Humans Experiencing Homelessness
My name is Maureen Simon and I am a photojournalist who spends time on the streets of Asheville, NC. In January, 2016, I was invited to spend the day with people who live on those streets. I met some of my companions at Haywood Street Congregation, at Story Circle, and through being a volunteer photographer.
I was safe, I knew that, which made it easier to relax as I entered a different world from my own. I became aware of a community… they are family… friends… humans – and I am grateful to them for trusting me with their story. I carried my camera and an open mind.
We met at A-Hope, where they were serving the New Years Day breakfast, provided by 12 Bones. I took no photos, none allowed there for privacy issues, and I respect that… not sure how I would feel with a camera in my face, especially just because I was homeless and eating a meal. We gathered there and headed out for our New Year’s Day tour.
Our first stop was a convenience store, for supplies… beer, mostly… the questions went something like this: who has ID? who is allowed in? who has money? My first exposure to how it is on the street. I have never, well maybe once, asked these questions, but never on a daily or hourly basis. We walked on, found an empty picnic bench, sat there talking, joking, laughing, “educating Maureen” they called it… and felt like we were constantly keeping a watchful eye out for the Po Po (APD): ”But hey,” someone said, “we’re safe; Maureen’s got an address.”We moved on. Stops along the way included searching through abandoned donations left in a pile at ABCCM, introducing Maureen to places where they could sit, socialize, drink, or sleep. I looked, they pointed to a spot on the ground, underneath a semi, broken glass everywhere, no chairs, no cardboard. We continued on, met more people, took photos of the “gang” – myself included – stopped at another store, with more of the same questions. I was welcomed into the group and listened to stories of life on the street, along with just plain stories that I might share with my friends – their humor, their friendship, their humanness. I met people that day who are a part of my life forever.
We walked and spent time at the bus stop, a safe place, stopping for what I would learn was a “40.” I was committed to spending my time immersed in the experience. It seemed like we were always on the lookout for danger of getting caught – another reality and one that separated our worlds, as I had an apartment, or a restaurant, or a bar that I knew I could go into. I spent time on the other side of the iron fence. I joked cause I could go into a restaurant or hotel to go to the ladies room, knowing they could not – Not funny, just reality.
Our tour included the benches across from the Vance Monument, where I, along with my companions, began to feel hungry. My first experience begging for scraps, for leftovers from generous Asheville tourists, and yes, we were successful. I was hungry and shared with my companions, ate with a spoon made from the take-out box; it might sound pretty bad, but it was good, and it is quite something to find out if you would or wouldn’t partake. I remember sitting there, watching people go around me, like they would catch what I had, as if distance kept them from contracting germs that would seriously infect them – through my eyes – my homeless friends thanked me for being with them, for spending the time, for hanging out and treating them the way I did. I am no saint; I get to go home. I didn’t write this at the time, because it affected me too deeply, how we treat each other, how much we are the same.
We are all simply human.
See more of Maureen’s work at www.ofifoto.photography (“one foot in front of the other”) and on Facebook.com/MaureenSimonPhotography