“I just got my license renewed, after waiting in line for hours,” he stated. He then sat back and smoked his cigarette.
“Have you got a few dollars so I can get something to eat,” he asked. I think he was a bit surprised when I responded with, “Where are you from because you look as if you are African.” I followed my question with a slight laugh as he looked at me and said, “I moved here from the Islands.” With that statement, I think I broke the ice to ask more questions as he had never been asked such.
As we talked, he said that life on the streets of New Orleans was filled with crime. He mentioned that he has witnessed murders, drug deals and more.
The crime rate in New Orleans is 95% higher than the national average. If you sample only violent crimes, the rate is 193% higher in New Orleans than the national average.
During our brief exchange a passerby heard him mention a need for food and invited him to head to a nearby church for lunch.
I read an interesting quote today that stated, “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” - Augustine "Og" Mandino II, American author. He wrote the bestselling book The Greatest Salesman in the World (1923-1996).
A Rutherford County, TN Judge did something a little different last Friday afternoon...
Judge Barry Tidwell held a Mental Health Court Graduation outdoors at a homeless camp in Murfreesboro. A man by the name of Thomas graduated after a lengthy, yet successful completion of the courses offered by the Rutherford County Judicial System.
Thomas became homeless after his mother died a few years ago. Apparently, her home was foreclosed on and he was pushed to the streets.
Despite living in the woods, Thomas made his campsite as nice as possible by adding landscaping, a rock path, plants deliberately placed and more. His camp was welcoming and clean.
“Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you're going to live your life.” - Joel Osteen
Some of the people I see on the streets of Nashville - I have seen year after year. It is interesting how time slips their mind, sadly.
Asking how long she has been on the streets she replied, “About two years.”
Looking back, the first photo I took of her on the street was around 5 years prior near Centennial Park. This most recent picture was captured near the hospital district of downtown.
At age 64 she has never found that one time love of her life that makes you feel like dancing in the rain. She has never been married and has never had children. She simply survives while fighting diabetes.
“I’ve dreamed a lot. I’m tired now from dreaming but not tired of dreaming. No one tires of dreaming, because to dream is to forget, and forgetting does not weigh on us, it is a dreamless sleep throughout which we remain awake. In dreams I have achieved everything.” ― Fernando Pessoa
Today, by the time a child is a senior in high school, 70% have already tried alcohol. 50% will have tried some type of an illegal drug. 40% have smoked tobacco or used a nicotine product. 20% of children will have used a prescription drug for a nonprescription use. Despite these numbers, we look at the broken who live on the street with discourse in thinking, "They choose their addiction which landed them on the street." The relation to childhood drug or alcohol use to adult addiction is overwhelming.
The environment around a teen greatly impacts teenagers choosing to experiment with drugs or alcohol. Violence, physical abuse, sex abuse, emotional abuse all play a role in the temptation of alcohol and drug use. Personality traits such as ADD and ADHD also increase the likelihood of a child trying something that will have a negative impact on them.
If a child experiences trauma at a young age and / or becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, it will change the growth pattern of the prefrontal cortex. That said, the impact will last a life time. Addiction can soon set in and life is forever changed.
The other side of addiction:
On top of the above information, addiction equals a lack of human “meaningful” interaction. In other words, the addicted may interact with other users, but at a very surface level while clean or sober.
Furthermore, the addicted man or woman who lives on the street usually has zero healthy relationships nor knows how to form one while addicted.
So, could adult addiction be a combination of child trauma, lack of relationship? My thought would be yes.
Why? The damaged prefrontal cortex, that was damaged in childhood, is the planning region of the brain. It is where personality and expression originate from. Most importantly for continued use of negative behaviors, the prefrontal area is where decision making takes place along with moderating social behavior.
Knowing how sections of the brain function further verifies that addiction and lack of social interaction and healthy relationships go hand in hand. Especially when you dive into damage to the brain caused by childhood trauma followed by alcohol or drug use.
Many on the street do not know how to have positive connections with other human life. More so, their brain does not know how to cope with life without medicated help. The addicted brain related to childhood trauma does not know how to navigate behavior and life.
Of course, it is much deeper than my above words once you mix in mental illness and depression. That is an entire book on information.
She sat alone inside a small city bus shelter too timid to use the bench. It was as if she had been told one thousand times before to not sit on the bench, it was for "riders."
As she tried to talk she could not stay awake. In between words she would fall asleep, never completing a sentence.
The Bible remained open as she lacked the strength to turn the pages.
In the West Coast area, much like New York on the East, thousands of homeless live in the underground tunnels of the city they call home. The tunnels were made to transport flood waters away from the population to prevent death and destruction. However, the same tunnels used to prevent death can also cause death.Read More
As the sun was setting over Knoxville, she prepared for the night. Her home is the sidewalk. But, it's not just her... she is 5.5 months pregnant. In just a few months her child will be born.Read More
One of the most famous quotes is quite true: "First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you." — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great GatsbyRead More
Dave Walker lives in his van in Murfreesboro, TN near Nashville. In this 10 minute he talks about some of the things he has seen or heard in the past 8 months.Read More
On the streets in Canada he was smoking his weed, but then again... he knows what he is doing because as you can see his sign shows that he is a doctor.
His hat read, “Police Box.” The Police Box is a public callbox to call police or for members of the police department to use to contact their headquarters. They were used between the late 1890's up until the 1920's in both America and in the UK. It was also used as a miniature police office for officers to fill out reports in.
In case you are curious, Canada was the second nation in the world to legalize marijuana. It became legal under "The Cannabis Act."
His Starbucks Coffee had the name Patricia on it, his leftover food on his chair to the left of his foot was handed to him by a passerby, he broke his back.... but, he had humor and sobriety on his side.
Jason, who is on the streets of Seattle, Washington, knows that laughter helps him and others make it through the ups and downs in life.
A 2017 article in Forbes Magazine by David DiSalvo highlighted the pros to laughing and feeling good noting:
Laughter is an endorphin releaser
Laughter forms social bonds
Laughter fosters brain connectivity
Women typically laugh 126% more than men
Men usually instigate laughter
Laughter activates the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin
Laughter helps your heart... it has an anti-inflammatory
I always find it so intriguing how others have all the answers on what to do, right from wrong, how you should feel vs. how you really feel, etc. I wonder how so many people know so much about others?
He was standing quietly against a wall of windows, barely audible as he asked those who smirked past him, “Do you have any change?” I failed to see even one person stop to simply ask why he needed the money.
If anyone did ask, they would learn the elderly gentleman has a place to stay, but his entire social security check went to the monthly cost. He had no money to eat. It was that simple... money to eat.
If you asked a passerby one might state, “That's what his food stamp or EBT card is for.” Then, the senior citizen might reply, “But, $15 is not enough to eat more than four meals on - if I shop for the most valuable deals.” Of course, that is only if he has a card.
It is to easy to assume you have the answers to the problems, the life obstacles, the aliments or the cures for another until you live their life both the past and the present. But, make sure you are able to stomach their past.
I never know what I will see as I step from town to town. But, I never imagined that those who are homeless in Seattle, Washington would have such positive attitudes and great senses of humor. It was as if they were put in place to make those who passed smile.
Tattooed to the center of his chest was an "S," just like the original Superman logo.
I captured this photo in Nashville, 2014.
Kay currently calls a wooden park bench home during clear days and sometimes a covered bus stop is her home on days that are not so clear. However, she does not let the weather bring her down.
In this interview, Kay talked about her past child sexual abuse and how so many others on the streets suffer from the same haunted background. Ms. Kay spoke to me (Scott Walker) about the devastating impact child sex abuse has on someone as they age.
At age 72, Kay says she is ready to go home when her body is ready to lead her that direction. In other words, she is not afraid of death as she clearly says, "I know where I'm going."
To pass time and to fill her own mission, she ministers to those who are also homeless and living with addiction.
Camera in Hand: When you approach a total stranger with a camera in hand, they never know what to expect. The “Why my photo” is usually the first thought that comes to mind. I often wonder if the person I photograph at first feels anger in the their thought of – “He is going to take my picture to be mean.” If so, it is interesting to watch their expression change as we begin to talk. Frame by frame you can see their 43 facial muscles relax. It is as if a relief falls over their fear.
It has Happened: Before I ever had a chance to talk I have had cold coffee thrown at me. Luckily, I stepped back before I was hit by the flying liquid. One time I had a man take a swing at me after assuming I thought he was from Mexico as opposed to Puerto Rico – even though I never said a single word to him and was actually photographing someone else. Regardless, he missed and I smiled as I told him to have a good day. I have been cussed at – one “F” word after the other. In that case, I later served the man lunch while volunteering at a day shelter in Washington, DC.
It seems as if 99% of the time, most of those that I meet on the street leave with a smile and an urge to share their story with others. Those who don’t want to talk – don’t. That does not mean I don’t leave them with a sleeping bag or another item that is needed to survive. It just means that we don’t use the camera and their story remains locked up tight inside their vault.
Some of you may recall Rocky. She once lived in a closed down and decaying motel in Nashville. No running water, no electricity... only the shell of a motel with mattresses and headboards fixed to the wall.
After moving back to her home state, reuniting with her daughter and getting sober... she found that her life was against the ticking clock.
In her last remaining days she was cared for by her daughter and her ex-husband.
Rocky passed away this past Friday shortly after midnight. She died with her daughter holding one hand and her ex holding the other.
Despite that title of "ex," he wanted so badly to see her feel good, to see her laughing with their daughter - - and he did.
"We must be conscious of this; one day, the life we have, will be gone." -Lailah Gifty Akita
R.I.P. Rocky 3/2/2018
Cold rainy nights on the street… a large moving blanket was the only warmth.
“It’s okay to be homeless,” he told me with dripping wet hair in the midnight rain, his shoulders covered with a moving blanket.
Words spoke aloud to another are reassurance that we are normal, we are okay, we are surviving – it is a way of handling one more night on the streets.
His words were similar to an alcoholic saying, “One day at a time.”
Following his cue while handing him a new sleeping bag I said, “It is okay to be homeless… Some travel the world while homeless.”