Last night I wept along with others at a candlelight vigil for a young man I’ve known only as “Irish”. I did not know till last night that his real name was Jamie Lee Gonterman. Every time I’d seen him at the homeless camp by the White River in Indianapolis, he would give me a hug and thank me profusely for the batteries and other necessities for outdoor survival that I had brought along to give to him and others who live in this camp. We’d sometimes talk about the possibilities of his future, how he’d like to move out of the camp someday into a safer place. I cared about him and had hoped for brighter days ahead for him.
About a week ago, I was stricken with disbelief and grief by the news that he had died from the injury sustained in a fire that went out of control as he was trying to keep warm on a cold Winter night. As of this writing, the police department is still investigating the details of what happened, but what we know for sure is, over ninety percent of his body was burned, and within hours, his life and all the hope for a brighter future was gone.
I was at a loss for words when I saw his parents and siblings a few moments before the candlelight vigil by the site where the homeless community has created a memorial for him and others who’d lost their lives while living there. I could only imagine the pain and anguish I would feel if it were one of my sons who’d been living at this camp and was burned to death. I held his sobbing mother and said “I’m so sorry”, but the words sounded hallow and felt so inadequate to express the deep sorrow engulfing us.
To the city of Indianapolis, Irish was just another homeless transient who died this Winter, and only got a short blip in the evening news that didn’t even mention his name. I’m writing this blog to acknowledge that Irish was a person who mattered. He was his broken-hearted mother’s son, his siblings’ brother, and a friend to many who knew and loved him, and now feel his absence.
Rest in peace, Irish.
While my family was attending GenCon in downtown Indy in early August of 2016, I lagged behind taking pictures when we were on our way to lunch and got lost. That’s when I met Tanya. She was offering to give directions to people for some change. The problem was I had no idea where to go. So I ended up talking to her, thinking I’ll just call my family with my cell phone and catch up with them later.
Tanya came from Kentucky, having left an abusive relationship behind. She’s been sleeping on the couch of a friend, hoping to get a job and a place of her own. Her new start in Indy didn’t go well, however, when her bag got stolen with her ID in it. Without ID, she could not find a job. Without money, she could not replace her ID. And so began her life of homelessness. She also suffers from depression and has not had the medication since she became homeless. Being homeless, of course, only aggravates the depression, as anyone can imagine.
While I was talking to Tanya, “Romeo” came up to greet Tanya. His real name is Joshua. Joshua and Tanya became friends after meeting each other on the street and have been looking out for each other. You can find them at the southwest corner of Maryland and Illinois. If you’d like to help, they would appreciate a hand-up via a job where they can earn a living. Oh yeah, Tanya would need to get her ID replaced first.
As those who’ve been following me on this project know, I’ve been collecting items from friends and taking them to the homeless folks. Often times, though, the items they need have not been donated, and I ended up purchasing the items myself. This cost has been rising, and in addition to the cost of gasoline to travel to collect the items and take them to the homeless, it has grown beyond what I myself can handle. So I have set up a Go Fund Me page as another way for people to help me with this project. If you have been touched by what I’m doing and have the means to help me defray my cost, I would really appreciate it!
To contribute to this project or help me spread the word to get more funding, please go to https://www.gofundme.com/facesofthehomeless
Thank you very much for your love and generosity!
TIME: April 29th to June 4th, 2016
PLACE: Indianapolis Public Library (Central Branch, 40 East St. Claire Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204)
I’m very glad to join effort with local photographers, James Eickman, Rhonda Clark, and Mike Richart, to bring to the public the reality of homelessness. The photo exhibit contains images of homeless camps and individuals in Indianapolis, along with their stories.
In conjunction with the photo exhibit, the library is hosting a special program on May 17th, 6 – 9:30 PM, with a showing of the film Time Out of Mind, starring Richard Gere and Ben Vereen, followed by a presentation and discussion (see photo below for details of this special program). The photographers will be there for a Meet and Greet from 5 – 6 PM before the program, and again at the reception following the program.
For more information on the photo exhibit or the Time out of Mind program, call the library at (317) 275-4100.
Thank you for going to see the exhibit and giving us your feedback!
Camping isn’t recreational when you have no choice about it, like these homeless folks in Indianapolis.
This is a memorial for a sweet young woman that I never had a chance to meet. The memorial was created by her friends at a homeless camp in Indianapolis called “The Jungle”. Margie Kandell was originally from Michigan, and she had lived in The Jungle for about a year when she got engaged to a man named Jim and moved into his apartment to prepare for their future together. But what should have been a happy ending turned into a tragedy. Margie had all her teeth pulled in preparation for some dentures and was in recovery when Jim came home to find her unresponsive. I wasn’t able to find out for sure what her cause of death was, but her friends speculated it was excessive bleeding from the oral surgery. Margie was only 30 years old when she died.
My heart is filled with joy each time I see a community effort like this to help the homeless. If you hear of a project like this in the city you’re in, please support it! Together, we can alleviate the suffering and bring hope to those who are less fortunate. Read more about this success story here.