I watched him struggle to light a match. His hands were shivering. Maybe it was the cold. Or maybe it was the drink. His face was worn and leathery. The wrinkles and fold told a story of street life or maybe just the harshness of his reality. He exhaled into the winter air and rejoiced in a simple moment of solitude.
It’s been raining nonstop all day. My heart is still heavy with all that is going on..but I know that there is so much more to do. I see this scene every day in a city filled with the haves and the have nots. His sign says he is an out of work plumber and a war veteran. His face in his hands says more. It speaks of the troubles of years passed and the countless questions without answers. I want to believe that tomorrow can be better……better for all of us. I want to hope for something different. It’s why I get up each day with resolve and determination despite the rain and dark clouds.
Years ago I volunteered with an organization trying to raise awareness about homelessness. I spent time talking to people that called the harsh New York streets home. People that found sanctuary in alley ways, in front of churches, in bus or subway stations and just about any place that provided a little warmth in the colder months. They told me their stories of former lives….stories about families lost..about a time when things were different. There were stories of unspeakable tragedies and dreams lost to the bottle. Some just couldn’t deal with the hand that life dealt them and others couldn’t deal with what they saw in war. It was the veterans that had the most lasting effect on me. They served this country and the battle continued when they got back home. It’s Veteran’s day and as we celebrate our heroes I know we can do more for them. I know that we need to do more for them. We will never forget the wars that they fought and we should never forget them when they return home.
“Here have a dollar
In fact now brotherman, here have two
Two dollars means a snack for me
But it means a big deal to you
Be strong, serve God only
Know that if you do, beautiful Heaven awaits
That’s the poem I wrote for the first time
I saw a man with no clothes, no money, no plate
Mr. Wendal, that’s his name
No one ever knew his name ‘cuz he’s a no one
Never thought twice about spending on an old bum
Until I had the chance to really get to know one
Now that I know ’em, to give him money isn’t charity
He gives me some knowledge, I buy him some shoes
And to think blacks spend all their money on big colleges
Still most of you come out confused
Go ahead Mr. Wendal
Go ahead Mr. Wendal
Mr. Wendal has freedom
A free that you and I think he’s dumb
Free to be without the worries of a quick to diss society
For Mr. Wendal’s a bum
His only worries are sickness and occasional harassment
By the police and their chase
Uncivilized we call him but I just saw him
Eat off the food we waste”
His name is John. He says he is simply down on his luck. Luck ran out more than 15 years ago. He says he had it all – wife, kids, house, family. He lost it all. He found a bottle first then moved onto things that only make life harder. He’s good with his hands and has a stocky build. He’s a fighter. He has to be…on these streets. His face and skin, made leathery by the mean Boston weather. He asked me for money. I bought him coffee. I could smell last night’s booze on him and thought better. We sat on a bench and coffee together and talked about nothing and everything.
Day 41 (February 10, 2014) – New York, NY
It’s another cold New York night. I’m walking home after running a few errands and I notice this image. One of the City’s homeless is using an ATM to escape the elements. This winter has been especially brutal. Weeks of an arctic freeze have been followed by days of snow, slush and ice….and then back to a freeze. I can only imagine what it would be like to live on the cold New York street these days – constantly looking for a warm place to pass the time. I found a great irony in this image and wondered if this person was screwed at some point by the banks. Perhaps until the housing crash of 2007, he was living a firm middle class lifestyle. And then maybe he watched his dreams fade away as mortgage payments piled up. And perhaps due to a number of other challenges in his life he ends up homeless. For many, there dreams have been deferred and replaced with sleepless nights on the streets.
Day 13 (January 13, 2014) – New Orleans, Louisiana
A late night walk through the streets of the French Quarter is always an interesting experience as each block offers something unique. The music is a given, but it rangers from rock and bad karaoke covers of pop hits to the hypnotic horns and pounding drums of brass bands or the lonely street musician playing solemn tune on a violin. The people that roam the streets are a mix of intoxicated tourist, locals heading to work or to the regular watering hole and voyeurs like me just watching the night unfold. And then, there are people that are often unseen or overlooked that call these streets home. Perhaps they are down on their luck after a lifetime of disappointment or maybe they lost a fight with bottle and lost everything with each swallow. Their stories are often unknown. And to the passerby they are nothing more than a shadow. It’s about 1:00 AM. I lift my camera and shoot – still thinking about this person’s story. Questioning the America we live in where homelessness is common and economic disparities growing despite the wealth that exist all around us.