“There but for fortune, go you, go I.” – Joan Baez
I never imagined when I began to document the homeless in the Los Angeles area that one day, my own son would join the ranks of those without shelter, without food, without a job … without hope of anything better. I could not have known that the smart Laguna Beach athlete was a ticking time bomb – that schizophrenia lay buried in his DNA and that one day, my son would slowly begin to lose the faculties of reason that society accepts as the norm.
The images in my camera now seem prophetic. I began this photo journey when the state government cut finances for mental health care, and thousands of previously sheltered people were thrown onto the streets to join the ranks of hardened criminals. What we see today today on the street – what I continue to explore – is the result of decades long policy of criminalizing homelessness.
We don’t want to look. We don’t like the smell or the begging or the babbling of tongues. We want to feel safe and protected in our homes with our designer clothes, our new cars, our trendy gym or yoga memberships, our fancy restaurants and our perfect gardens. It’s easier to think that the homeless are simply lazy people who don't want to work. To write them off as bums.
In the main, no one chooses homelessness. No one wants to wander each night attempting to find a place to sleep – behind a bush maybe? A bus bench? A darkened corner of an alley. No one wants to be hungry in the morning.
What I want to show with my work is the humanity inside what we don't want to look at. The relationships that are formed between those on equally unstable ground. The helping hand, the burgeoning hearts that beat inside the unshaven and un-bathed.
I want to look for me – and I want to share what I see and find with you, the viewer, with the smallest of hope that my work will open your heart – and then your mind – and together we can keep searching for solutions and ways to create change.
My 36-year old son is homeless. He suffers from schizophrenia, a crippling mental disease that causes him to hear voices in his head 24-7. He says that they torture him, that they never leave him alone, they are never quiet. He's the kind of homeless person that you see walking down the street yelling into the air.
My son was a A student, a high school varsity baseball player a college athlete scholar. A broken ankle/foot, a lost career, recreational drugs all played a part - but his breakdown was clear and there is no known cure.
He has been hospitalized on several occasions and tried nearly every antipsychotic medication available. He says that none of them work. For a short period of time - nearly two years - he did stick with his meds and he held a job, bought a car, had an apartment. But the voices won. The meds lost, and he gave everything away - literally.
He trusts no one.
Exhaustion, despair .. these describe the baseline emotions that I confront when dealing with the man who is no longer my child, and yet I force myself to cling to a sense of optimism. That somewhere within my broken heart, something - maybe a miracle - will bring him back to all of us.