Posted by: – Oct 05, 2009
The idea for this project was an accident. It all started in early May of 2008 when I literally tripped over Jerome, the first man in this series of photos. After speaking with him for an hour, I knew I had to photograph the down and out of Richmond, VA.
Imagine one day you find yourself destitute, alone, and without. Imagine for a moment that you have no job or transportation, no roof over your head and no money with which to buy food. The only things you have are your thoughts and the clothes on your back. Your clothes are old and dirty and you have not showered in days. Now imagine experiencing that feeling every day of your life... feels pretty hopeless doesn't it? It's as if no one knows you or cares to know you. You are alone in this world with nothing to fall back on. This is the horrible reality of many people... people that can't just look the other way and hide from a terrible truth known as homelessness. The homeless have faces, feelings, dreams, and wants. They have needs and interests just like you or me. All they want is to be respected and remembered and with this series, I intend to make sure they are.
This is an ongoing project. It, by definition, will never be completed. The plan here is to use this gallery as a journal style compilation of photos I capture on the streets depicting the homeless and their lifestyle (Some with stories and others without). The hope is to open more eyes to the horrible reality of homelessness. I see and know far too many people who have absolutely no regard for people in a lower social class and with this journal, I hope I can change some minds.
According to a "homeless census" conducted by Homewardva.org, as of July 1, 2009 Richmond, VA's homeless population is a staggering 1,150 people. 74% of which are men and women standing at 26%. 18% of these people are veterans. There are, on average, 136 homeless children in RVA.
Despite the "Get a job" mentality people like to hold onto, 25 percent of homeless people are employed and of that group, 41% work full time; 32 % work part time; and 26% do labor or temp work. (Source:http://www.upiu.com)
Below are two people out of the many that were documented.
-retired marine (fought in vietnam)
-has been homeless for 5 years (lived in New Jersey before that)
-well kept and well dressed
-very positive outlook on life
-laughed almost as much as he spoke in the 90 minutes of our conversation
-reason for homelessness: credit issues
Keith is really one of the nicest people I've yet to meet on the street. He is very confident in himself and it showed when he spoke. In the 90 minutes we spoke, he laughed about 50% of the time so I could immediately tell that he was very light hearted considering his situation. He explained to me that homelessness is a problem that CAN be solved but first we, America (Richmond), have to let go of this NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentality that we hold onto. He said that people, in general, don't necessarily care about the homeless because it's something they can turn away from and not have to deal with.
So it's an out of sight out of mind sorta thing?
Keith served as a Marine and fought in Vietnam. He lived in New Jersey after that until credit issues forced him to move to the streets. He moved to Richmond and has been homeless for a total of 5 years. He was dressed nice (jeans, tucked in shirt, clean shaven, generally well kept) and says it's still near impossible with todays economy to find a job in Richmond.
"It's hard to get a job when you don't have an address. People tell you to get a job like it's that easy. How many employers do you know that are hiring right now? Because I don't know any and I look everyday. Right now I'm doing what I can to survive and right now it's standing on that corner with a sign. Until something better comes along, that's what I have to do and I'm not ashamed."
What about the homeless shelters set up to help people in your situation?
"Well sure they help a little but there's only so much they can/will do. Most of the time they feed you and give you a place to stay but it might be for 30 days or so and then they send you on your way. One shelter I visited told me I had 7 days to find a job and then I was back out on the street. In my experience, these shelters treat you more like a number than a person. Really no one is going to look out for us except one another. We form bonds out here like a family. We stick up for each other and help one another out...who else is going to?"
Even with everything Keith is dealing with, he still has a very good sense of humor. He laughed a lot during our conversation and joked with me like he'd known me for years. Before I left, I told him I would stop and say "hey" whenever he was out there. I think he appreciated that a lot because he said "yeah, come on back". Then I offered him a couple bucks for some water but he humbly refused it.
-electrician by trade
-worked for a family (yard work, animal care, general chores) and lived in their garage for 14 months before they kicked him out
-smiled a lot - very positive
-hiked the appalachian trail before coming to Richmond
-"I'm homeless, not worthless"
-in and out of homelessness for some time now.
-"Come stay out here with me for a couple of days, you'll leave here humble"
I met Robert on one of the hottest days in August. I think it was around 100 degrees that day and I found him sitting under an over-pass staying out of the sun. I had seen Robert numerous times before and he was always smiling. I just knew I had to talk to him when I got the chance. I casually strolled up to him; he had a big grin on his face like he always does so it wasn't hard to strike up a conversation with him. I felt very at ease the whole time like I was talking to a friend and I guess, in a way, I was. We talked about how he hiked the appalachian trail and how Richmond, compared to that, is heaven.
"When you're out on the trail, you're outside all the time but here in Richmond, I have a roof over my head most of the time. Sometimes I have to hide from the rain but there's always something to stand under."
So how did you come to be homeless?
"Which time? haha"
Oh so you've been in and out?
"Yeah well most recently, I was working for a family. I did general chores, took care of the dogs and cats, did the lawn work etc... and then one day they decided they didn't want me there anymore and asked me to leave. I had been there for 14 months living in their garage."
So where do you stay now?
"Right over there." *points* "I like it there OK. I have a bench, a place to eat, people come by and visit every now and then. All you can do is smile and be humble. It's easy to be humble when you live on the street. Come stay with me out here for a couple of days, you'll leave here humble."
Robert volunteers twice a month at a local church. "You have to give back. You HAVE to otherwise you're just perpetuating the problem. You're either part of the problem or you're part of the solution. Put this in your article - I'm homeless, not worthless."
There are many examples of the homeless problem that lies in our city. To see more of the homeless that Ryan had a chance to meet go the Forgotten Faces section on his website.
words and photos by Ryan Phillips