The May 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Someone's Sister: Homeless in the East Bay

A Young Mother Dreams of a Brighter Future

Legal Rights of Homeless People

Exposing Wal-Mart Empire

HUD Pulls a Disappearing Act

Devastating Cuts to Section 8

Civil Rights Gets on the Bus

UC Students Brutalized by Police

Activism for Economic Justice

Night of Humanity and Courage

Nonviolent Vigil for San Diego's Poorest

The Faithful Fools

Medical Pot in Santa Cruz

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Someone's Daughter, Sister or Mother

Photoessay by Anna Graves

Berkeley photographer discovers the hidden humanity and beauty of homeless women

All photos by Anna Graves

Each one of the women I recently photographed in Berkeley is someone's daughter, someone's sister, or someone's mother. In these photos, you won't see much of the spot called home; you will see someone's daughter, sister or mother living on the sidewalk, under a freeway, or in a park.

I don't tend to show you the toothless smile, or the worst scars - because you might turn away and not see the beauty, the dignity, the humanity. It might scare you; perhaps because you'd have to recognize that it could be you. So many people in this country are just one paycheck or one serious illness away from an eviction - and the sentence to a life of endless wandering.

I was surprised at my own nervousness as I approached the first women on the streets of Berkeley and Oakland. After all, in a past career I was a clinical social worker who worked with homeless men and women in San Francisco's Tenderloin and Mission districts. Even so, I was afraid that I would be met with angry rejection of my suggestion to take their photo, or that they'd strike out in a confused rage. I had forgotten that homeless people are, by and large, very much like the rest of us.

From the beginning, I was struck with the invisibility of the homeless women. As I stood watching a prospective woman to approach, I observed that other people walked around her and looked right through her as if she didn't exist. They didn't respond to the woman at all. It was as if this homeless woman was someone from another planet dropped onto earth in a bizarre science fiction plot, and I was the only one who could see her. I also realized, with a shock, that I had been doing the same as everyone else; I felt ashamed.

Each woman was gracious to me as I spoke to her, offering me a place at her humble abode. Only one turned me down for a photo. Every woman cared how she looked, eagerly peering at the digital reproduction in my camera to approve or disapprove of her hair, the turn of her head, or the appearance of her clothes. They were like people anywhere; they wanted to make a good impression.

There was the agitated woman I came upon just as a city truck was carrying away half of her meager possessions; and the hopeful one who had just thumbed a ride into town from Seattle escaping bad weather and planning for a new, drug-free life. Another was new to town and happy to have scored a hunk of meat from a dumpster; others sat peacefully at long-held vigils watching the sun cross the sky.

Some women were social and wanted to talk, while others seemed so solitary and locked into their own internal thoughts. Yes, some were a little irrational or spoke through a drug- or alcohol-induced haze, but most were clear-headed and made more sense than a lot of people I know.

At least two of the women are pregnant. For a few, their dog is their cherished family. There were those who needed a mother, or a sympathetic ear. I just listened, without judgment or any agenda. One woman kissed me on the cheek in an endearing moment. Though their fragility was often apparent, all the women were clearly survivors in a tough street world that demands patience, endurance and ingenuity.

So, to Annie and Amalia, to Patricia and Brandy and Raven, to Jennifer and Faye and Ms. Mouse, and to all the rest: I am humbled by your generosity, your life-affirming spirit and your willingness to let me enter your lives. I can only hope that I am worthy of your trust.



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