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.
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.
I was with my son in Knoxville, TN, taking pictures in Krutch Park, when my son got interested in some birds. He found that the place where they would stay still long enough for him to get their picture was around the feet of this man sitting on the park bench, who was feeding them pieces of bread. Naturally, we started a conversation with the man, and that’s how I came to know Bobby. Bobby has been in Knoxville all his life except for a couple of years when he worked in Louisville, KY. He’s raised 3 boys who are now adults. He became homeless through a series of unfortunate events which he admitted were his own doing. His wife kicked him out of the house, and he’s been living in a shelter near the park. About a year and a half ago he was in an accident as a result of driving drunk. He now has a metal plate in his skull, and lost some movement in his limbs that then rendered him disabled. He admitted that he’s not completely sober and still gets a couple of drinks a week, but he doesn’t drink till he’s drunk anymore (said he’s learned his lesson). He lost his driver’s license and currently doesn’t plan to get his license back. He wishes rent wasn’t so high so he could have a place of his own. He would like to work again, but being 61, disabled, and not having a driver’s license or car, make that a difficult goal to achieve. He has been living on a budget that he’s set for himself and saving up the rest of his monthly disability benefit to get himself out of homelessness. He said he doesn’t like where he’s at, but he has hope of a better future. I enjoyed hearing Bobby telling me of his childhood, the way things were when he was young, and how things have changed in Knoxville in the years that he’s been living there. His biggest problem, he said, is loneliness, because most of his friends are gone now. Overall, he said he’s content and thankful to have food and shelter for each day. In a way, he likes the simplicity of where he’s at, because it keeps him focused on what’s really important in life, unlike the time when he used to have a home and many material things that distracted him. He misses his boys, and wishes he has brought their pictures with him when he left his wife.
My son said it was sad how people just passed Bobby by without even looking at him, much less smiling or saying hello to him.
Joe came to Nashville 6 weeks ago with all of his small savings and some clothes. Like many others who came to Nashville, he’s hoping to break into the music industry. He has been singing ever since he was a young child, and can play several instruments. He left his instruments at home with his parents, because he was traveling by bus and couldn’t carry them with him. I later thought it’s a good thing that he left the instruments, because his clothes got stolen after being in Nashville for 2 weeks. If he had had the instruments with him, they might have been stolen along with the clothes. He has been looking for permanent work, but hasn’t found any, and his money has already run out. He’s been doing temporary jobs to get by.
Though he introduced himself to me as “Joe”, he later proudly told me that his full name is “Joseph”, that he was named after Jesus’ father. His grandfather is a preacher. Joe loves God and his faith is what keeps him going everyday. When his arm got injured on his last temporary job, he was dismayed that he won’t be able to work, but then later thought that it maybe a blessing in disguise to get him out of homelessness. When I met him, he was sitting in this smelly doorway, waiting to go see the worker’s comp lawyer to talk about a settlement for his injury. He hopes the settlement will be big enough to rent a place to live, and maybe have some left to cut a batch of CD to launch his singing career. All he wants is a chance. . .
Cassius Richman doesn’t consider himself a homeless person, even though he doesn’t have a place to call his own. He travels from city to city, staying a month or two in each one with relatives and friends. He earns the money he needs for food each day by playing the saxophone. He says he’s not homeless, because he has a place to go to sleep each night, and he’s never gone hungry. He accepts his lack of a permanent home as part of the cost of living his dream as a traveling musician. He’s a man of faith, and is thankful to have good health and the gift of music to enjoy and earn a living with. I didn’t talk for too long with Cassius, because I wanted to let him go back to earning his keep. I enjoyed just quietly listening to his music and thanking God for giving him such a gift, not just the ability to play the sax, but the wonderful attitude he has about life.
I was fighting tears after seeing Jerry. His first name was all the information I could find out from him. He didn’t appear to understand what I was saying to him. I had to use gesture to ask him if it’s OK for me to photograph him, to which he nodded his consent. He’s obviously not deaf or mute, for he heard me when I asked, “What’s your name?” and said his name, albeit only first name.
I had a lot of questions for Jerry that will go unanswered. Looking at the length of his finger nails, hair, and beard, and how dirty they were, he appeared to not have been cared for in a long time (either by himself or someone else). He was smoking, and there were a lot of cigarette butts around his feet. I wondered where he got the cigarettes, and how long he had been at that spot, all alone and ignored.
He seemed to be suffering from some kind of mental illness or developmental disorder. I wondered, given his apparent age, if he was cared for by someone who’d passed away, and now there’s nobody to care for him. Or did he get lose from a mental hospital? One way or another, a person in his condition should not be left to face this world alone. He didn’t appear capable of finding help for himself. He looked so confused and lost. . . and lonely.
I could have spent all day talking to Wayne. He’s so far from the typical characterization of a homeless person. He’s educated, intelligent, knows God, loves God and people, knows the Bible better than most Christians, and knows Hebrew and Greek too! He’s a writer as well as a musician. He teaches Bible study and sings Gospel music.
Wayne became homeless 20 years ago, when he was served divorce papers and told to vacate his home. It’s been a long journey, but he’s doing really well compared to other poor folks I know (and I’d even say he’s doing better than some rich folks I know). I admire his independent spirit. He has refused to get food stamps, and has chosen instead to grow his own food. He’s a vendor for the Nashville local paper called The Contributor, a publication that was created to help the homeless, giving them a way to earn a living and contribute to the betterment of the community. The Contributor has featured Wayne in their publication in 2012, and on their website, there’s a transcript of an interview with Wayne, as well as a link to a video that they created (so you can hear him speak for himself!). You can read more about Wayne here.