Homelessness is a growing and global crisis. In the United States, the rate of homelessness has reached an all-time high, with cities like Los Angeles, San Jose, New York, Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco struggling to address this issue and the challenges surrounding it. Here in Washington’s state capital of Olympia, I take images of homeless people in order to uplift their voices and perspectives in our otherwise noisy society.
I let the images come to me. I work with any homeless person willing to allow me the privilege of photographing them, and in many instances, I sit and listen to them. I hear their pain, fear, observations about you and me and on some occasions their laughter.
During this year-long, self-initiated project, I have walked the streets, alleys and tunnels in order to meet, talk with and, most times, photograph these individuals. Many of them have suffered traumas that can only be described as horrific. There are mental health issues, drug use, poverty and the ever present reality of a life without hope because it seems as though society has turned away from and does not want to listen to them.
But it is the humanity of these folks experiencing homelessness that becomes the most important piece of a photograph. A smile, plea, question or look can be all it takes to make a photograph memorable, and I have the immense privilege to capture those moments and preserve them forever for others to act on.
Ironically, I have also found that many of these individuals are kinder and more aware of common courtesies than some of the housed individuals I encounter who don’t have to worry about being homeless and hungry.
The fact that I photograph homeless people has been questioned by some who think it is a waste of time and energy or, worse, that the issue is old news and of no interest to the public. This is the voice of ignorance and entitlement. I strongly reject this notion, and those who have this mindset should be ashamed of themselves.
Human suffering of any sort is not to be ignored or treated as though it is not important.
“Photography is a powerful tool for change,” wrote Margaret Bourke- White. “It can shed light on social injustices … and inspire action.”
Stand still and reflect about the human beings in these photographs — they are speaking to you.
Read more of the Jan. 3–9, 2024 issue.