Archive for downTown U.S.A.

The Homeless -Invisible or Ignored?

Homeless?There are many stereotypes about the homeless. To many people they are written off as alcoholics and drug addicts. Others barely register their existence. Despite the recent economic misadventures, events that have greatly swelled the ranks of the homeless, these stereotypes remain consistent.

Only someone oblivious to reality would say there is no substance abuse among the homeless. By the same token you cannot paint such a diverse group of people with a single brush.

Between the housing crash and the ailing national economy many thousands have become homeless over the past few years. Families that had opted for sub-prime mortgages suddenly found themselves on the streets. Families and parents pushed to the financial brink find themselves on the street. Across the United States people who have been living paycheck to paycheck are finding themselves sleeping under the stars.

A highly disturbing number of these these recent homeless are women, children and veterans. And still the pejorative stereotypes persist.

Cary Fuller, a homeless single mother, gave her thoughts on the subject in a recent post for the Huffington Post:

The first thing I asked him was this: “If the homeless had permanent housing and support services, would they be hanging around in parks and alleyways?” Give people something better to do and a better place to go and the majority will, I said. At this point he then said that many of these homeless could get welfare and a job to which I then said “Really? Where? How can you get a job without an address? If you’re mentally ill, who will hire you?” Once again, a blank stare from my ex-neighbor. That’s when I told him that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem and the problem here is that too many people have the attitude that they don’t have to get involved with anything so long as they’re not affected. The truth is that everybody is affected by homelessness. When homeless people get sick to the point of having to be taken to the emergency room, who do you think foots the bill for that?

Her last observation was particularly resonant. While people may well tune out the homeless they see on the streets, their pocketbooks cannot. (This is the reason we titled our documentary It’s More Expensive to do Nothing. The cost of rehabilitating these people back into mainstream society is far less than is currently being expended.)

To the vast majority of people the homeless remain faceless. As a result they fall back on images of the rum-soaked alcoholic snoring away the afternoon under an overpass – and other caricatures.

Take a moment and meet some of them. In our book downTown:USA our own Susan Madden Lankford takes you on a visual journey into their world, where she shares their narratives.

You see these people on your streets every day. Now take a moment and really look at them.

The Real Faces of Homelessness

FaceNo matter what city you live in you will see homeless people on the streets. The man standing on the side of the road with a “Will work for food,” sign is a sight we all are familiar with, as is the huddled figure sleeping in a doorway somewhere near you.

My grandmother used to point out people living on the street and say, “There, but for the grace of god, go I”, She would then stop and give them some spare change.

My grandmother’s words truly resonate with me these days. Bobbie Ibarra, Executive Director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, recently noted a substantive change in the demographics of the homeless these days:

Families are a newer face to homelessness that run the gamut, due to situations regarding financial instabilities, not having access to health care, unemployment, lack of affordable housing and the recent trend of foreclosures. However, the youth have their own face to homelessness as well, such as those who either run away from home or age out of the foster care system with no guidance and resort to ‘couch surfing.’ This is a group that is blending in with their counterparts in our school systems, making their situation invisible.

These days more and more of the homeless defy the stereotypes we have adopted (as happens all too often with stereotypes). The economic chaos of the past few years has thrust many families and individuals onto the streets. The man shamefacedly asking for spare change on the corner could well have been living in a large suburban home a mere few weeks ago.

There are many others who have ended up, like the students Ms. Ibarra spoke of above, living with friends or family because they can no longer afford a home of their own. One small step away from the streets but lacking resources of their own, they are the invisible faces of the homeless problem, and their numbers are also growing.

Writer Stephen Smith recently wrote about the homlessness issue in the U.K. In his blog post he noted the fine line so many tread between having a roof and living on the streets:

In 1990, the late, great Bill Hicks said ‘anybody can be a bum; all it takes is the right girl, the right bar and the right friends’.

Hicks always had a hard core of truth in his humour, recognising here that people can – and do – go from affluence and security to poverty, homelessness and insecurity faster than you can say ‘austerity budget’.

How are people left homeless? Relationships breaking up, substance addictions, serious illness, escaping abusive relationships, severe debt, leaving the Services or coming out of prison can all bring homelessness, as well as something we can all relate to: losing your job. No job, run up debt, you can’t meet the mortgage or rent. Bang! Of course, you may be lucky enough to have friends and family who’d look out for you – but many people don’t.

Ask yourself how long you would be able to make your rent or mortgage if your income stopped tomorrow? That’s how close you are to being classed as homeless.

With unemployment numbers continuing at absurd levels there are many of us who know the fear of not being able to make the bills. Living on the street is a specter in the lives of every household that is living “paycheck-to-paycheck.” I personally know of five people who in the last week have been let go from their jobs with no warning, in one case because the entire university department was dissolved (20 jobs gone in a flash). Now they are wondering what their options are and how long they will make it.

Smith’s words cut to the core. Read them again and think about it.

Ask yourself how long you would be able to make your rent or mortgage if your income stopped tomorrow? That’s how close you are to being classed as homeless.

The homeless person on the street could be one of your friends or family. It could, indeed, be you. The truly horrible part is how many families and children are living on the streets, “sleeping rough” as they say in the U.K.

Our first book, downTown:U.S.A.: A Personal Journey with the Homeless, focused on the people who suffer on our streets every day. Using their words and images, we have tried to show people the human depth behind the stereotypes in the hope of inciting change.

Image by Andrew Morrell Photography, used under its Creative Commons license

Homelessness, NIMBY, and Perpetual Children

Today I’d like to share an article by Pat LaMarche that touches on aspects of the homeless problem that we have not yet examined in depth.

In her recent column on Common Dreams, None of the Poor Children Matter,  LaMarche comments on an increasingly common trend in US cities – the banishing from view of those in our society’s broken segments from the common view. This NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentality is one that we are seeing with increasing frequency, and its “out of sight, out of mind,” stance can only make an already intolerable situation worse.

Officials in Clearwater, Fla., are working diligently to put the hungry in their place. In this case that place is eight miles out of town at a facility near the county jail. The St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen is — according to the well fed elitists running the town — ‘enabling’ the handout taking behavior of those just looking for a meal.

This practice of the ‘haves banishing the have-nots’ to the hinterland is just a part of a trend that is sweeping the country. Clearwater isn’t alone in Florida and the practice is spreading to other regions. Philadelphia, Pa., has been in the news recently for their cutting-edge political philosophy that feeding people not only enables them but downright insults them if done in the presence of those who don’t need assistance.

To shuffle off the homeless to a site eight miles out of town in this fashion is reprehensible, to say the least. This is especially true when you factor in the number of children counted among the homeless.

It is appalling to shunt aside starving kids like this. I think we can all agree that children are innocent and not responsible for their circumstances. Privation during formative years like this is a recipe for a lifetime of ills, both social and physical.

The point that LaMarche makes with poigniant personal narrative is that not all of these children are young. The developmentally disabled are effectively children all their lives, and are often thrust onto the streets when their parents or guardians pass away.

 Many of the single women I worked with were permanently and equivalently 10, 11 or 12 years of age. Bonita — none of the names I’ll use here are real — told me when she showed up homeless at our once majestic hotel-turned-shelter, that she’d always wanted to live in a great big house with high ceilings and long stairways, but she didn’t know it would have so many homeless people in it.

You laugh or you cry in that line of work. Some days you do both.

I strongly advise reading this article, particularly for the story of the woman referred to simply as “Joan.” Trust me, it is a story that you need to read.

Drew Harwell of The Tampa Bay Times notes the ongoing battle between the city of Tampa and its homeless population: battle that involves the homeless being pushed further and further out of sight, despite their overwhelming numbers.

With more than 15,000 homeless people, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area has the highest rate of homelessness among metropolitan areas in the country, according to a 2012 report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

But Clearwater’s offerings for the homeless have shrunk as officials have pushed for consolidating services in places like Safe Harbor or a nearby tent city named Pinellas Hope — a practice critics deride as ‘warehousing.’ The Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project, a shelter and day center next to the soup kitchen that offered a number of services, closed last year after the city withdrew a $100,000 grant.

Are they deliberately trying to create new criminals? Think about it: if all of your options were suddenly gone and you had to resort to crime to put food in your children’s mouths wouldn’t you do it? Be honest.

By relocating food assistance eight miles out of town, the city is placing unnecessary hardship on people who already have a mountain of woes. The solution is to find a way to reintegrate them with day to day life, not to push them away in a fashion reminiscent of the way feudal lords in the Middle Ages treated their peasantry.

This trend of warehousing is one we intend to watch closely, as it is antithetical to every reputable finding on the subject of homelessness.

LaMarche is host of Maine’s The Pulse Morning Show (available online at and is also the author of Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States. Ms. LaMarche was the Green Party’s vice-presidential candidate in the 2004 U.S. presidential election.

If you are interested in learning more about the homeless issue in the US, you might wish to check out downTown U.S.A.: A Personal Journey with The Homeless, the first in our trilogy of books about modern-day social ills.

Join the Discussion

One of the main reasons that we create and publish our books is to incite dialogue and hopefully action.

The topics we have covered in our trilogy – homelessness, women in prison, and juvenile justice – are some of the great challenges that face our communities. By shining a spotlight on the destructive cycles that contribute to these issues we hope to not only educate, but to also motivate people into making a difference.

When these issues are addressed two key things happen:

  • The economic burden on society is lightened.
  • The social burden on society is lightened.

It is that rare animal in the political arena: a truly bipartisan “win-win” scenario.

A focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society has been proven fiscally conservative; the savings over the long term are incontrovertible. At the same time the focus on social factors such as generational cycles of neglect or abuse appeals to the classic liberal stance. This is one area where, no matter how toxic our politics may become, both sides of the aisle have reason to get on board.

How can you help? For one thing you can join the discussion. In the interest of reaching as many people as possible we have been branching out into the world of social media. Join us on our Facebook Page, Google+ Page, or Twitter. Ask us questions, share your stories, or just follow along as we keep you abreast of the latest news on these topics.

Of course we would love it if you would buy our books and share them with friends as well. I highly advise our most recent effort – Born, Not Raised: Voces  from Juvenile Hall – because there is a lot of legislation going on right now across the U.S. that concerns our juvenile justice system. As state budgets get tighter, some are embracing the financial logic in our proposals, while others are backsliding to older, less effective strategies.

It is important to get informed on these issues, as in one way or another they impact all of us in the end.

We look forward to hearing from you!


Susan Madden Lankford talks about Born, Not Raised on KPBS

Yesterday our own Susan Madden Lankford was a guest on KPBS, both TV and radio! Here is the video of the televised portion of proceedings. (a link to the 17 minute audio interview on KPBS radio appears after the video.)

For a much more in depth interview check out the one she did for KPBS radio that same day –‘Born, Not Raised’ Explores The Links Between Development And Juvenile Crime

Homeless Woman Becomes Online Celebrity Through Twitter

TwitterLong time readers of this blog might remember when I wrote about Mark Horvath of Invisible People, the homeless man who leveraged YouTube into a way not only out of his plight but also a way to help others amongst the growing ranks of America’s homeless.

Giselle Smith of MSN Money brings us news of another homeless person, a woman this time, who is finding online celebrity in a similar fashion:

Losing her job, getting divorced and a number of health issues caused AnnMarie Walsh to become homeless five years ago, but she found her voice — and a community — on social media.

The 41-year-old suburban Chicago woman slept in an alley when she couldn’t get into a shelter and wrote about her experiences as “PadsChicago” on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a WordPress blog, mostly using free Internet service through the Arlington Heights Memorial Library or a prepaid hand-me-down cellphone.

Her goal was not to complain about her plight, but to help people understand homelessness better.

Walsh’s activity on social media eventually helped her find a social worker that could assist with transitional housing. It also got her noticed by Horvath who helped to amplify her signal. First he introduced her to a team of documentarians working on a film called “Twittamentary.” He also helped bring her to the attention of the 140 Character Conference (named for the limited length of  Twitter messages).

She appeared on stage with Horvath at the conference without telling anyone she was homeless. When she did the reactions were potent:

‘It was very powerful,’ Horvath told the Daily Herald. ‘Most people would not roll down their windows on the exit ramp to ask homeless people their stories. This changed people’s paradigm.’

Since then her story has been run on NBC Chicago and on The Huffington Post, among other media.

This demonstrates two important things that are often lost on most people:

  • The perceived stereotype of the homeless is often inaccurate, especially during times of economic duress such as we have experienced for the past three years.
  • The power of social media to shine a spotlight on issues such as homelessness. As access becomes more readily available even the homeless have an avenue through which to share their stories.
Fact are vital, but it is so often personal narrative that makes an impression. It’s one thing to hear that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development reports roughly 1 in every 200 persons in the US used the shelter system at some point during the 2008-2009 period. It is another thing entirely to hear the story of one individual’s trials.
It is through these personal stories that we begin to see that true human cost of homelessness. It is these narratives that we present in d0wnTown USA, as we try to provide a view of the real people suffering on our streets.
Image Source: trekkyandy on Flickr, used under it’s Creative Commons license

Humane Exposures: The Beginning

Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time

Someone looking at our books and our film for the first time might as well ask how we got started down this particular path.

The roots of Humane Exposures go back 15 years and begin with Susan Madden Lankford’s interactions with the homeless. Having managed a successful portrait studio for years, she has decided that she wanted to do more. Renting the Seaport Village Jail, she then began photographing the homeless and collecting their narratives. Since many of those had involved incarceration, it was only natural that Lankford’s next step be touring the seven main jails in the area.

That tour brought her to Las Colinas, the county’s only all-women jail. It was then that Lankford has realized that prison reform is urgently needed, and decided to share the inmate’s situation with a the public in hopes of spurring that reform.

Mark Arner, a reporter for The San Diego Union Tribune, reported on the resulting book, Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes (also on Facebook) back when it was released in 2008:

Thirteen years ago, an inmate at the county’s only all-female jail said something startling to San Diego photographer Susan Madden Lankford.

‘Hey Susan, I have something to tell you: I found maggots in my sweet potatoes last week,’ Lankford said the inmate told her.

While her subsequent tour of the jail’s kitchen facilities revealed only clean surfaces and safe food, that one comment stuck with Lankford and became the title of the book. Here is Arner’s brief description of the book from the same article:

The 284-page book describes how Lankford obtained Kolender’s permission for the project in the mid-1990s. Primarily in 1995 and 1996, she conducted interviews and took black-and-white photographs of inmates, guards and jail overseers.

The book features 326 of those images, as well as journal entries and letters from several inmates from 1997 to 1999, research on domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse, and a section on white-collar crime.

Since then, we have released a book of Lankford’s homeless photography, downTownUSA: A Personal Journey with The Homeless, and have even branched out into the realm of video with our documentary, It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing. All of these projects relate to an interelated set of issues:

  • Incarceration is often a factor in homelessness.
  • Education and early home life have a huge influence on children and are negative early environments, often contributing to the future criminal activity.
  • Patterns of abuse and neglect cycle through generations.
  • If we shift our societal focus to actual rehabilitation into society, we can not only impact homelessness but also greatly reduce the state expenditures incurred. For example, if homeless people had access to health care, it would cut millions in emergency services costs accrued over the course of a year.

Later this year we will be releasing Born, Not Raised: Kids at Risk, in which we will explore the troubled psyches of youngsters serving time in juvenile hall. Without education and other humane assistance, many of these youth will be caught in the revolving door of institutionalization.

All of these projects relate to each other and, taken together, try to present, one aspect at a time, the complex and interrelated nature of the societal breakdowns they address.

So, tell us, how did you discover Humane Exposures, and when? We’d love to know!

Source: “A Portrait of Jail Life,” The San Diego Union Tribune, 09/23/08
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in my Sweet Potates: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.
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Homelessness: Facebook Resources

HUMANE EXPOSURESHere at HUMANE EXPOSURES, we believe in the power of the Internet to inform and mobilize people. This is one of the reasons that this blog exists.

Since we have just launched our new Facebook pages, we thought this would be a good time to share some of the groups and organizations on Facebook that also champion the cause of those discarded by society.

So, here, in no particular order, is a list of Facebook pages that you may find informative. Please visit them. (And, if you like our work, we would really appreciate it if you “Like” our new pages and help them start off on the right foot.)

We’re going to list our own new pages first and move on from there:

  • Humane Exposures Publishing — The main Facebook Page for our company. Updates on new films and books as well as a variety of new  items and resources. The books of HUMANE EXPOSURES PUBLISHING take a penetrating look at society’s disenfranchised, questioning how long we can ignore the broken segments of our population, and at what cost. If you stop by, please tell us what kind of content you would like to see more of!
  • downTownUSA: A Personal Journey With the Homeless (book) — Author and photographer Susan Madden Lankford kept a journal during her daily encounters with the San Diego’s street people, observing how even the defeated, or seemingly so, share many of our hopes and dreams.
  • Maggots in My Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time (book) – Through thought-provoking photographs and interviews, the author explores the kaleidoscope of alienation, personal despair, and fragile hopes of women caught up in the state’s zeal for incarceration.
  • It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing (film) – Important documentary film questions how long society can ignore the broken segments of our population and advocates for public awareness, correcting the underlying social issues, and improving the essential parenting skills.

The following is a list of other resources. All descriptions are quoted directly:

  • Feeding Pets of the Homeless — Feeding Pets of the Homeless is a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides pet food and veterinarian care to the homeless and less fortunate in local communities across the United States and Canada. How? Our volunteers collection sites receive donated pet food and deliver it to food banks and/or soups kitchens which have agreed to distribute the food to the homeless and impoverished.
  • PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) — In 2004, PATH reached its 20th year of existence. From a small program operating out of a church basement, PATH has now become a large regional agency serving over 1,800 people each month. The agency has developed a model of integrated services that communities from all over the state, the nation, and even internationally have looked to for replication.
  • — Dedicated to capturing real stories by real people bringing visibility to the issues of homelessness. Our goal: for homeless people to no longer remain invisible. The stories are told by real people in their own very real words. They’re raw, uncensored and unedited. CAUTION: Some content may be offensive. Our hope is that you’ll get mad enough to do something. (Note: We’ve covered the in an earlier post.)
  • Let’s get 1,500,000 people to support the 1,500,000 homeless kids in the US — This page was started by a small group of people committed to raising awareness and providing solutions around a problem we feel is not being properly addressed. It began with a question: “How is it that the wealthiest country in the world has well over a million of its children living on the street, not knowing where they will sleep tonight?”
  • The National Coalition for The Homeless — A national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. That mission, our common bond, is to end homelessness. We are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness. At the same time, we work to meet the immediate needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of doing so. We take as our first principle of practice that people who are currently experiencing homelessness or have formerly experienced homelessness must be actively involved in all of our work. Toward this end, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) engages in public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing. We focus our work in the following four areas: housing justice, economic justice, health care justice, and civil rights.
  • Real Change Homelessness Empowerment Project — Real Change exists to create opportunity and a voice for low-income people while taking action to end homelessness and poverty.
  • National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) — A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization governed by a 17-member board of directors… is the resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year.
  • Breaking Night: My Journey From Homeless to Harvard (book) – In the vein of The Glass Castle, Breaking Night by Liz Murray is the stunning memoir of a young woman who at age 15 was living on the streets, and who eventually made it into Harvard.
  • Healthcare for The Homeless, Inc. — For 25 years, HCH has provided comprehensive health care, mental health services, case management, addiction treatment, and housing assistance for tens of thousands of Marylanders experiencing homelessness.
  • Horizons for Homeless Children — Horizons for Homeless Children strives to improve the lives of homeless children and their families by providing the nurturing, stimulation and opportunities for early education and play that all children need to learn and grow in a healthy way.

So there you have it, please let us know if you would like to see more roundups of this nature. If so, we could make it a regular feature.

Source: Facebook.
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “downTown USA: A Personal Journey with the Homeless.” Used with permission.

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Invisible People: Former Homeless Man Mobilizes YouTube

Looking for cansWe live in an amazing age, the age of information, which has a direct and palpable impact upon the issues we try to address. One great example is homelessness, a major focus of the works we produce. Not only is social media an excellent tool for educating the populace about the problem, but it can also give a voice to those who are experiencing it.

Mark Horvath is the premier example of this in action. A little more than 15 years ago, he was homeless himself. Then he stopped drinking alcohol and managed to pull himself out of it. Now he leverages social media to give a voice and a face to the homeless, particularly through YouTube on his channel, the

Christie Garton interviewed Horvath for her USA Today‘s “Kindness” column, after his second of the two cross-country road trips shooting video with the homeless (made possible by the Pepsi Refresh $50,000 grant and a car provided by the Ford Motor Co.).

Garton asked about the reasoning behind Horvath’s use of video in general and YouTube in particular:

Kindness: Why did you choose video as the medium for this message?

Horvath: Video changes the perceptions of homelessness. Non-profits traditionally only share success stories, and people end up detached from them. I wanted to show the truth. I also have a gift for video, and just felt like this was the right way to go even if I didn’t have the right hard drive or editing software. Who knew that so many people would want to watch videos about the homeless?

Kindness: Why did you choose YouTube as the platform?

Horvath: YouTube has a mobile application, which is great as 25% of our videos are being watched by phone. YouTube is also non-profit friendly, and has a partners program specifically for non-profits which allows you to raise money through donations and will feature your work on occasion. If fact, they featured us on the homepage for a day, and we surpassed 2 million views. It’s also a community with it’s own social network, which unfortunately, I haven’t had time to tap into.

Putting a face on the problem is vital, and it’s integral to our own efforts here (take a look at downTownUSA as an example). Here is the latest of Horvath’s videos, an interview with Kerry, Sabrina and Keifer taped in Dayton, Nevada. Horvath first met Kerry and his family months ago through Twitter (Kerry: @alleycat22469,  Sabrina: @bully_lover78, and 13 year-old Keifer: @keifer1122). On his blog, Horvath writes:

As I think about this family I get emotional. I cannot imagine raising a child in a small RV with no bathroom or running water. This family’s life is far from easy, but together they keep fighting, and together they stay grateful for the little things.

Being a native of New Orleans, I can understand the cramped-quarters aspect of their personal shelter. Five years after hurricane Katrina and the levee failure, and I still know families that are crammed into FEMA trailers about this size. While this family is lucky in that they are not actually sleeping on the streets, any thought that things are easy for them should be dismissed immediately.

I’d like to add our voice to Mr. Horvath’s call to action from this blog post:

If you know of anyone in or near Carson City, Nevada, that can help Kerry find a job please contact them. He wants to work. They will hopefully have housing soon, but the battle is far from over.

The fact that Horvath has been able to effect actual change through his efforts is heartening. Several people he has interviewed during his road trips now have roofs over their heads, or jobs, or both. Every one of those instances is a success.

Source: “Former homeless man using YouTube to give voice to homeless,” USA Today, 10/05/10
Image by Franco Folini, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Margaret Miles Brings The Faces and Voices of the Homeless to Minneapolis Gallery

logoPhotography is a powerful tool for getting across the humanity behind the major issues of the day. Of course, at HUMANE EXPOSURES, we’re well familiar with that thanks to our own Susan Madden Lankford’s work presented in downTownUSA and Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to introduce our readers to the works of other artists who address similar issues.

Margaret Miles in one of those artists, even though she herself is not a photographer. Miles is the development director for St. Stephens Shelter in Minneapolis. Back in 2008, she began collecting personal narratives from the homeless, joining forces with photographers Larry Levante and Kris Drake in the process. It all started at the annual Project Homeless Connect, an event designed to provide a one-stop shop for the homeless where they can meet and work with a wide variety of service providers.

This month, the Burnet Gallery in the Le Meridien Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis hosted the show titled “Homeless is my address, not my name.” Roughly 70 portraits of homeless people line the chic gallery’s walls. Beneath almost a third of them appear the phone numbers. If a patron calls the number under a photo, he or she can hear the voice of the photo’s subject tell his or her own story. (It’s reminiscent of the photo-and-audio approach used by Robert Gumpert — we’ve written about on this blog.)

Euan Kerr of the Minnesota Public Radio interviewed Miles about the show. This exchange in particular is worth listening to:

The point is to show the breadth and depth of the homeless population and the myriad of reasons which can lead to someone being on the streets.

Miles points to a picture of Nathan, from Liberia. He worked his way through the immigration system to get to the U.S. legally. The trouble was once he got here, he never learned he needed to get a drivers license. He got a car, a driving job and soon after a whole bunch of tickets.

‘Try as he might try and figure out what he needed to do, he was put in prison for driving without a license,’ Miles says.

Out of prison, he found himself without a home. Nathan smiles broadly in the his picture but Miles says he wanted to make a serious point.

‘He’s very clear in saying, ‘I’ve never been addicted to anything. It’s not the stereotype you that you think,” Miles says.

We advise listening to the MPR piece — that way, you can experience for yourself the fact that hearing these stories in the original voice is both a powerful and moving experience. It rehumanizes people who have been reduced to naughts or ciphers by being removed from the main flow of society.

Miles is currently lining up shows at corporate galleries, as well as at the Hennepin County Government Center. Long-range plans include bringing the show to our nation’s capital. In the meantime, she has received a grant from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment to begin collecting narratives in the more rural parts of the state. Let us all wish her luck with reaching out to the larger and larger audiences with this material!

Source: “Voices of the homeless featured in Mpls. photography show,” MPR News, 09/15/10
Logo Image courtesy of Margaret Miles, used with permission.

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