Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Homeless in Shawnee, OK: Jose

Photo by Al Griffin
I met Josè near the Library in Shawnee as he sat under a low tree with several other men. We visited for a short time about his life on the street and how he got there. 

I asked him where he was from originally and he said the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Then he grinned when I said I didn't meet a lot of Canadians named Josè. He said his mother just loved the name and would not consider another when she named him.

Josè seemed to be at ease living on the street. He laughed a lot as he talked and seemed to enjoy the conversation. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Homeless in Springfield, Missouri: Brothers Damien and Ken

Ken (left) and Damien (right)
I met Damien on a crisp fall day in Springfield on the downtown square. Several men were gathered on the stone steps, smoking and talking. When I sat down with them, they eyed my camera with some suspicion. 

After we talked for a few minutes, Damien opened up and explained that his meds were not working well, that he had been in and out of mental illness treatment his whole life, and he had always lived on the street. When I asked about family, he pointed to the man sitting nearby and said that was his brother who just got out of the pen.

Photo by AlGriffin

Ken seemed edgy and tense, smoking a cigarette and glancing around at every movement on the street. Damien said they were trying to get their other brother released on bond from his homicide charges.

After a few minutes they relaxed and talked about their lives on the street a bit more freely. As the time passed they agreed to photos when I explained why I took pictures of street people.

The brothers are a fixture on the streets of Springfield, a bit aggressive and unsettling to local business people, but friendly enough when I spent time listening to their story.

Photo by Al Griffin

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Homeless in Oklahoma City: Alphonso y Salvador

Salvador, holding a Bible on the left, and Alphonso
Photo by Al Griffin

I have spent a lot of time with Alphonso and written about him already in this blog. This image was taken the first time I met him as I walked an alley in Oklahoma City near the old bus station. Passing behind a small blue-plate diner that closed the doors years before, I found two men sitting on buckets and talking earnestly. One quickly asked if I owned the building and said they would leave if I wished, reminding me of how polite and wary many among the homeless are, but when I said I didn’t own the building, they started talking to me. 

This alley was their regular Bible study location, a testament to their humanity. Even in the most humble conditions, we all seek to understand the meaning and purpose of life.

The older man, Alphonso, also spoke about his home near Mexico City, but said he left it as a boy to live in the United States. The younger man holding a Bible in this image is Salvador. Polite and quiet spoken, he let Alphonso do most of the talking, but would occasionally interject a thought to punctuate a point Alphonso made. 

Over the years, I saw much less of Salvador than Alphonso, but still managed to visit with them both from time to time. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Homeless in Shawnee, OK: Frank

Photography by Al Griffin

I found Frank in a small park near the Library in Shawnee, Oklahoma on a warm summer morning. Several men were on benches under a large tree smoking and talking.

Frank said he had been on the street for a few years. He told a familiar story about unemployment and health issues. Frank said the Free Clinic at the Tribal Complex provided his medical care. Then I asked the right question: What is your tribe?

Frank’s face lit up, and he showed a pride in who he was and what he was. We all have it: a spark, an inner fire that brings out a different person. For Frank, it was his Native American and tribal heritage.

Frank is a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Removed from their original lands in the Northeast U.S. during the 19th century, they were brought to Kansas. A group absented themselves from the reservation, thus their name. This group ended up in Indian Territory and thus became part of Oklahoma. The tribal headquarters is near Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Frank lamented the loss of language and customs because the young people see no value in the old ways. He thinks the tribe is weakened as the collective memory loses touch with cultural heritage and tradition.

Frank sees himself as a proud warrior with a rich tradition stretching back in time to his ancestral roots. I prefer to see him the same way. No matter what the circumstances of his current situation, he is not defined by them. This may be where he is; it is not who he is.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Homeless in Oklahoma City: James

James of Oklahoma City, OK

As I shot pictures of a large fountain spraying water into the sun, I watched James drifting across the park. He had a brown hat pulled down over his eyes and walked slowly, looking at the ground in front of him.

When he was near, I spoke, startling him. We talked for a while about nothing in particular, and I asked where he was headed. He said he was walking to a small community about 20 miles east of Oklahoma City. I asked if I could buy him a bus ride, and he smiled, said that would help. I gave him bus fare and asked if I could take his picture. He agreed, but wanted to know why. I told him he looked like my favorite blues guitarist, Luther Allison.

James walked off and waited at the bus stop on the edge of the park until the bus pulled up.