Back in Aurora, I did a Christmas project for a homeless shelter. I came in with lights and a backdrop and made family photos for anyone who wanted them. I know folks appreciated that, but it probably did more for me than for anyone living there. Growing up in a middle-class home, I never lacked for food or shelter or other basic human needs. Many are not so fortunate.
A few years ago, the former director of that homeless shelter, Diane Nilan, came to Portland. She had quit her job at the shelter and was traveling the country in an RV, trying to raise awareness about homeless children. She was working on a documentary film and invited me to come along on a shoot. We parked the RV alongside a main road in suburban Portland and walked about 200 feet into dense woods, where she introduced me to Geana Foster and her three children. The family was living in a tent barely visible from the road.
Geana and the girls had been on a county waiting list for six months, hoping to qualify for low-cost housing. It could happen any day. I decided to take a few days off my regular job to document the process. I didn't have an assignment, or even a publication in mind. Making pictures just seemed like the right thing to do.
Geana and her children did move into a home two days later, on the day after Thanksgiving. The experience reminded me a lot of the story “Hell to Home” that I had done a decade earlier — all the way down to a child rolling around on the carpet. Is that a basic human desire? To lie down and stretch out on the floor of your home? Does that satisfy a need to feel safe? Or is it just a fun thing kids do? All I know is, I’m grateful to have been there both times to witness it.