Oh Happy Day

Trust me, Calvin (standing) and Dwight (sitting, obviously) may not look happy, but they are. I was able to help them bring stuff out to their new apartment today.

Part of the city program of helping long homeless individuals off the street. It doesn't work in every case, but in the case of people that have a real desire to keep up the apartment and work to pay off the (realistically affordable) rent, it can put a roof over their heads.

It felt like progress today. This didn't feel like a bandaid on the problem, this felt like actual healing. I was so happy for these guys today, and I have the utmost faith that they will make it work.

Bowen and Kiki

A couple of months ago, I was informed in no uncertain terms that my "services" to the homeless people under the tracks were no longer required. Not by anyone I was helping, mind you. Just by a few local "pharmaceutical suppliers" who didn't quite believe that I was only trying to help some people out. I took the hint pretty quickly.

But instead of just quitting entirely. I can at least help out some people I've made friends with. Like Bowen.

Since Bowen got his apartment, he seems very happy. I met his new friend Kiki, and I even met his mother yesterday. I asked but she decided against having her picture taken.
I promised these two lovebirds a print and pictures from my days out on the streets. Bowen and I have a LOT of mutual acquaintances, and he wants pictures of them all to remind him of the years he spent, all 30 of them, on the street. I'm glad I have the pics because I want to remember them too. I met some genuinely good people.

Decisions, Decisions

Some people choose cake, some people prefer pie. But when it's your birthday, you get both! Pizza pie, followed by birthday cake, all washed down with your favorite "tasty beverage". It's only once a year, so enjoy it, dammit!!

Happy Birthday, Dwight!

Accept Things as They Are

I have to be honest, when I see Vera out on the street, I get a little sad. She still has an apartment, but I guess the familiarity of this environment is just comforting for her.

I had hoped that she would be able to put that life behind her, but who am I to say what's right or wrong? If this is how she chooses to live, that's absolutely her choice. I'm not to going NOT care about her just because I wouldn't live my life the same way.

When I see her, I help her out any way I can. Food, clothes, whatever I am able to do. No matter what her choices are, I'll still consider her a friend.

The Things These Hands Have Seen

Dwight will stop by work a couple of times (or more) a week. He usually just needs the basics...socks, a pair of pants, a cup of hot chocolate, or gloves. Gloves are the tough ones.

His hands show the toll living on the street takes on you. Arthritis has set in pretty severely, but he still spends his days, lifting pallets to recycle. Pallets only pay between $2-5 each, so if you see someone pushing a stack on 10 pallets on a shopping cart, that's only $20. And that can take up a good portion of your day.

I bought Dwight some 2 XL stretchable waterproof winter gloves, but he still needs some help putting them on. It takes a couple of minutes, but it's honestly time well spent.

The Spirit

The dock door bell at work rang yesterday, meaning it's a delivery, or it's a visit from Dwight. Obviously, it was the latter.

I don't always see Dwight in the mornings. Very rarely, in fact. But he knows that if he needs something, he can come around. At this point, the people at my work know him. He is always respectful to everyone. I will usually just meet him at the door and ask him what he needs.

Yesterday wasn't about what he needed. It was about what he had. He asked me if we needed a wreath at work. We (actually he) had put it up on the outside wall while he was waiting for me up front, and I could not think of a better place for it to go. He was so happy to be able to do something for us in return.

This picture is not a work of art or, technically, an amazing photograph. But it's an important document of a moment for me, and something that I will want to remember over time. Just like the wreath itself, it doesn't have to be groundbreaking or unique to be important and memorable.

No Cause For Alarm

I have to admit, when I pulled up outside Hillbilly's living quarters and saw this, no GOOD thoughts crossed my mind. I've seen enough things happen to people I've met on the street, and I realize life actually CAN get worse.

Those fears were unfounded. Hillbilly was still in his cubby, so I dropped off breakfast and was on my way. Maybe these two just needed some time apart.

A Sense of Pride

It was only about 4 years ago that I met Vera for the first time. So many things have happened between then and now, it's easy to see where the years have gone.
I had a delivery of some clothes, food, toiletries, etc... that she told me she would pick up. It didn't register that she would need a car. We met under the tracks because, let's face it, we both know the area pretty well.
Vera was already there with the car and her HUSBAND, Darryl! It floored me. But I saw (and see) how happy she is, and it makes think back to the woman that I brought breakfast to 4 years ago, who was huddled over a fire in a 55 Gallon trash can. She said to me that day "I can't do this anymore." There were more than a couple of false positives, but I'm really thinking her life is turned around for good this time.

Thinking of Others 

As I pulled up to drop off breakfast this morning, TC was already outside. I guess when you squeeze 4 people into the little dwelling, it gets a bit cramped.

As I approached, TC stopped me and asked if I had an extra mask. I did not. He rummaged around and found a paper bag to cover his face, and then he motioned me forward.

With all the selfishness I've seen and watched over the past few days, I am glad to see that some people still have respect for someone else.

Sleeping In On Sunday Service Pt. 2

Like the days weren't blurring together enough. Having to go into work on a Sunday means all day feels like Monday.
My presence (unannounced) threw a lot of the guys for a loop too. A couple asked "Is it Monday?" As if they had possibly slept right through Sunday.
I'm not quite sure who was sleeping in Hillbilly's wheelchair. Hillbilly said his name is Dre. I've never met him, so I have to take Hillbilly at his word, even though his words were a little groggy at 6 am on Sunday.


Dwight had asked if I could get him some new shoes last week, size 11. I happened to have a couple of extra pairs. They obviously weren't new, and I had hoped they would be ok. They were more than that.

Dwight was ridiculously relieved. The shoes he had been wearing were down to flat bare soles. It doesn't take long to wear out a pair of shoes when you're walking the streets all day, God only knows how his knees have held up all these years. But he left with shoes, t-shirts, masks, sandwiches, water, and an ice cold Coke for good measure.

I felt pretty good seeing him leave so happy. He's genuinely a nice guy.

Shattered American Dreams 

Quiet morning. Not too many breakfasts, and everyone who was there was sleeping. With no conversations to be had, that leaves me alone with my thoughts, which is usually dangerous.

It's times like this that I think about the past for some of these folks. I have to keep reminding myself that they were once kids too. It seems almost foreign to think of them growing up.

Kids like to think of what they are going to be when they grow up. Usually something glamorous. In my day, that was a baseball player usually. Nowadays, I'm sure it's more that kids want to grow up to be on Youtube or some other kind of "influencer".

I don't think that any child imagines that this is the life ahead of them.

Civic Responsibility or Sheer Coincidence?

As many times as I have met Justin (sort of "pictured", under the orange blanket), I have never known him to NOT be sharing an abode with Hillbilly. Usually he can be found inside Hillbilly's little shack, making the living quarters even more constrictive.

Today was the first time I have seen him out on the street in colder weather. Even Hillbilly popped his head out and seemed surprised that Justin was out on the sidewalk.

I cannot imagine that "civic responsibility" about 6 ' distancing has somehow made it into the homeless community. I have to assume that is merely coincidence. Though it does seem to be curious timing.

As many times as I have met Justin (sort of "pictured", under the orange blanket), I have never known him to NOT be sharing an abode with Hillbilly. Usually he can be found inside Hillbilly's little shack, making the living quarters even more constrictive.

Today was the first time I have seen him out on the street in colder weather. Even Hillbilly popped his head out and seemed surprised that Justin was out on the sidewalk.

I cannot imagine that "civic responsibility" about 6 ' distancing has somehow made it into the homeless community. I have to assume that is merely coincidence. Though it does seem to be curious timing.

Essential Supplies

I'm always amazed by how high the stacks of pallets can go. I've seen higher, nobody I know on the street is THAT tall, and any ladder would have been recycled by now. So I wonder "How do they build these things so high?"

Certain things you probably can't answer on the internet. Maybe I should just ask.

He Talks to the Animals

Hillbilly had told me in the past that he had pigeons that he had basically "domesticated". Obviously, I know pigeons can be trained. But I had never seen it with "Free range" pigeons. Whenever I walk by in the morning, they always scurry, even before I have a chance to shoo them away from the food.

Guess I was wrong. This pigeon only moved to take food (hardboiled egg) out of Hillbilly's hand. He was very happy to prove this to me. And getting him a print of these pictures will only make him happier.

Hand in Glove

These are the sobering reminders that strike me as much as anything. Not as obvious, but just as telling. The dead frozen pigeon under the tracks. The flag frozen in position. The glove that stands on its own.

It was a little warmer yesterday, so any snow or ice on the tracks melted, and all that condensation goes right down into the concrete walls. Cold snap last night turns those walls into a meat locker, a solid 20 degrees colder than outside. Blankets, gloves, hot chocolate can only do so much.

I can't imagine that I would last very long living on the streets. Maybe I just don't want to think about the reality that life doesn't always go according to plan.

90 Birthday Candles in One

Even though we "celebrated" last month (a card, a gift card, a pair of shoes, and a cupcake), today is officially Tommy's birthday. When I say "officially", that means officially THIS year. Next year it may change by a day or two, but it's always right around the same day. He is 90 today.

90 years old. Living on the street, and he is smiling more than I have in a while. As much as I think I have things in perspective, I am proven wrong time and time again.

(Most of) The Gang's All Here

When TC told me last week that Feb. 25th was Levita's birthday, I knew I couldn't let that one go. I've known her longer than just about anyone else on the street, and her and I have always had a "connection". She understands what I do and why I do it, and she has never balked when I have asked to take her picture.

I knew I was going to make a delivery this week anyway, so it was the perfect time to make it a little celebration. I wasn't surprised to see Squirrel (right) there, as he was there last time. But Lemont was also there. 4 adults in a 1 bedroom apartment. Vera and Levita have friends who still live mostly on the street, so when the weather gets to a certain low temperature, they open their doors.

After a round of "Happy Birthday to You" I had to leave. I left behind a full refrigerator and freezer and four "family members" having some birthday cake, but I left with a great memory.

Happy Hill-idays

Hillbilly was in one of the clearest, most positive and friendly mood I have EVER seen him today. I usually get along with him just fine, but today he was attentive and talkative, but willing to listen as well.

I brought him the Santa hat he requested last week. There was never a day where he was out wearing it, so I never asked if I could get a picture. But he was out today, and wearing it with pride. After I gave him breakfast (and lunch), I asked if I could get a picture. "Where do you want me? Over here? Where's the best light? I want to show this one to Sandro!"
Yes, Hillbilly has had his picture taken by Sandro Miller before. In the studio that is not too far from where Hillbilly resides. And this is not just a "tale", the picture is up on Sandro's website, a holiday reminder from a few years ago that we should not forget our military veterans.

Hillbilly has a LOT of tales to tell. And what I've found out is that quite a few of them are true. It really IS quite a life he has led.

Sleeping In Through Sunday Service Pt. 2

Tommy, 90 years old, and still on the street. At least he has enough "respect" where the younger guys let him have the mattress. Some of the other guys will sleep on chairs (wheeled and stationary) or on the ground.

Not a pretty picture. I know that, and it isn't meant to be. It's not a pretty life.

TC With the Assist

Only three people out this morning (at least in my little neck of the woods). As far as I'm concerned, that's three too many.

I was only out of my car for about 10 minutes, as TC was acting as the "runner" today. I would pack a breakfast, he would take it and run it across the street to Hillbilly. I would get the hot chocolate ready, he took it and delivered them to his friends.

I know how many look down upon the people that are in this situation. But I'll tell you, these guys (and women) are survivors. Where most people (myself included) would just crumble and give up, they are out, dealing with everything that is thrown their way. Say what you want, but there is certainly SOMETHING to admire about their resilience.

Can't Complain...

Yet I still do. As far as Chicago winters go, it's been a mild one. Nowhere near the amount of snow we usually see, and there are more 40 and 50 degree days than I can remember in the past. But we had some snow and a temperature drop this weekend, and it's almost like we've never had snow before. So I mutter under my breath and say "Why do I still live here?"
Then I drop off breakfast under the tracks. You can see Hillbilly's place (between the two pillars on the left. I've seen as many as three people in there at once, and I have a closet bigger than that in my apartment. That's when I say, "Note to self - stop complaining."


There was no "irony or absurdity" to this situation. Hector had nothing left but the clothes on him. I had nothing extra to give him except for breakfast, so he's going to have to go through another night unless he can scrounge something up today.

Roommate #1

I had the honor of helping Vera move into her apartment today. I really didn't do any moving, but I was able to come out and help her with bags of clothes, food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, etc... that I received from all my friends who donate to my "cause". It was a great feeling to see her and know that she is sleeping in a warm bed with a roof over her head. No need for a garbage can fire, and she doesn't have to go any further than her kitchen to get something to eat.

Vera and Levita are living together. I'm not sure HOW the arrangements were made, what Social Services programs are involved, but I also have not been involved in the "system" as so many people are who know more about it than me. And believe me, I am very grateful I know so little about it.

Waiting on a...

This will probably be a long rambling story that no one but me will read, but no matter, I need to write it anyway.

I don't see Tina that often. She is VERY random, and she sleeps in many different parks, shelters, tracks, etc... around this vicinity. But we know each other by name and by face, and she knows that if she needs something, she just needs to ask.

She told me that today was her birthday. I was waiting for the "Can I have $10" request that I have to guiltily deny. But instead, she asked me if I had ANY clothes that I could give her. A MacDonalds gift card. Anything like that. All I had was food and water, and hopefully that will keep her till Monday when I can bring more supplies.

Now the rant. As we were talking, some big beer gut scumbag drives up in his not very impressive Town Car, and impatiently motions for Tina as we are talking. He obviously couldn't wait for us to finish, because he drove off in a huff.

Dear Mr. Scumbag - I'm REALLY sorry I ruined your "Happy Ending" and the beginning of your weekend. Why don't you just go take care of business yourself, instead of having someone who has basically given up all hope and is just staying alive for one more fix, do it for you? Is that your only power trip in life, degrading someone further when you KNOW that they are that desperate? You, "sir", are truly a piece of shit.

I don't feel better as I write this. But I needed to say it, even if I'm the only one who reads it.

Behind the Wall of Sleep

The shelter that Levita and Vera are sleeping in is about the size of a twin mattress. The front of it is covered with a pallet and the top is a sheet of plywood. It is, in essence, sleeping in a cage. But I think that they feel better about being together, because they can watch out for each other.

I have a lot of things I want to say about these pictures, and at the risk of coming off as "preachy" or "holier than thou", I'll say it. I realize that these pictures aren't going to get a lot of "favorites" or "likes", and they probably shouldn't.

Yes, I put the pictures in different Flickr groups, with the hopes of people seeing them. The point isn't to have someone randomly look at it and mindlessly click as favorite. I would much rather someone look at it, study it, and think about it. Hopefully remember it.
Think about it next time you pass a person in a cage. That's a person in that cage.Time for a nap. Off my soapbox for now.

Uphill Battle

I met with Gene and Fred yesterday, to bring some water and some hand warmers for the upcoming seasons. And every time I meet with them, I learn a little bit more about their relationship.

At first, I thought Fred was the "submissive" brother, and Gene (bearded, with wagon) was the more dominant. By dominant, I don't mean aggressive, just more in control and the "caretaker" of them both.

But as I watched them yesterday, I can see how Fred can be more assertive. As I asked him if he was going to help Gene with the wagon full of water, Fred said "Nope, he's gonna do it." He said it almost as a demand as opposed to a "matter of fact".

I stayed back. I am NOT going to involve myself in whatever roles they have in their relationship. It's not my place. This is a relationship that has built over decades, and it really doesn't matter WHAT I think, this is their lives, and they have to live them by their rules. I just try to help in any background way I can.

"Could I Get a Couple More Eggs, Please?"

A simple request from Vera this morning, and I obviously couldn't say no. I carry the food around for a reason, to give it to someone who needs it. and again today, Vera asked if I could take her picture. I'm sure part of it is she knows that taking the pictures are important to me. It seems that this is a classic case of "one hand washing the other".

Pancho Picasso

I hate to see good food go to waste, which is why I will usually take food from the studio to pass it out under the tracks. But that is also why I usually won't take apples. Oranges, bananas, watermelon, etc...? Sure, because you don't need a lot of teeth to eat those.

Apples, on the other hand, usually just end up as ammunition for the Hatfields and McCoys type war that goes on between Hillbilly and Tommy. Since Pancho sleeps on the same side as Hillbilly, I can safely assume these projectiles have probably been launched at Tommy by this point in the day.

(Old) School's Out for Summer

Today is one of those "98 degrees in the shade, IF you can find shade" kind of days in Chicago. So instead of walking around to take pictures, I wanted to make sure my street friends were doing ok. Cold bottles of water is the order of the day.

As I was dropping some off, Old School walked up to get some. Now, Old School's usual response when somebody tries to take his picture is "Man, get that camera the fuck away from me" (actual quote). So today I asked him if I could take his picture. He gave me the usual "next time" but I said "No. THIS is the perfect time." I even told him I would delete it if he didn't like it. I shoot, I show, he approves.

To me, this is like a wildlife photographer getting that elusive bird photograph that they think they will never get. I think that his level of trust for me has inched up a little today.
And I shouldn't even have to explain the title. So I won't.

Setting Sun

I promised Gene that I would get out to the ballpark today to get some pictures for him. Baseball season is pretty much over, so there are not too many more opportunities.I wasn't sure what to expect, but I wasn't prepared to feel as sympathetic and discouraged as I did. Gene certainly seemed to have a better attitude, but maybe he is just kind of used to it at this point.

He was, for the most part, ignored. Couples were making their way to the park, avoiding eye contact or any kind of acknowledgement that he was there. He was doing no more than trying to sell some flowers in decorated vases. Just trying to make an honest buck.

I get it. I'm sure if I didn't know him, I might react the same way. But I do know him, and I'm glad I do. I'm glad I know him just like I'm glad that I know my street friends by my work. I'm glad because I know they've helped me grow, and helped me be a better person.

I know one thing. I like the person I am now much more than the person I was before. And that feeling is reinforced daily.

What Could Have Been

I've known Levita for about 11 years now. I first met her when she was "Coco". To some people, she still is. But she told me her real name is Levita, so that's who she is to me.

When I first asked to take her picture, she told me that she had modeled. "Sure", I thought in my arrogance, "YOU were a model." But I can honestly see that potential. She has a natural way of being in front of the camera.

I look at the picture from 10 years ago, and I think it can be 10 years. It has to be at LEAST 30. And I'm saddened by what time, bad luck, and bad choices have done to her. I see so much potential that was tossed aside, some by her and some by fate.

It's days like to today that make me thankful that my life (far from perfect) turned out the way it did.

I Got a Name

Nicknames aren't given, they are earned. They happen organically. You can SAY "I'm going to call you such and such", but it won't stick unless it has some meaning.

Dropping off breakfast this morning, Vera was animated. "I need a couple of more eggs, please. And I need a pair of socks. And I need an extra cold bottle of water if you have one..."

"I need a, I need a, I need a. I'm going to start calling you Anita." And I did. As I drove away, I yelled, "I'll see you tomorrow, Anita." It generated a genuine laugh.

That name is going to stick.

The Other Side of the Pillow 

Vera has always come off as almost "child-like" to me. Not just because she is small in stature, but the way she interacts with me, and the little things about her. The obvious joy when I bring her some Hello Kitty sweatpants, or a Mickey Mouse T-Shirt. The way she will coyly ask if she could possibly get a couple of extra eggs. All the way down to the trashy romance novels and "Tiger Beat"-esque magazines I will find by her nightstand (an old popcorn tin).

I've got my thoughts an opinions about trying to recapture a youth that she, most likely, never had. Or maybe she did, and just imagining it is still like that is better than facing reality 24/7.

Scene of the Crime 

Breakfast this morning. I think it was Tommy, and I think he was just sleeping. I didn't touch him, so I can't be 100% sure. I assume the shower curtain is to keep the dust, the exhaust, and the light out. At least I hope that's what it's for.


Just another morning. The mood was noticeably more somber today, as the chill in the air is bringing reality a little closer, that Summer is over, and another Winter can't be too far behind.

Crumbling Infrastructure AKA Dwindling Support

As we are still in the early stages of this latest 365 (my third in 10 years), I thought back to the last one, and how using my work helped me through my divorce. It helped me work out a lot of my feelings, and it helped me to focus on something besides my emotions.
The people who live under the tracks are people I have grown to care about. It bothers me to know that some of them really have no way out of this existence. For sure, some of them do. But some of them are so far "gone", it's not a matter of "Get a job!" It's a matter of "WHO will hire YOU!?!"

On to the pressing matter, and not just from the standpoint of the people under the tracks. The pillars, the walls, and the supports under the tracks are crumbling. It's not getting better by itself. Hillbilly sees things falling apart on a daily basis, and anybody with a brain would realize it's not going to get better on its own.

Take the title of this photo how it was intended. Two titles because it has two meanings. Literal and figurative.

Homeward Bound

Tommy is 88 years old, and has been living on the streets for over 40 years. According to him (and he has no reason to lie to me), he has a son who is 68.

I don't know anything about the son, it's none of my business. If Tommy wants to talk about him, he knows I'll listen. I just figure that his son is, quite possibly, living in the same conditions as Tommy. I imagine that if his living conditions were appreciably better, Tommy would not be panhandling for change, dodging traffic, and risking an accident at 6 am in October.

Sleep to Dream

I dropped breakfast off for Vera this morning (muffins and orange juice - nothing fancy), and she was asleep when I arrived. I made sure I was quiet as I exited my car, as I didn't want to wake her. The muffins were in a bag, so I wasn't afraid of vermin getting it first. But I assumed that sleep is the only time in her life that she has a chance to relax and avoid the reality of life.

On the Other Hand...

I had not seen Vera, Red, or anyone else on Hoyne at all this week. I assumed that they had been arrested, or possibly worse.

I was happy to see some signs of life this morning. Conversely, it was a little disheartening to see Vera get so excited about someone showing up at 6 am to drop off a breakfast and some hand warmers.

As usual, Red and Vera were extremely grateful, respectful, and polite. They always show me the same respect I show them, and I appreciate that. I'm not sure I would be able to be so "civil" if I were living in their shoes.

Hide in Plain Sight

I had already spoken with Hillbilly on the street this morning, and I had promised him I would leave his breakfast at his "cubby hole". So I was a bit surprised as I put the food down and the blankets began to stir.

It was Connie. I hadn't seen Connie in a while, as Connie seems to fall into the category of "drifter". Unlike Hillbilly, James, and Tommy, Connie has no permanent place to stay. Every couple of weeks/months, Connie will show up for a day (or 2 or 4), and just as suddenly disappear.

One of the reasons I always like to keep extra breakfasts in my car. I would feel bad if I felt that I left someone to go without even more than they already are.

The Igloo

With the wind gusts we had last night and this morning, the tracks acted as a funnel, bringing the snow right in. Both sides of the street were covered in snow, including James' home (pictured), and all of Hillbilly's belongings and his bed. Hillbilly was wrapped in a snow-covered blanket, so I was glad I had brought a new one with me for him. James did not want to open his "door" any more than to get his breakfast and hot chocolate. Can't say I blame him.


As I drove up this morning, James sat bolt upright, with a wide-eyed look of mistrust on his face.

I had not met James before today, so he had no idea who this guy was, stopping his car under the tracks at 6 am. I assumed he was bracing for another verbal beatdown, someone to come along and tell him to get a job, or clean up his shit, or something else along those lines. "The usual".

Even as I said hello to Star, Hillbilly, and Tommy, he still looked unsure. I handed him a breakfast, he looked inside, but he didn't take anything out.

That's OK. I don't blame him for being wary. He probably realizes at this point he has no one to trust but himself.

And for the record, pictured is Vera's hand. I didn't think I should ask James to take his picture right off the bat. I'd prefer that he trust me instead.

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

I wonder what Tommy or Hillbilly think as they roll down the street on a cold morning, being largely ignored by the two-way traffic. I wonder if they ever look at that sign lording over them and think how their lives could have turned out, or does it just fall on blind eyes?

My 365

10 years ago, when our work group did our first 365 project, the concept seemed to be a little more "unique" than it is today. Maybe it was just perception and that it was new to me. Regardless, the concept seems a little cliche at this point.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy doing it. I like that it pushes me to shoot daily. It's too easy to get comfortable with not shooting. But it just SOUNDS a little more "trite".

The last time around, my work centered around my life, my personal life, my emotional struggles, and my mental health. It was about me searching for meaning, sanity, balance. I needed it, and it served its purpose.

This time around, it is also about my life. But it's not about my emotional struggles, or my mental health. It's more about my spiritual health, and trying to find a balance between "Wants" and "Needs" in my life. I realize that a lot of what I shoot are not the happiest things to look at, but it keeps me balanced and it helps me keep my own life in perspective.
After all, if I'm going to spend a year of my life doing something, I would hope that the year had an actual purpose, and was not just an exercise in shutter clicking. It's just how it needs to be. Everyone has their own reasons.

Could This Be the Last Time? I Hope So

I was glad I was there to say goodbye, because there was no one else to send her off. She has a friend who is taking her to the bus station (she showed me the ticket), but everyone else under the tracks was out on the street or sleeping. I hope that when she gets with family, she isn't alone, and she gets the support system that she so desperately needs.

She's tried this before, but it wasn't successful. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it actually works out for her this time, and she can finally get her life on track. I hope that, if I see her again, it isn't for an extended period of time. Fingers crossed.

Vera told me yesterday that she was going to try going home again, this time to her mother's in Tennessee. So I packed her a bag, and dropped it off this morning with breakfast.


As much as the people who live under the tracks are considered "homeless", the space under the tracks is, in essence, "home".

More often then not, home gets treated like a teenagers bedroom...clothes and food everywhere, with the attitude of "I'll keep my things the way I want it!"

But once in a while, things are left a little more organized, a little more home-y. Maybe it's just a buried memory that occasionally rises up and reminds them to tidy up.

Pray For Us

I assume he placed this at his curb. He may have done it just because it "looks cool", or it makes the street "more home-y". But maybe, subconsciously, he is hoping that he is sending a subtle message to anyone who might pass by and see it.

I found this this morning in front of Hillbilly's place. I know that Hillbilly is a spiritual man, although he doesn't appear to subscribe to any particular religion. When he is lucid, he can talk and debate on many topics, including religion. And believe me, he CAN hold his own in an intellectual debate (WHEN he is lucid).

Frustration Levels Rising

The title refers to my frustration.

Vera is on her own again. Boyne is a "guest of the state" for a bit. Maybe hours, maybe days, who knows. All I know is that she is on her own again. Everyone else under the tracks have found shelter elsewhere (another street), and I don't know if she has been told she isn't welcome. A "survival of the fittest" mentality.

I never thought things could get worse for someone in this situation. But at least she had someone to rely on before. Now, it seems even that is gone.

You Say It's Your Birthday

On Friday, as I dropped off breakfast, Tommy told me that today (Monday) was his birthday. His 89th, to be exact. Vera chimed in that her birthday was that day, Friday. I promised them I would have birthday cards for them on Monday.

Was it really their birthdays? I don't know. In all honesty, they may not even know exactly. But I DO know this. It took all of 2 Dollar Store birthday cards, a couple of MacDonalds gift certificates, and some recycled clothing to have the two of them singing around the fire this morning. And I actually got an "I love you" and a fist bump from Tommy. THAT does not happen every day.

(P.S. The "MacDonald's" is a reference to stand up comedian D.L. Hughley.)

People Come and People Go 

We happily got Vera on a train last night, on her way home to her family, and hopefully her new life. We had a good talk before her train pulled out, and she talked about how she will miss her friends, but not life on the street. The streets have become much too dangerous, and she worries about the people that she is leaving behind.

I'm sure there is a lot of apprehension about her future, as well. She knows that she is going to have to make a lot of adjustments, and it is going to be hard to leave behind her old "way of life". But she is very grateful for the chance.

I said to her last night, and I meant it with the nicest of intentions, "I honeslly hope I don't see you again. That would mean you are happy where you are." She knew what I meant.

A Friend Indeed

I'm glad to see that Vera and Boyne are together consistently. It feels like a very "brother/sister" relationship. Whenever I stop by, Vera will ask if I can leave an extra breakfast or a couple of shirts for Boyne, and vice-versa. I feel better knowing there is someone watching out for Vera.

It's the Thought That Counts

I drive to Wolcott where they stay. Nobody. Beds and everything are there, but no people. I figured "Damn, I missed them, I'll drop the other food off and come back around,"

No need to do that. Everyone, including Dwight, were over on Hoyne. So I got the food out, and then brought out the cake. I felt a little sheepish because I KNEW it was too small for 8 people. But they didn't care at all. We lit the candles (they did not stay lit - the wind blew them out), and 10 people (including myself) gathered around the table and sang "Happy Birthday" to Dwight.

Dwight's birthday was last week, so I thought it would be nice to let him have a little celebration with some of his friends. So I picked up a cake that I figured would be the perfect size for 3 people (Dwight, Calvin, and Squirrel), a birthday card (with a McDonalds gift card inside), and the usual Friday pizza and soda.

The smile on his face said everything to me. I wondered how long it had been since he had a birthday party, but I just kept that to myself. I got in my car, and rolled my windows down, enjoying the sounds of everyone yelling, laughing, and having a good time. Just like a good old family birthday party. Because they really are a family.

Hit the Shower

This photograph is not a great photograph. I know that. But it is important to me because of what it represents.

6 months ago, I promised Hillbilly that I would find a place that he would be able to shower. Transient hotels would not accept a man in a wheelchair, and he refused to go to a public pool or the YMCA. I assume he felt he gets stared at enough in his wheelchair.

For months I have been trying to figure out how to accommodate him and the other neighborhood homeless who don't have easy access to showers. So with the brainstorming power and suggestions from friends, we have a system in place.

A portable camping shower. A large container to hold 10 gallons of water. 2 5 gallon jugs to let the water "bake" in my car for a few hours. A couple of Dollar Tree shower curtains, and a few tungsten light stands. Portable street shower.

Dwight says he gets a hot shower maybe once a month. Today, he got a leisurely hot shower, soap, clean towels, a bath mat to stand on, and clean clothes when he was finished. Hillbilly was able to bathe yesterday. When I told him he looked good, he responded, "I feel good."

Makes it all worth it.

Sorry for the long ass story.

Dwight, Wife, At Dinner

There is a community of homeless people in my work neighborhood. Once a week, I bring food. Pizza, water, cookies, snacks, fruit, etc... I don't do it so people say "What a nice guy". I do it because it reminds me of a lot of things. To be grateful for what I have, to be respectful of those around me, to treat people like I would want to be treated if the tables were turned.

I can't believe that Dwight and his wife (pictured) CHOOSE to live, eat. sleep where they do. Whether it is addiction, mental illness, just bad luck, whatever, this is what they deal with on a daily basis.

They are very grateful whenever I bring food to them. They are always very respectful to me, as I am to them. I feel a little guilty as I drive away.

The Real Chicago

Tony asked me today why I took all these pictures, what I did with them.

Me: "Nothing really. I just like getting out because I love this neighborhood. To me, this is the real Chicago."

Tony: "Everybody wants to be down there." (He points to downtown) "They think that's Chicago, that's where they're supposed to be. But here, it's work hard, play fair, and have a good day. That's all you can ask for."

Pearls of wisdom.

Oblivious to the Noise of the World Around Him 

Wheelchair Tommy (aka Old Man) was not around yesterday when I was dropping off toiletries and clothes for the guys under the tracks. I passed stuff out to Tony, Willie, Old School, and Hillbilly, but Tommy, surprisingly, was nowhere to be found. I honestly did not think he left his couch. I told Tony to tell him I would come back today.

Back I went at lunch. The city is doing a lot of construction in our neighborhood, tearing up the streets and the water pipes all around. There was a ton of construction noise right outside the tracks on Oakley, but it didn't seem to faze Tommy. He did not move until I woke him to ask him if he needed clothes. He did. I did not realize all he had was the lone pair of pants he was wearing.

As I was leaving, he asked why I didn't bring a pizza. I replied that I thought the clothes would be enough. He said he would give up the clothes for some food. I had no money on me, so I told him I was sorry but there was nothing I could do.

As I drove away, I thought about how ungrateful that was. Then I put myself in his shoes for a minute and my perspective changed. How often do they get the opportunity to actually ask for something? I'm sure they aren't thinking "Don't be greedy." They are thinking, "It doesn't hurt to ask." I guess I can't blame them.

Trophy Room

Dwight seems to really take care of his "room". He has partitioned it off with windows and makeshift doors. And, much in the same way that someone might mount a hunting trophy on their walls, Dwight has HIS trophy. I'm not sure if it has some nostalgic value, or just something that he thought looked unique. Maybe I will ask tomorrow.

Hide in Plain Sight

It was an absolutely gorgeous sunny day today, unseasonably warm. A perfect day for walking around. But Tony and Levita prefer to keep their distance from most people.

I spent my lunch time talking to them both. I talked to Levita about her growing up and going to school. I talked to Tony about my photography, and he asked if it would be possible to get a copy of the pictures I took of both him and Levita.

They both seem to understand that they live on the fringe of society, and for the most part, people act as if they aren't even there. This is why they keep their distance from people, because they understand how people would react.

They have never asked me for a penny, but I have offered them a couple of dollars. They have gratefully accepted. I do it partly because of my own guilt about what I have in life. It's not much, but it is so much more than some others do.

Another Lost Pair

I wish I had a pair of XXL gloves to bring to Tony every day, but the truth is I don't. Whether the gloves get stolen, lost, traded, or sold, is not my concern. But the fact that nobody should be without a basic necessity is a concern. It's pretty easy to lose a digit in these weather conditions. I've seen it happen to Hollywood, and it wouldn't surprise me to see it again.

The Prisoner

No Hillbilly this morning, just a lone wheelchair chained to the L pillar. I know he has a second chair, so I figure he is just out rolling down Western Avenue. But I always have that thought in the back of my mind that there is the possibility that something bad has happened.

"I Can't Do This Anymore"

Vera spent the weekend sleeping on the concrete. The city did a clean up on Friday, taking her bed, her blankets, and whatever clothes she didn't have on her back. I had a comforter with me on Friday, so that became her bed.

I showed up this morning with a makeshift "mattress" (bed support foam) and pillows in tow. I found Vera by the fire - cold, tired, and crying. I gave her some food and talked with her.

She realizes that she HAS to get off the streets. She has family in Tennessee that she hasn't seen in years, and is going to try to get in touch with them. I told her I am going to be stopping by twice a day to "monitor her progress", and provide her with any support I can in the meantime.

People on the street have issues. Some emotional, some mental, some chemical. I don't think anyone dreamed that one day, they too could be sleeping on the street.

No Name

The man has a name, his name is Hillbilly. Of course, he has a real name, but he would prefer not to share it."The shot is titled "No Name" because words escaped me as I looked at it. I couldn't think of what to name it without it sounding pretentiously poignant.

He might as well have no name. As far as society is concerned, he doesn't exist. He is basically left on the side of the road with the rest of the "trash", to eventually be swept up and tossed away. Then again, I guess he already has been tossed away.


Winter has not "officially" begun, but it's hard to tell from the weather. And it's only going to get rougher.

It is 20 degrees outside. The tracks will keep out the snow, but the concrete holds in the cold, making it feel at least 10 degrees colder. The wind funnels through the underpass, so if it's going the "wrong" way, it cuts through you. And the bright lights can't really help when it comes to sleeping. I assume that when exhaustion kicks in, one can sleep through anything.

The Slow Walk

As I was leaving, Old School showed up. I honestly have never seen him more despondent. He always seemed to have a very street savvy "I don't have time for your shit" attitude. Very straightforward, no room for mis-interpretation.

Today he was visibly depressed. He told me that he doesn't know who started the fire, but it was burned last night. I assume he is thinking that his is next.

Old School has always had a lot of self-pride, even with the situation he is in. I have often offered him a couple of bucks or to take him to lunch. He always refused, saying he was ok, that he had had a good day, whether it be pallets, steel, aluminum, etc… He was always too proud to take a "handout".

I offered again today. He almost sheepishly asked if he could possibly get a few bucks to get something to eat. I handed him a few dollars and wished him luck. I did not ask if I could take his picture because that just didn't seem so important at the moment.


The "shelter" can't be any longer than 8 feet. A comforter, folded over a 1"x4". Dirty and wet from the melting slush and snow, so the chill doesn't provide much comfort. Still, 3 people found a way to fit inside.

Carl was not able to fit inside. He was left on the outside looking in, probably hoping that someone would have to go out for some reason. That did not happen in the time I was there.

I felt VERY guilty as I drove away with the heat in my car blasting.

This is Called Home

I attempted to drop some warm weather gear off for Levita today (coat, hat, gloves). On my way in, I felt guilty about going in to work first before getting it to her.

I don't know how many times I have walked under these tracks, in all kinds of weather conditions. For some reason, it has never felt this cold. Not only the temperature, but the whole feeling. Empty, cold, dark, lonely. I thought "Someone lives here." Surrounded by icicles that are up to 3 feet in length, protected by a cardboard box and a few blankets.

These are the times that make me wonder. What has to happen in a persons life that leads to a life like this? How can someone find the strength to wake up, day after day, with this to look forward to? I can talk to people, I can try to help out in any small way I can, but I selfishly hope that I am never able to answer those questions.

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