A visit to Safehouse

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.

topoflotThis 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.

reggieDrew 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.

overtracks

tracksThis 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.

crackhouselot1

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!

crackhouselot2What 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.

drew

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.

cats

This is Safehouse.  It is a really special place that gives the people we met food, God, love, and a place to connect.  It was small but huge in so many ways.  Please go to their site and learn more.

safehouse

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.

gate

Thank you to Safehouse, Johnny, Drew, Lauren and Erin for all your inspiration!

  • http://www.laurenlesleyphotography.com Lauren

    Elvish Smelvish. I LOVE this, I love you too! Hope you know we are now friends for the very rest of our lives! :) I love the way you saw it. Thanks for posting this. You are so very brave and talented, I am proud to know you.

  • Andre

    Wow, Cristina, this was awesome. I find it commendable that you decided to step outside of your comfort zone and shoot this. A lot of people wouldn’t, as Lauren said in the earlier post, that was very brave of you. Keep up the Great Work!

  • Eliza

    Love, Love, Love!

  • http://www.cristinacocophoto.com Cristina

    Thanks Eliza and Andre!

    Lauren – I heart you right back. :)

  • Kelly

    Thanks so much for sharing. It puts so many things into perspective again for me. It makes me sooooo thankful for what we have because it could change in an instant. Incredible account and pictures. Can’t wait to hear more from you. Love ya sweetie!

  • Carol Portale

    I am so proud of you…your words are as touching as your photos. Have to admit I am glad I didn’t know in advance, but know how much it meant to you, so I am glad you had the experience. Promise to check out their site.

    Love you.

  • http://www.fernleafphotography.com Alice

    Amazing and inspiring – thank you for sharing. :)

  • http://www.laurahaleyphotography.com Haley Lancaster

    Cristina!!! what an amazing experience, post, and pictures. there are so great…. really- these shots are amazing. really touched my heart. xoxo

  • Pat Macri

    Pride and admiration doesn’t begin to describe what I feel for you right now. To be shown is one thing. To truly open oneself and really absorb the truth and the emotion of what we see is on an entirely different plane. But to be able to impart that truth and emotion to others in words as well as pictures is remarkable. Thank you for sharing.

  • Margaret

    WOW! Amazing – only one word like we spoke of today, passion!!! So proud of your talent, guts and drive! Love and miss you ~ Margaret

  • http://www.cristinacocophoto.com Cristina

    Thank you everyone! I really appreciate you taking the time to read it and see what I experienced.

  • http://www.cristinacocophoto.com Cristina

    I just wanted to add, please check out Drew’s blog. He’s pretty inspiring. He started doing all this because he wanted to be more than someone who just went to church and wanted to be a change in someone’s life… I’d say he’s succeeding everyday.

  • Johnny

    Cristina – These are FANTASTIC! I am blessed to be able to call you friend. You guys were amazing to go and “walk the walk” with those dealing daily with a loss of hope. You guys showing up meant so much to so many that night. God bless you for telling this story.

  • Kim Haywood

    Seriously, I had tears in my eyes. Your words and pictures were so honest and fresh. Excellent work.