October 21, 2007

Photo Story : Spare Change

When I see the homeless people at the on-ramps or off-ramps on freeways, I usually smile and nod my head in acknowledgment. I have to admit that I used to be one of those people who silently thought "Get a job." But today my perspective was completely changed and for the better.

I met some amazing people today and learned about their story. The streets are very difficult to live in and I am very honored to have met the strongest people I am now fortunate to know.

My story isn't done, tomorrow I'm attending a "Feeding" at a local church. I am looking forward to the more people I will meet and the more stories I will get to hear.


Off ramp on the 14 Street exit of the 91 West. From what they told me, they're not supposed to be less than 500 feet away from the ramps of any freeway or they get ticketed. But they are allowed to purchase a license, however, many take the tickets the police hand out because they don't have enough for a license to solicit. All they have money for is food.
This is Diane. She has been homeless for 4 years. Came out from Arizona where her children currently reside. When I asked her why she doesn't seek help from them she simply answered, "Because mama can take care of herself, they don't need me to hold them down." She and her boyfriend, Brian, whom I didn't meet, live in a campsite and clean apartments from time to time to earn extra money. She normally doesn't "fly" (holding the sign) on weekends because she leaves that time to her boyfriend, her kitten, and her dog. "We take care of the animals better than people with homes, that's why we always have them." When I asked if it was worth it to "fly" she replied, "Well I don't normally fly on the weekend but you never know. Some days are good and I'll get my $15 and other days I don't nothing. Once I got a $200 hit and I said to myself, 'I'm going home, there is no reason for me to be greedy.' On Tuesdays, as soon as I have enough I'll walk to Jack in the Box and get those taco Tuesdays and take like 40 of them home. Once I get enough for food. I'm done for the day."

She and I talked for about 2 hours and as cars passed by they would look and stare. Some even thought I was homeless too. She explained that after her house burnt down, she ended up on the streets; until her and her boyfriend acquired a tent. "We can't get a job because we can't get I.D.'s and we can't get an I.D. with out our Social Security Card. So yeah, it's hard out here. If I could get a job, I would."

This is another person in the group, she became homeless because of domestic violence. She was thrown out and since then been on the street. She was a very sweet person. When I asked to take photos, she quickly combed her hair and began smiling for me.

Here is Diane's friend Maurice. His mother lives in Santa Ana and "flies" only when he's out in Riverside. Originally from Jamaica, he's been in Riverside for 17 years of which a large part has been on the streets.


"I'm not picky, or rude, I take whatever people give me. If I don't like it, then I leave it here for the next person who comes. There is no reason to be rude, because there are good people out there." -Diane.

This is Gerry. He didn't speak much and was actually the first person I photographed. He came to Riverside over 30 years ago from Oklahoma. His story I have yet to hear.

This man, who I promised I wouldn't release his name, was the most alluring person I met today. He had this personality where the kid inside comes out. He was drunk and full of laughter. "And leave all this? Why? The street is all comedy. Why leave." I also promised not to tell his story. As a journalist I aim to keep that promise.

To all who I met today: Thank you for letting me have a piece of what you live everyday. Thank you for allowing me to change perspective and find the story behind the story. Thank you for sharing all that you did with me today and hope that one day we will cross paths again. Thank you. Oh and thank you to the woman who gave Diane Carl's Jr. and offering me to have some (she thought I was homeless too), you are a kind person.

To everyone reading this: You never know what happens to people. The stories and why they choose this life are all different and amazing. If you criticize the homeless and honk or yell as you drive by, just try to think, Would you make it out there with nothing? Could you survive a day with out food or shelter and no one to keep you company? Could you do what they do everyday? There are no weekends for these people. There is no "time-off" from homelessness. Just everyday life and trying to survive in a world that never seems to help. So you with your nice pillow and comfy mattress, think tonight of giving, even if its in a smile.

"Anything helps. I once got 13 cents from someone and I said 'Thank You' and 'God Bless'. I take all I can and put it together. Not all of us are dope heads or drunks, we're just trying to get some food and survive." -Diane.