Saying goodbye

Sometimes the hardest part of photographing the homeless is saying goodbye.


Some of my time spent with the homeless is happy. Sometimes it’s sad. But usually, it both.  Because I don’t just shoot and run. I spend time. I make a friend.

Then comes the tough part. Saying goodbye. Some ask me for a ride somewhere. And despite the unknowns and the distinct homeless smell, I have brought them where they need to go. Some ask me where I live. Some ask me for my phone number so they can stay in touch. I’ve found that about half do have cell phones. I asked one man this weekend how he pays for his phone. He said he shows up in the wee hours after the nightclub crowd has thinned and he cleans up the outside of the place. They throw him a few bucks and some food and he’s ok with that.

They charge their phones by filthy public bathrooms and sit policing it so no one takes it. Last week one man wanted to share the pictures he took on his cell phone with me and I couldn’t wait to see what he had captured…what he found important enough to document.  But his phone was dead. And wet. So he put it out to dry in the hot Miami sun hoping it would work again.

He asked me to come back to share his pictures with me. And I will. I hope his lifeline to the world works when I see him again. So it’s not goodbye. It’s just goodbye for now and it’s tough. ~Mike

Trust no one

They say that the best camera you will ever have is the one you have in your hand.

So I’m minding my own business getting gas on US1 in South Miami which is a rare event in itself when you drive a Prius. And then, I see him.

He said his name was Vanny. He wasn’t panhandling and he looked a little worse for the wear. Actually even worse than that. So I struck up a conversation with him and gave him a dollar. He had just gotten out of the hospital and told me he had been beaten pretty badly the day before but he said he’s used to it. I needed a moment to gather myself and digest that one.

I asked him if I could take some pictures and he said that he didn’t think he looked so great after the beating but as you can see he was fine with it. Actually he even hammed it up.

Then Vanny and I sat down and had a beer together. He told me he is a college graduate, he says he’s retired but wouldn’t say from what and is homeless.

He was so kind to let me take many, many pictures. But the one he liked most was the one of him making a “face like a shark”. He begged me to use that one if I used any of them so here it is.

It was quite the shoot here in South Miami today.

By the way, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Instagram. I find it to be one of the most enjoyable and engaging social networks. If you have an iPhone, give it a try. Or an iPad 2 will work and so will an iPod touch. The download is free. Android user? You’re out of luck for a while. I just read an article published yesterday that says that version is running behind.

Now I have to go share this on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and I’m probably forgetting about 10 others…

Happy shooting everyone.


Update on Homeless Woman and Service Dog

On July 11th I posted Apartment Needed for Homeless Woman and Service Dog.

Here’s what finally shook out for this poor woman as passed on by Mitch Koch, senior writer at Beber Silverstein & Partners here in Miami.


The social workers in the 555 building on Miami Beach, found Maria even before I called them. They offered her temporary housing at a shelter in Homestead, the only one in the state that accepts pets (in most cases, the homeless are forced to either abandon their pets or stay on the street—most choose to stay on the street rather than be separated).

She refused the shelter, because she’d have to be separated from her little, old dog, “Foxy,” during the night. Just the thought of her and her dog being apart, even overnight, brought tears to her eyes as the dog is the only family member who will have anything to do with her (she actually has a brother in Miami, whose wife is a psychiatrist and whose daughters are stars of the Miami ballet, but they don’t talk).

I found photos of the Homestead shelter and their kennel online, then printed them out so Maria could see what it’s like down there. I discovered the kennel was built thanks to the generosity of a wealthy donor who is an animal-lover and hated the idea of the homeless having to give up their pets in order to receive shelter. I told Maria this story, showed her the pictures and it seemed she warmed up to the idea. Just a little.

Sunday she called me to ask if I’d want a large, “beautiful” blanket she couldn’t lug around anymore. I told her I wouldn’t take it, but would store it temporarily. Sunday night it rained.

Monday morning another, much larger homeless woman went berserk, grabbed Maria’s hair and began smashing her head into the concrete wall in the park. She kicked her glasses down the sidewalk. A young guy in the area ran over and probably prevented her from being killed. The police came, put the attacker in jail, and asked Maria if she wanted to press charges. She said no.

When I saw her last night, she had a pavement burn on her arm and a bump on her head. Also, that large blanket was stolen. And it rained again.

This morning, the 555 workers (amazing people) were starting at the north end of the park and working their way down to Maria, who has been residing near 5th street. She finally agreed to let one of the workers, Katie, who has befriended her, take her to Homestead to at least check out the facility in person. I think she’ll finally take them up on the offer and get off the street. The heat, the humidity, the rain, the thieves and the bump on her head may have finally convinced her.

So hopefully, Maria is now in the system and out of the park. I’ll swing by tonight to check, but I don’t expect to see her and her dog living there anymore.

Guest Post: Apartment Needed for Homeless Woman and Service Dog

I received this in an interoffice email today.  It was sent to me by Mitch Koch, senior writer at Beber Silverstein & Partners here in Miami.

There is a 50-something-year-old woman with a small, old service dog living in the park near my building. They’ve been there for a couple of days now and are desperate to find a place to live. Her story goes something like this:

Once a receptionist. Once married. Once an expecting mom. Then a miscarriage. Then a divorce. Then an auto accident which forced her onto disability. Since then, she’s lived in efficiency apartments and cheap motels. Most recently, paying $500/month for a studio in Kendall. She lost that place about a month ago when the landlord needed it for friends. She was in a bad hotel after that. Now the park on South Beach, where she thought the parks would at least be safer.

I walked by the park Saturday night, pretty late, and there they were, her and her little dog, sitting all alone on a bench under a streetlight.

She hasn’t asked me for anything, except directions to the park and to a store where she could buy a two-wheeled, wire-framed luggage cart (all other belongings are in a large, plastic bag and that bag probably weighs more than she does). I just went and bought her the cart, and also gave her a little cash, but I’d really like to help her find a place to live. It would be tough for her to do, because on top of everything else, she left her phone in the cab when she came to the beach and so far the cab company hasn’t found it. Also, some guy (not me) recently befriended her, told her he found an apartment, just needed to provide the deposit, then took her $500 and was never seen again.

This woman and her sweet dog could really use a hand. Which is where you come in.

I’m looking for a clean apartment in a safe neighborhood. Some place that accepts service dogs (which most just call “pets” and refuse). Some place she can get for no more than $500 a month. Her disability check is just over $800 a month and direct deposited. She has this steady income and said she always pays her rent on time. When she has rent to pay.

Thanks for any leads you can provide.


P.S. I will gladly pass on any leads you can provide. ~Mike