Portrait of a Homeless Man

I just heard a guy talking about something I do; a thing I didn’t think anyone else did. He walks around looking for places he could sleep in case he becomes homeless…again.

He photographs these places and how he might sleep there. All his pictures have divisions and fractures. It’s the way he felt when he was homeless, terrified, ashamed and alone.

The pictures are beautiful. They show how light comes in and they show how light does not. They show decay and the beauty of decay. Life is fractured and we are dying a minute at a time while we are living. If that were not true, if life was not so fragile it could not contain such depth of beauty.

His pictures feel like life and death. Being homeless feels like that too. I still have not broken the habit of peering at empty houses and checking to see if the fence to the back yard is open. I look at window ledges differently-if I slept there would the rain hit me should it fall?

He didn’t think he’d be homeless until he was. Now its always in his mind like breaking a bone riding a bike. You still ride but sometimes you remember that fall and you start thinking about how to avoid it. He has a home now, but the habits from homelessness don’t go away.

When you know it’s possible, that’s always true for you.

He said until it happened to him he thought homeless people were drug addicts or crazy. When he was homeless he knew he was none of those things–just desperate.

Desperation creates a different way of thinking, you need to keep dignity and pride. It’s all you’ve got. If you lose pride, hope is the next thing to go.  Then it’s over. You may never get out.

Getting out is everything.

I never said I was homeless, I just said I was rebuilding my life. That rebuilding phase involved the back of my car, window ledges and sometimes sleeping where I wasn’t allowed. It involved baths in bathroom stalls.

To this day I can walk through a hotel lobby to the nearest restroom and take a washcloth bath and change my clothes like a boss. If you look clean even Starbucks will give you the bathroom code. If you seem confident, you can pull it off.

You cannot lose confidence.

There is no face of homelessness. We are all that face. One miscalculation can tip us over the edge and on to that window ledge. A few right choices and the incredible currency of hope and friendship can also bring us back.

Homelessness is a trauma. It is also an education. Once you know how it feels to be that afraid, you also know why people sometimes do what they do.


You will learn to see the beauty in the weirdest things like the first light coming through a discarded bottle or the proud back of a woman as she pulls a suitcase to nowhere or the glint of a clean sink in the early morning before anyone wakes except the crickets.

Once you have been homeless nothing truly feels disposable. All things can have a second life and be of value when you learn to see them.








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