Knowing Their Faces

By Gabbi M. ’15

We shuffled into a grimy, fluorescent-lit room and found around 50 homeless people staring at us expectantly. Music blared from two old speakers and the room smelled faintly like wet socks. Overwhelmed, I looked to newspaper advisor Caroline Henderson, who gave me some encouraging words, patted my shoulder, and sent me off.

Eight writers and photographers from the Fourth Estate had come downtown to the Water Street Rescue Mission as part of the “Faces of the Homeless” project, to raise awareness that the group anonymously known as the homeless comprises real people with real stories, rather than a problem to be solved. Our work will be exhibited as part of The Ware Center’s “Hunger and Homelessness” event at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15.

 

My mission was to give these people a voice, so I sat down at a table and asked the first man I saw for an interview. He smiled at me but wouldn’t speak, so I turned to the person next to him, a boy not much older than me, and interviewed him instead. Once I started talking, I was able to calm down and forget everything around me, except this 19-year-old boy, Christian, and his incredible story.

Pointing to a long, jagged scar on his arm, he told me how he had started collecting and selling scrap metal when he was only 14 to support himself and his mother. When they both lost their jobs around the same time, his mother’s boyfriend moved in. Unfortunately, the boyfriend didn’t take a liking to Christian and kicked him out. For the last five years, Christian has been moving between friends’ houses, staying in shelters like the Water Street Rescue Mission or just living on the street.

Speaking with Christian made me eager to interview as many people as I could, and most were willing to share their stories. One man I spoke with told me how he was comfortably employed and purchasing a new home when he was suddenly fired. After two weeks of joblessness and drug abuse, he found himself sitting in the Water Street Rescue Mission without a job, a house, or any money left in his bank account.

Everyone I talked to spoke with kindness, sincerity and dignity. Many of them seemed ashamed of their current situation. However, after speaking with them, I came to the conclusion that homelessness is something that could easily happen to anyone, at any age, of any race or gender, and that makes them no less than anybody else. By the time I left that day, I had a strong sense of respect for each person I had spoken to and a newfound gratitude for the life that was given to me.

The Fourth Estate staffers who participated in “Faces of the Homeless” were:

Photographers 
Alexa M. ’15
Claudia M. ’15
Lian N. ’15
Sammy S. ’13

Interviewers/Writers
Tess A. ’13
A.J. D. ’13
Gabbi M. ’15
Maddie P. ’13