Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Why I'm doing this blog

So many of us just walk or drive straight past beggars and homeless people, often seeing them as a bit of a nuisance or an eyesore. I see people. Is that weird? Many of us will say that a man who stands on a street corner begging, holding a note on cardboard and clutching a scruffy bag is just lazy and useless. Is that true? Sure, you could say that, for them, this is their lifestyle of choice, or that they made bad decisions, or that they don't really want homes. Or that we have to be responsible for our own lives, and they need to be responsible for their own. I'm not sure how much of that's true.

There is a real attraction to the freedom of the road, and to live "outside the rat race" - that I've experienced myself - but at the end of the day can we really tell ourselves that these human beings that sleep by the sides of roads, or eat from garbage cans, or drink booze till they're knocked cold - freezing or soaking some nights - are anything less that human beings? There must be some psychological problem or awful spiritual poverty, if not financial poverty, that leads any man to ending up this way, surely?

So shouldn't there be some better, more effective help for them? Or are they society's warning to us: "Shape up within the system, jump when you're told to, and have some definite value, or face the consequences"?

Having suffered from post traumatic stress myself, I understand something of the awful fears that can beset a person just in everyday functioning and simple decision making. In the United States, many of these men we see on the streets have been traumatised by war, overwhelming personal, physical or emotional difficulties, or have simply been victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So many are mentally ill: not in some dramatic, bizarre way, but in a spirit wrecking, sad and depressed way.

When I see what I can only describe as obscene wealth in the United States that lives right alongside this poverty and helplessness, I can't help thinking that something's so very wrong: not just with our leaders, but with ourselves for being so collectively negligent of others. I guess fear's at the root of it - fear, and a sense of helplessness in us as individuals, even to help in some small way.

I really do believe we should personalise the homeless. I want to document the stories behind the faces that we so often choose to not look into. I hope that'll be one of the main functions of this blog: to help people see that there were once regular lives going on for the homeless, and that it's really a case of "there but for the grace of God go I", when we think more deeply about them.

When I came to America in 1997 I landed in Phoenix, which I chose as a symbol of rebirth. Silly, I know, but I wanted to tell myself clearly that I was doing something for me and I needed the symbolism. Symbolism is powerful. Things had got bad for me in the UK and I felt I just needed to take desperate measures in order to survive, psychologically, and to reinvent my life. I looked upon it as an executive decision, like abandoning ship or ejecting from a plane. Not the ideal thing to do, but it seemed appropriate at the time for me to get a completely different perspective on my life - even if it just meant a different set of problems. For a while I was actually homeless, pretty much penniless, and quite desperate. But I know now that were it not for the fact that I'm white and English, surviving in America would have been a lot more difficult for me. And it hasn't been particularly easy! I've been in a few scrapes, pretty much from day one.

So one wonders just how difficult it must be for these men - and occasionally women - who end up on the streets, who don't have the bonus of having a cute accent or perhaps white skin; the love, support, education and luck I've had.

I heard that in the United States the main cause of homelessness is the inability to pay medical bills. A single hospital bill can wipe out someone who's on the breadline. Many, many Americans live so close to the edge, earning poor wages, that they can't afford medical insurance.

Is it any wonder that they end up on the streets, then? And how do they get back into the system, with no money, a fucked up mind, a tired body, no home, and no credit? Yet we call them lazy and useless. Fact is, these people have simply crashed at some point in their lives, and there was nobody to help them. They're burned out, way beyond any place we dare imagine.

But any one of us can crash, right? Even driving our Hummers or our SUV's or any one of our nice, new paid-on-credit cars, we can crash. No car, no matter how expensive, is that safe. Would we expect one of these homeless people to pull us out of a wrecked car, were they around to do so? I'd hope they would, and I'm pretty certain any one of them would. We expect that behaviour of our fellows in society, don't we? It's at times like that - our own crises - that the illusion that we're separated from the rest of humanity is dispelled, after all.

So why don't we just help them out of their own crashed state?

I really believe it's because of the collective denial that we have that we're helpless, ultimately. And it's that collective denial that leads us to thinking that what we are is "a success" or "a failure" in life, and that we've "done it by ourselves". It's ironic that one of the greatest insults you can bestow on someone in the US is to call him a "loser". Competition is deeply ingrained in the American psyche. To win is good. Sure, we all know it is. But it's an illusion that we "do it alone"

Or could it be that we really are just slaves and masters again, as the gulf between the haves and the have nots widens?

Albert Einstein once said that capitalism relies on an army of unemployed. I understand something of that - of course it does. Communism certainly doesn't work. A man's labours - whether it's with his mind or his body - should be adequately rewarded. Levelling society to a place where each is forced to be as wealthy - or as poor - as the next man is foolish. It didn't work in the Soviet Union. Capitalism, properly administered, is healthy. The effective organisation of labour is tied to a market economy. That's undeniable. But the spirit of cooperation has to be in place, in my opinion. And a society must have compassion for its weaker elements, surely? For what is a society without compassion?

That's my bit said for now. Maybe this is something of my Englishness coming out. The effects of growing up in a socialist country, perhaps. Who knows? Don't get me wrong: I like my stuff as much as the next man. I just like to feel I can look people in the eyes, that's all. Maybe that's why I take photos of homeless people.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Johnny James is 79 years old, and is a veteran of WW2 and Korea. He's lived on the streets for "a long time". He served with the infantry during the war, and went to Britain, where he was shipped across to France. He fought there and in Germany before being sent to the Phillippines via the Panama canal and the South Pacific. He saw Japan; went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki; has lived in Alaska, and has been in Texas since the 60s. He has eight children, whom he rarely sees. His favourite car was a Chevy. He sleeps in a dumpster when it gets really cold, and takes shelter by some condos when it rains. He collects aluminum cans which he sells for 40 cents a pound. "The world is fucked", he says. "I fought against the nazis", he tells me, and "now everybody tells you how you're supposed to live". "The young cops, they pick on the homeless. They're scared to go where the real crime is. The older cops, they're OK." "The young people today, they don't want to work." If he could live anywhere, he'd live in Hawaii, he says. Posted by Hello


Jeff Ingram. Homeless in Austin, Texas. Posted by Hello

Jeff's story

This is Jeff. He's the first homeless person I've approached in Austin, and I asked him what his story was. On March 22 2003, Jeff was, he says, involved in a terrible motorcycle wreck. His wife was, he says, killed in the crash, and that's how he lost his leg. He told me that "the government is pissing him about with his money" He told me he has two children to support, that are staying with relatives. He has to fend for himself, he says, till he can "get it going". He gets about $15 a day, if he's lucky, he says. When he can, he "stays in motels so he can clean up". Otherwise, he says, he's sleeping on the streets. He says he figures it's better to beg than to go out stealing or robbing from people. "At least I'm asking for it", he tells me."it's a shame that there's all the heartless people in the world. If more people would reach out and help, there'd be a lot less killing, a lot less theft, a lot less starvation." Jeff claims he is a veteran, and is 49 years old. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The stories

The stories being told by the people in this blog are in their own words, and the details of the accounts of their lives are unverified.

I can't be responsible for the accuracy of the information that anybody in this blog will be giving. I can only let them speak for themselves.

The way I figure it, there will always be some people who make stories up. We hear, from time to time, of beggars who drive fancy cars, live well, and who make a lot of money on the streets by gaining the sympathy of gullible people.

Personally, I find it difficult to believe that anyone in their right mind would stand by the roadside in all weathers unless they really felt they had to.

It's up to you whether you believe these stories or not.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Homeless service organisations in Texas

Please use this link:


There is a donation button at the foot of this website. It is intended to be there to fund this project (ie taking photos of, and interviewing homeless people in Texas).

If you are intending to donate to the homeless please DO NOT DONATE TO ME.

There are links provided in other entries for you to do that.

However, I do welcome any donations, as film costs, expenses, equipment and time are all resources.


Key facts about Texas homeless

Key Facts (Information from 2000)

Number of homeless in Texas. While estimates vary, the Council estimates that about 200,000 people, or 1 percent of the state's population, are homeless.

Mental illness. About 25 percent of homeless people in Texas suffer from a serious mental illness.

People with disabilities. More than 65,000 persons with disabilities did not have a regular means of shelter in 1999.

. National figures indicate that women make up 19 percent of the homeless population. In Tarrant County, the percentage of women among the homeless population increased from 27 percent in 1991 to 48 percent in 1997. Estimates suggest that 30 to 50 percent of homeless women become so because of domestic violence, and 80 percent of the nation's homeless women have experienced some sort of violence.

Children. Estimates show that over 125,000 schoolage children in Texas experience homelessness during the course of a year.

Veterans. Estimates show that veterans comprise 30 to 40 percent of the nation's homeless population.

Link to Texas Homeless Network

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Homeless in George Bush's home state.

This plaque is by the lake in Austin, Texas. It stands as a reminder to us of the people that we neglect in our society because it's so convenient to do so. These people aren't lazy. These people are just too traumatized to function. No person in their right mind lives on the streets. The purpose of this blog is to tell the stories of some of the homeless, and to give them faces and voices.

The plaque reads HOMELESSNESS. It is the essence of DEPRESSION. It is IMMORAL. It is SOCIALLY CORRUPT. And it is an ACT OF VIOLENCE. In memory of those who have lost their lives on the streets of Austin.

What I hope to do in this blog is to take a photojournalistic approach to the situation the homeless face in the capital of Texas, the president's home state. To give them a chance to speak, and to let you, the reader of this blog, see the humanity in them, and perhaps at least think twice before walking or driving past any homeless person again.

All the people featured in the blog will be real. Their stories will be as they tell them. What you make of those stories is entirely up to you.

I welcome feedback on this blog. Any feedback and support is greatly appreciated. It isn't my intention to make any huge political statement; it's just that I feel we neglect a vulnerable component in our society, and I personally think it's obscene that we do so. Posted by Hello