the police wake them at 4AM. They were sitting on a covered level, very friendly and kind and reading the paper to pass the time.
This was Reggie. He was the only homeless man I had the guts to ask if I could photograph and I didn’t do a very good job. I wanted to post it so you can see his home – a cave of boxes propped up on the side of a church. If it wasn’t hard enough for him, this night it was raining so that his clothes and socks were soaked through. Drew told us many of the severe health issues with the homeless starts because of the wet clothes on their body causing bacteria and sores that get infected.
Drew and Erin crossing the tracks. Symbolic in many ways for me. We spent about 2 hours walking through the city of Atlanta in areas that are heavily populated with homeless. Every corner, bridge, street, everywhere. I think the craziest part of the night for was not too long after crossing these tracks. We stopped to eat and Drew walked out with his food because he was telling us his story so he didn’t get a chance to eat. There was a man standing by the door. He was clean, kept, and dressed casually. Drew looked at him for a moment and asked him if he was hungry. When he said yes it shocked me. He didn’t look like the face of someone who needed dinner. Drew gave him his food and he quietly accepted.
This is a lot next to a crack house. Never been to a crack house before. Can’t say that I ever want to again. It was amazing because next to this beautiful tree with beautiful light there was a red abandoned parking lot security hut that was now a home to an addict. He was using as we stood there.
My friend Lauren Hammonds who encouraged me to experience this, you can see her images of our walk here. That’s Johnny who is one of the best people I’ve ever met. Plus a true gent for carrying our gear on his back!
What to say about Drew. He’s a bigger person than me, and I’m not just talking about height. We come from very different worlds, but his story of why he does this everyday moved me in so many ways. Honestly one of the most authentic people I’ve ever met. Please check out his voice here. What he does is even more important now with the floods in Atlanta. On his site he’s got some ways to help.
There were so many cats in the lot. Drew told us there were strays everywhere near the crackhouse because the people that squat there keep them to keep the rat population down.
The last shot I took. I like it because it is a gateway – a symbol of entrance or exit into a new experience or moment. That pretty much summed it up for me.