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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Destination: Home - Housing 1000 Photography Project

Have you ever wondered about the homeless people you see at the end of a freeway holding up a sign?  Or how about the homeless person you see walking downtown, or perhaps in your neighborhood while they lug their worldly possessions in a grocery cart?  I know most people turn a blind eye to them.  They don't want to acknowledge that they exist.   But I've always wondered about them, about their story and how they got to be in their homeless state of existence.

This past April my family and I joined a group of 170 people from our church to build homes for the impoverished.  We went to Mexico, just east of Tijuana, to build a simple two-room shelter for a family of 5.  Their living conditions were meager, made from scraps of wood, pieces of cardboard, things they found in junk yards.  They were living in complete squalor.  What many would consider basic shelter, they consider their new home.  It was humbling to say the least.

When I returned to my life of incredible abundance, I couldn't stop thinking of my experience in Mexico.  I knew there was more I could do, and do it with my photography.  So I set forth and became acquainted with Destination Home, or Housing 1000 in the Silicon Valley.

Through a round-about way, I learned about them from Mike Wasserman, a local politician in my community.  My photo of Koa, my Golden Retriever, hangs in his office because it won a photo contest he held.  So in a newsletter he sends out, I learned about Housing 1000.  Now I am their photographer.  I started taking photos of homeless people who are able to get back on their feet and are provided with a home.  No more sleeping in shelters, dry creek beds or in their cars.  These people are given a head start to get their lives back in order, find jobs and have a place they can call home.

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Here are three people I've met so far.  The first person I met (above) is "J".  She's 18, and was reunited with her mother who has been homeless for 20 years.  "J" has an 18-month old son who finally has a place he can call home - his first home ever.  "J" has an older sister who also moved in with them in a 2-bedroom apartment.  There's a little grassy area that the toddler can play in.  And now they have a bed, a kitchen and a bathroom.  Luxury.

The next person is "L" who had been homeless for 30+ years.  He's now 60 years old.  For 10 of those years he was in prison, San Clemente, serving time for dealing drugs.  In prison he had friends and had regular meals and a bed.  He does not feel that those were homeless years, just his prison years.  Originally from New York, he came out west with his girlfriend.  But along the way he lost his job and his girlfriend left him.  He did not want to return to New York, and one thing lead to another and before he knew it he was unemployed, unable to pay the rent and became homeless.  He's a Viet Nam war veteran.  When he entered his new apartment a few weeks ago, the first thing he did was turn on the water faucet.  He said it was  pure heaven.

"M" is the most recent person I met.  He was homeless less than a year.  Due to a work-related accident he had to stop work and has been on medical leave.   His company had to let him go and because of his health problems he can't work.  He's had 6 operations which have debilitated him.  But he has hopes to work again and become his own boss.  When I met him, I felt that his fate was something many of us are only a few steps away from.  He's educated, capable, but had a string of bad luck.

In all of these cases I was moved by how positive they are now.  Having a place to call home is transformative.  It is something we all take for granted, until it happens to us.  If someone you knew became homeless, would you be there to help them get back on their feet?  Or would you turn a blind eye?  These folks said they could tell people treated them differently when they discovered they were homeless.  They learned who their real friends were.

I'll continue to post more photos and more stories when I can.  Meanwhile - check out HousingOne and read more about other homeless people who need help.  Each one of them has a story.  Each one needs help to succeed.

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