On an about to be rainy morning, I walked past Patrick, not knowing his name. I had seen him numerous times within a block, with the typical appearance of homelessness: scraggy beard, full rucksack, and eyes down beaten look. As I past I thought that he said something. I wasn't sure if he was addressing me, or himself in a state of mental illness. I took a step back and said,”Did you say something?” Sure enough, he was speaking to me.
“Could you help me stay in a shelter tonight?” This was in a barely audible, apparently ashamed voice. I said, “The Salvation Army shelter is $10/night, right?” That is after the first 30 free nights. I don't usually do this, but I handed him $10. He was SO grateful. Patrick worked for Fed Ex for 25 years in Manhattan. He lost the job because of alcohol abuse. At some point he moved to St. Petersburg and got a job at the Salvation Army, as well as a Sponsor, an Alcoholics Anonymous Sponsor. He was sober until his wife died last year – he pulled a photo of the two of them. He was clean shaven and they both looked nice. He said that now he is still into alcohol and I told him that I could smell it. He spoke well, however, and perfectly clearly.
He pointed to his worn out shoes and said that a photographer wanted to photograph them – the feet of the homeless. A week earlier, someone had stolen some of his clothes. I explained that I always photograph the face with eye contact. The eyes are where we live, where the soul is. I never photograph a homeless person in a demeaning way, only as human equals. He was moved by this and began to tear up.
While talking, a young woman addressed us asking if either of us could spare a dollar or two so that she could get diapers for her baby. I have now seen a homeless person panhandled, never thought I'd see the day. Patrick put a hand into his pocket and said, “I think I have 25 cents (not the $10). I waved him off and got something for Desiree. She also was very grateful. I asked how many children she had. “One, plus one on the way (pointing to her abdomen). I said, “at least that one doesn't need diapers, and we all got a laugh. Before I got the portrait, she asked if it went onto the Internet. I explained Flicker and showed her my Photostream on the phone. With some reluctance, she agreed.
She left, and I said goodbye to Patrick. He began to whimper and said, “You are a gentleman. You care.” That was about 9AM. My day was changed.