My Homeless Project

 

My Homeless Project 2006-2008

The homeless population in America is growing every year and a few years ago I lived in an area that seemed to have many homeless men and women walking the streets. As I took my daily walks I would see them, say hi, help them out with food and water or even blankets in the winter. One day back in 2006 I decided to document my walks through the streets of Phoenix, AZ so with my Leica MP in hand loaded with Tri-X I took the following photos over a 2 year period.

In each case I would sit down with each individual, talk with them and then find out about their situation. I would buy them a meal, bring them some cold  water and help with money if they needed shelter. In exchange they opened up to me and allowed me to shoot their photos. Sometimes I would sit for 2-3 hours just talking and found out that many of these men and women were once like you and me. A bout of bad luck or a twist of fate landed them on the street and in some cases mental illness had taken hold of some of them.

It was a learning experience for me and I am glad I took on this project. Instead of walking buy and staring and sniping photos which is disrespecful I took my time to get to know each and every one of the people below and this is their story. The text that accompany the photos is the text I wrote right after shooting the photos. All of the negatives were processed in my laundry room and scanned by me using a Nikon Coolscan V. I hope you enjoy the photos, and the stories.

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Rodney

I met Rodney on November 19th 2006. I saw him walking out of Walgreens, limping. He soon roamed in to an alleyway and sat down. I noticed a hospital band around his arm and approached him to make sure he was OK. He had a pretty nasty cut on his head and he looked very dirty. As I approached he smiled and he said he was fine…

The cut on his face was pretty severe and I saw the fresh stitches on his face. The hospital obviously did not care to clean his wounds or his face. Blood was in his hair, ear, and beard. I felt bad for Rodney. He was not drunk, he was not on drugs, and I could see that he had was ashamed of what he had become. I gave him some money for food and sat with him for a while. Most people I know would have NEVER even looked at him, let alone talk with him. I have found that these guys, down on their luck, are VERY nice guys and they get a thrill from the fact that a regular guy would come up to talk with them and listen. Only after I ask, I take their pictures. I have yet to have anyone say no.

As we talked more he told me about how he had been living in an assisted living home but he somehow wandered out and got lost. He was on the street for 30 days and asked me if I knew where the home was so he could pick up his check. He told me the name of the place and I later found it.

As he rolled his own cigarrette we talked more. He used to have a job and a family and after losing everything he took to the streets, was hospitalized, and ended up in the home. I did find out where he was living but tonight Rodney is without a home, without food, and probably cold. Makes me feel lucky for everything I have, and makes me angry that in America there are people like this that starve and have no options. I mean, I COULD be Rodney. Tomorrow I could lose everything and what could I do? I have no degree. No college education. I am lucky to have owned my own successful business in the past and now this web site. If I lost it all tomorrow (and I could) all I could do is go get a job paying minimum wage. About $140 a week after taxes. Hardly enough for a place to live let alone food, necessities and medical care. 

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Gary

I saw Gary on the street holding his sign looking for help. I pulled over and approached him. He 1st asked if I was a cop and said the cops always chase him away. I told him I was just a photo student working on a project and soon he was at ease and I asked if he was doing ok. He said he was hungry and a bit cold at night as the day before someone stole his blanket. This was Phoenix AZ but winter time which means it gets pretty chilly at night.

At 43 years old he seems to have more lines and wrinkles than he should. I soon found out he has been on the street for 23 years and in prison for 13 of those years. He deeply regretted his past and told me he has no friends on the street. I helped him out with some money and he said it was his lucky day. He talked more about his past and how he used to work for a newspaper many years ago as a photojournalist. Not sure if he was telling the truth but he seemed to be. He admired my camera.

Before leaving, he called me back to show me his teeth which were severly rotted. He joked and said he wanted a print of this image. I left with the impression that Gary is a very smart man who has many regrets in life. Makes me want to think about my life even harder than I do.

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Stanley

I was heading out to my local blockbuster video when I saw a man walking down the street with a HUGE backpack on his back and front. He was pushing a jamed packed shopping cart as well. He looked tired and beat down. I walked up to him and gave him a fresh sealed coke and $10. He thanked me. We then sat and talked a while.


He is 54 years old and has been on the streets since he was 36. He said he has been everywhere and was born in Louisville, KY. He said he liked Phoenix for its warm climate and he also told me he goes around to businesses after hours to collect their garbage. This is why his cart is so packed with stuff. He had 2 liter bottles filled with liquids, food from the garbage cans, and varous items of clothing stuffed in the basket. He rambled on for an hour, talking non stop and thanked me countless times for spending time with him.

Stanley was a little mentally off. He kept repeating how he used to work on engines and old cars and he became homeless when he lost his car due to mechanical trouble. He said his parents died and left him with nothing and he also lost his wife. With a ton of credit card debt racked up and no job, he ended up on the street. Even with all of that he was in high spirits and smiling quite a bit. Again, he was thrilled that I was sitting there talking and laughing with him.

As he walked off he thanked me again with a smile on his face as he finished off the coca cola I gave him earlier. I gave him some $$ to get some food and he walked on with his cart and bags. I learned a lot from Stanley, and realized once again how lucky I am. 

—————

Dan

I was walking down McDowell Ave near 7th st in the early morning and saw this guy sitting on the side of the road working on something. I did not approach him as I did not want to bother him and he seemed to be REALLY in to what he was doing. About 6 hours later, I walked by again and he was still there so I had to ask him what he was working on. His name is Dan, and he was working on an old digital LCD watch all day, trying to fix it. With no luck. We struck up a conversation and he was full of life, jokes, and though he did not have a dime he seemed happy.

Dan is a “traveler” – He came to Phx from Philly for the warmer climate. Here is the watch he was attempting to fix for hours. A taped up broken $2 LCD digital watch.

His hair is actually a wig with real hair he weaved in on his own. When his hair falls out, he weaves it into his wig. It was very creative and he really was proud of his real hair wig. He told me he was 34 years old, but I believe he is a bit older than that. Probably 20 years older. 

As I walked away, he continued work on his watch. Dan was a real joy to talk to and his spirits were high. He seemed intelligent but a little odd at the same time. I gave him some coca cola and he thanked me with a smile. Another great guy in high spirits. Makes me wonder why so many of us who have everything seem to always be unhappy and angry while guys like Dan and Stanley are happy and content with the little they have, which is basically nothing.

—————

Mary

I was only able to snap TWO shots of Mary. I have seen her for the past 2 years roaming the streets. Even in the summer when it is 120 degrees she is out in this coat. She has been on the street many many years and has this coat, a blanket, a purse, and believe it or not, some old make-up. When I approached her she was smoking and when I asked to take her pic, she threw down her cigarette and tried to fix her hair. She talked for 15 minutes, and it was getting dark so I helped her out with a few $$ and went home. I will see her again though I am sure.

I did see Mary after this shoot and she remembered me as the camera guy. We chatted one day but I did not have my camera and she looked worse than she did the previous time, but she still wore that coat. About 6 moths later I stopped seeing Mary but I did see her coat in someone else’s cart. Makes me wonder. Did she pass away? Quite possible. One of the realities of street life is bad health and even death.

——————-

Scott

I met Scott at night in front of a store. It was 11 pm, and he was very cold as it was getting down to the 30’s. We may be in Phoenix, AZ but in the winter months, at night, it can get cold. He had no money, no blanket and was very hungry. He came here from Hawaii 2 months prior and has since lost his father and family and job. He lives on the street and sleeps behind dumpsters in alleyways. I went to my car and grabbed an old blanket I had and gave it to him. He was very happy to have the blanket. This was shot without flash, at 11pm at F1.

Here is Scott after I gave him the blanket and a few bucks. He cracked a smile, told me I had a kind heart and that God will reward me. He shook my hand, teared up, and left as the store clerk was chasing him away. He walked in to the darkness, probably on his way to find a place to sleep for the night. Sometimes I really wish I could do more and this was one of those times. 

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  78 Responses to “My Homeless Project”

  1. Interesting… I started a similar series that is inspiring something greater coming from me in the future. Nice pictures or some unfortunate cases. It doesn’t take much to help and even less to just care or give a damn. I never understood the constant infatuation to help those less fortunate solely in foreign countries while we so passively cast off our own. That’s another story for another day but God bless you.

  2. Very nice work indeed! Congtars!

  3. Very nice pictures. I’ve worked in the past with homeless people in the Netherlands. There faces tell the stories and you have captured this in this serie pictures. complements! [img]http://1.gravatar.com/avatar/4791b62b7879b0f5313e395401bd7ff2?size=420[/img]

  4. It can be “easy” to walk past people we see on the streets–homeless or otherwise–by turning to look the other way, or throwing some loose change or dollars at them. We can also become so caught up in our own lives that we might walk on by without noticing that anyone’s even there. Before handing over money, to simply smile, or to take the time to have a conversation and get to know a person, if even a little, can change a human being’s outlook entirely. I would imagine that asking to take their picture would brighten their day even more. Captivating work.

  5. Thank you for bringing the issue of homelessness to light. People don’t seem to understand that it can happen to anyone, and at some point in their lives, they were as lucky as any one of us currently are. They’re people with stories and feelings. Steve your work never ceases to amaze!

  6. Very touching pictures. It made my eyes teary. Bravo!

  7. Very nice and very sad!

  8. Your work is amazing! Thank you

  9. you did great job

  10. when politicians will stop wasting money on wars, this poor souls will have a plate of food and a place to stay.

  11. Very touching. You have a big heart, and it shows in your photos.

  12. BRAVO!…these pictures and stories are the epiphany that the world needs to see in order to open their eyes to the emotional and physical pain that is splayed just outside their residential refuge…thank-you…

  13. Wow, I am very touched by your pictures and the stories behind it..
    I love the grainy, scratched look which fits so well with your story.
    Thank you for sharing!

  14. You did a great job. I appreciate both the photographs and descriptions. Keep it!

  15. I just got said ,,, am speechless the way you’re able to capture the history in every image. I live here in phoenix
    Az and I know how big the population of Homeless are. Great photography, also you got balls to approach homeless, most people will be afraid just talking to them. Best http://www.luiscolonphotography.com

  16. I wandered onto your website looking for reviews on lenses and found this. Your project is really inspiring. I live in London in the UK and find it hard to comprehend how people just walk on by when there are so many people who need help on our front doorsteps; homelessness can happen to anyone. Please continue this project – I’ll keep checking back!

  17. Wow. These photo’s combined with the insight and commentary from your interviews are both very touching and powerful. I wish I had the courage and compassion to do this sort of thing. Thank you for doing this.

  18. Hey that was a nice thing to do
    I think i know how some of those folk feel
    nice photographs

  19. Steve, I just stumbled across your photos as I searched on Google to see if my own, very similar project would show up. My project is called The Homeless Project and is on Facebook. My goals are to hear and share the stories of the homeless through various media. (I am also in Phoenix, AZ!). I have done a few interviews and plan to do many more. My hope was to include photos also, but I am not as confident about my photography skills. However, I do LOVE photography and have sold a very small amount of it. I started my project in October of 2010 and had completed just three interviews when my husband passed away. I am currently trying to regain my momentum and continue the project, as it feels like something I am meant to do. I’d love to hear about your experiences, if you are willing to share. You can contact me thru my Facebook page The Homeless Project. I hope to hear from you. Thank you, Angela Sims.

  20. Hello. I noticed there is not one, but two additional Facebook pages with the same title as mine. Please go to http://www.facebook.com/The.Homeless.Project if you are interested in checking it out. Thanks!

  21. thanks

  22. Very touching Steven, great work and would love to see more of it.

    but reading these made me feel bad as a homeless person reached out the other day and asked for some change to get something to eat, i was rushing to get something to eat my self and was caught off guard and didnt give the man any change, normally i would pass what ever change i had in my pockets to someone that needed it more than me, but on the way back i saw that he was drinking out of a hungry jacks (burger king) cup so he obviously had some change given to him. still felt bad for brushing him off.

    just wish i had the courage and time to do what you did here, we all live such busy lives trying to earn a living that we dont stop and think about the people living on the streets, i couldnt imagine how hard it would be.

    It sickens me though that Goverments can spend so much money on WAR but so little on its own citizens.

    Kind regards
    Anthony

  23. Inspiring work. Inspiring positive action with your compassionate contact. I wish our politicians could see these photos and hear some of these people’s stories. Maybe they could be inspired to stop arguing amongst themselves and get some real work done to help people like these. (I could be Rodney too…) For me those faces harken back to Margaret Bourke White’s work. Bravo!

  24. Thanks Steve ,these are great and hopefully all seeing them realise we could all be there

  25. Yes, photographers have to say about it, to stir the hearts of the people. Tnks for this histories

  26. Hi Steve, this says a lot on your personality. Nice to see that we share a respectful attitude toward “all objects” in photography (unless it is lacking respect to call people you photograph “objects”).

  27. Very impressive, and I don’t just mean the photography, which is superb. Your verbalization is very poignant, and the combination of photos and words brought a tear to my eye, a keen sense of how much I have, and how seldom I realize it.

    Their fate could, indeed, happen to any of us in these trying times!

  28. one of the most enjoyable sets i have seen on the homeless, this is a site i will send people to when all they can come up with “the homeless are easy targets”…..you have shown it can be done with compassion. cheers Vinny.

  29. Great piece, Steve! I’ve enjoyed many things on your site so far, leaving no comments. This really makes me think about life and how fortunate many of us really are. Thanks for doing this (although it was a while ago).

  30. Love the grains in the photos. Good work!

  31. The photos of Rodney are truly amazing.

    Admirable project indeed. Most people wouldn’t find the courage to do what you did even if they wanted to help.

  32. One thing they all have in common is some kind of drug usage, alcohol and/or tobacco, and maybe others. One thing many of them have, but not all, is some kind of mental illness. The only thing that stands between them and some kind of progress (if they want it) is the drugs. If they can’t get off the drugs, they can’t get off the streets. Then, there’s the people that LIKE being homeless, for whatever reason. They still use drugs, and I think they like the gypsy lifestyle.

  33. Came here looking for lens reviews and found this project. You are to be commended on making your pictures after first speaking with these people and providing them some assistance. Anonymous photos made of the homeless are a cheap shot and easily made. I wish I wasn’t so introverted. I would love to do something like this, as I am blessed to have the means, but unfortunately not the courage. Your stories and photos touched me and motivate me to pray on this endeavor. How wonderful it would be to make fabulous portraits and help a fellow man/woman at the same time!

  34. Steve thank you so much for your work; you had truly inspired me to pursue my passion for photography and people!
    Your generosity and kind heart will get you far!

    God bless,
    Danny

  35. Looking at them makes me feel sad about the strong pofverty of some people. So this page has two sides for me: One is the gorgeous photos and the other ist the feelings by thinking anout the folks you photographed. But I believe that photography should show all aspects of life.

    Best regards from Peine/Germany
    Thorsten

  36. Wow. These pictures speak MORE than 1000 words. I teared up at Mary, as she reminded me of my own grandmother. It was so nice of you to help them and give them money, but even talking to them lights up their days. I love the pictures, so powerful. You have so many incredible things recorded, in life and in the spirit world. You WILL be rewarded for these good deeds, if not in this life than another. You have a huge fan in Indiana!

  37. I love this piece of work. The captions are great. Thanks for sharing.

  38. absolutely fantastic photos, with brilliant words. class!

    regards,
    from indonesia.

  39. Steve,

    Your gorgeous photos of the homeless bring tears to my eyes. We cannot know the many reasons these people find themselves in such dire situations. It’s such a downward spiral of human life out of control.
    I can’t help but think of the vast amount of money spent on our current political elections and wonder how many lives could be impacted by directing finances and energy toward the elimination of the causes of homelessness in the US. We are all sick of political ads…..

    After reading your review of the Sony RX 100, I purchased it from B & H via your site. Now, I just have to kidnap you for a few weeks to help me to operate it.
    It wouldn’t be so bad for you……I’m a pretty good cook!

  40. Steve, I live in Anchorage, AK. There is quite a bit of homeless men and woman. Your pictures make the homeless look somehow more hopeful, cleaner, shinier. There is light in the dark, but sometimes people need help to see it. I will give homeless people food, now I am thinking I could put a blanket in my car also. The ones that really yank at my heart are the young ones who are 20 and look like 30. I wish I could make it right for everyone but I can’t. But a little bit of care and compassion does go along way. And I think you caught how your care and compassion affected them in your photos.

  41. I wonder how many angels you have helped and how much you have been blessed by your own kindness and compassion. This is a great page.

  42. More than a Picture. Deeper emotions . Having compassion . A moment captures forever that may have changed a life a perspective . Photography is so powerful but not always used to its fullest potentials . Instead Of capturing a pretty flawless face we need to have more raw photography in this world more realistic and not perfection. Worth my time comming across this looking into doing something similar, Gods been putting it on my heart for a while. Please don’t stop impacting their lives maybe even print a picture On the spot and give it to them for memory sakes.

  43. Wonderful series of pictures and stories. Amazing that such small gestures can mean so much.

  44. Wonderful photos and experience you’ve had for this project. Very inspiring and touching. You went a few step further of what a typical person would do for their lives and for the art of photography. Lots of respect

  45. Great photos

  46. Steve,

    Thanks for your kindness. The world could always use more of it. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race and negativity, but as Lily Tomlin once said, “The problem with the rat race is that regardless who wins, you’re still a rat.”

  47. damn steve !! my eyes are tearing, … i just … really think hard … how lucky i am, this … all shot … really have a meaning … not all about gear, not all about the bokeh or else … is about photography really are … kept the memory ..

    steve, i heard that you at this i rote the comment, you catch a cold ? i hope you better soon …

    best reggard, dennie

  48. Wow Huff! I love spending time with the poor and homeless…although i haven’t in a while. I love taking photos all day every day. I might have to run with what these photos have inspired me to do. There are huge homeless communities everywhere! And there are even more people who aren’t homeless that should help them. I will send you some photos once i get my camera in the mail this week.

  49. Mr. Huff, my name is Tina Steele, and I am chair of the Women and Homelessness committee for the Sarasota Commission on the Status of Women (and also serve the Homeless in many other capacities). I have been invited to be the keynote speaker at our annual Equity Day luncheon, an event that attracts 200-300 people. I was asked if I could find a suitable photograph or drawing for the cover of our program, and seeing your pic of Mary it just blew me away. Would there be a charge to use this image? You would, of course, receive full credit. Many thanks.

  50. The Time you have Spent with These people you posted about in this Blog, instantly Reflects on your MAY 22 2013 Blog on How Lucky You Are. The Absolute ” GOD Has Blessed you with Great Wisdom and Fortune with starting the Next Chapter of your life. It really Sucks to see that the norms of Society Will not Even Take the Time to do what you have Done. A Kind Heart you have, Now you are Even Luckier. :)

  51. Very thought provoking Steve. You are clearly a person rich in humility. A great quality to have. Adam.

  52. Very interesting serie, sad but realistic.
    Best regards,
    L.C

  53. Wow, some really sad stories and so much is said in these portraits I think people who have life’s pages in their face are far more beautiful than any glamour shot. Must of been heartbreaking, mental illness is such a hard experience and so many are willing just to walk away and not think twice…we are all so close to living this way if more people realised this there would be a far different world to be in.

  54. Love the pictures!!! I think you captured the shots very well, and they are also well processed. I wish the stories were a bit more in depth, I know it might be fairly hard to get a decent stories that would make sense out of a person who has been living on the street for so long and is most likely a very closed off person. I would just like to read more about who they are, who they were and most of all how they got there. Love this gallery, keep up the good work. Props from Czech republic

  55. Steve, those are EASILY the best pictures I’ve EVER seen from you, both from an artistic and content point of view. I commend you for this. To be honest I think your images are better than those of the guy you linked to, too much deliberate pathos in his work. His photos are designed to make him look good, yours are made to make us reflect on those people and see them as they are. When I see that kind of portraits I always try to see beneath the hardened surface, the plain person they were before bad luck fell onto them. I also try to imagine their faces as very young people, or children. Which always ends up making me immensely sad. But then I’m hypocrite because there are literally hundreds of homeless all around us in everyday life, and I hardly ever did anything kind for any of them (a few times, but not remotely as often as I should have).

  56. These photos and their stories together with your approach, make us all think about the fine lines and fragility of life and how easy it can all change in one direction or the other. The stories are universal. Says a lot out our society too, and how these people are almost invisible. People seem to give to professional charity collectors while it might be best to try strike up a conversation and press a few quid in their hands. It’s no accident that your photography is so good when it is underpinned by true empathy and concern.

  57. Very nice pictures, would you mind sharing what did you do to make them grainy and gritty in the post?

    • Thank you. These were all shot ion Tri-X film, which has a grain as is. The versions you see here also had some overlays put on via photoshop which added some contrast but no more grain.

  58. Wow, what a impressive chapter of your portfolio. Maybe you should do this a bit more, respect for your pictures, stories and the help that you gave them.

  59. Amazing work man!

  60. I usually can’t stand the disrespectful ways some portray our struggling Brother and sister. I think those makeovers and people flaunting their charity is bs. Thanks for sharing these stories in a respectful manner. And raising and reminding awareness.

  61. […] Steve Huff created a series of images for his homeless project between 2006-8. These can be seen on the following website:http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/who-am-i/my-homeless-project/ […]

  62. That was interesting for me about your homeless project !
    I was studied a lot from you then one day I will come to talk with them in my city . Thanks all for your all nice photos and great stories !

  63. Absolutely beautiful project!
    Great inspiration for myself, who wants to do a photography project based on the lives of homeless people.
    Such a kind soul, well done! Great work.

  64. This is in the great tradition of Jacob Riis, Louis Hine, FSA photographers, etc. So sad, yet so beautiful. I’m reminded of the words of Jesus on the cross: “Father why hast thou forsaken me.” You’ve inspired me to be more charitable. You are a good man Mr. Huff.

  65. Absolutely love it! Recently cofounded a weekly blog doing something very similar. Plan to release a new story every week! http://hiddenfacesbirmingham.blogspot.com/2014/02/dennis.html

  66. This good to see, people who actually care about homeless people, I take photos as a hobby but I want it to be more, I have this urge to take photos of the homeless in wales where I live, but not got round to if yet, there are so many charities doing work for one thing or another and always on the T.V but it’s not often you see anything on the homeless, it’s like they don’t exist but they do and we should do all we can for them who are less fortunate or down on their luck the we are. Your photos are amazing photos like this should be shown all around the world, so it shows the plight of these people, I hope one day to have the chance to take my photos and highlight the problem of the homeless people.

  67. I was homeless at one time for a while. I had to sell off camera gear and lenses. Miss it bad.

  68. […] Photograph: Courtesy of Steve Huff  from a collection called “My Homeless Project”. […]

  69. […] While thinking about this, I came across this blog post about some beautiful interactions between a photographer and some homeless people. I recommend having a look: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/who-am-i/my-homeless-project/ […]

  70. My God, I was just looking for some images of homeless people with others who are more fortunate helping them for my blog, God Bless their hearts and help them make it through the nights and days, I stumbled along your site, may God Bless you Steve for taking the time out to sit with some and just listen.. I read how you give them coke’s and money too, oh the blankets. Luv U Steve♥

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