Anthony & Michelle

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Anthony and Michelle started their relationship four years ago on the streets of Sacramento. Together, they have helped each other overcome a drug addiction and agonizing ongoing circumstances.

At the age of four, Michelle was severely burned in a house fire started by her cousin who was playing with matches. She was burned over 80% of her body and was in a coma for a week due to the smoke inhalation she sustained in the house fire. A doctor told her parents she would never walk again.

“I heard the doctors say to my mother, ‘Your daughter will never be able to walk again.’” Michelle contemplatively reflects and continues, “That’s when God said to me: “Get up!’ So, I got up, grabbed my IV and walked over to my father.”

Slowly, over the years, Michelle, a college educated mother of two, was forced into a wheelchair due to the lifelong injuries she sustained from the house fire and other serious medical problems she battles daily.

Anthony and Michelle had been living together in a tent but their tent was recently burned down. Michelle points to racism, “…because after the tent was burned, one of my hooded sweatshirts had rope with a noose around the neck of it and it was set on top of the burned debris.”

“There are a lot of racist people out there but we all bleed the same color,” Michelle says softly.

“Everything was gone,” Anthony explains. He told Michelle on the day their tent burned down, “We can’t worry about it because, it’s just material things, and we [just need to] pick it up and keep going.”

A survivor of many thefts, Anthony explains that people continually steal Michelle’s wheelchair. It’s been stolen seven times. Anthony explained that thieves have taken her wheelchair to the recycle center and try to recycle it for cash.

A few months ago, Anthony proposed to Michelle in “the garden,” a place that is special to both of them.  They plan on getting married but disagree on the timing of their wedding. Anthony wants to get a job, find a place to live and provide nice things for Michelle.  He envisions them leaving the streets when they are married.

Anthony’s social security card has been stolen many times and was stolen again recently. He is in the process of getting another card so he can start work at a restaurant and reach his goals before they marry.

Michelle pulls the Safe Grounds schedule from her purse, and unfolds the paper to see where they need to find shelter later in the evening. Safe Grounds is an outdoor site where homeless can camp legally. Anthony and Michelle bounce between Safe Grounds and Winter Sanctuary, a seasonal emergency shelter program sponsored by the County of Sacramento through the Department of Human Assistance.

Based on all her ongoing medical conditions, a doctor recently told Michelle she had seven months to live. Michelle reflects on this and conveys thoughtfully, “Only God can tell me when I’m going to die.”

Natalia Haas

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Natalia Haas is homeless and recovering from brain surgery. Natalia’s entire stay in the hospital was 4-5 days for brain surgery and recovery. With pain meds in hand, hundreds of stitches still fresh above her right eye, marking the spot where her brain tumor was removed, Natalia and her husband left the hospital and set out to find shelter. They located a “safe place” under a bridge which provides both a barrier from the elements and protection from others who might be tempted to steal her valuable painkiller medication.

Hospitals do not extend recovery for homeless patients like Natalia or transfer them to other respite or care facilities. More often than not, homeless patients are discharged to the street to recover from surgery, cancer treatment, and other serious health conditions.

Elden Davis

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Elden is homeless and battling lung cancer.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer at Sutter hospital, three months before this portrait was made. His fragile health blocked hospital staff from discharging him back onto the street. An unnamed organization, not affiliated with the hospital, stepped in to “help” Elden. Wearing large crucifixes and carrying Bibles, they approached Eldin while he lay medicated, groggy and recovering from treatments in his hospital bed. They proposed to help him with his medical care and housing. All Elden needed to do was sign their paperwork and instead of eventually going back to the street, he could leave the hospital and go straight into a warm room and a soft bed. They promised to provide him with meals and offered transportation to and from his doctor appointments and cancer treatments. Elden was relieved and extremely happy to have access this type of help. Using a clipboard to steady the paperwork, they passed Elden the clipboard and a pen. He signed every piece of paper they handed over to him.

Unfortunately, everything promised to Elden was a lie; manipulated trust powered by greed, a fiction of the most evil kind. Six weeks later Elden was homeless again. All his belongings had been stolen by the “people” who said they would help him. His wallet containing his ID was stolen too. They were able to gain access to his SSI payments and bank account through the paperwork Elden had signed. They began to drain his money and steal everything he had acquired over the year: 2 bikes, a cart, access to a storage unit and other necessities — Elden had essentially been robbed.

The Legal Clinic at Loaves & Fishes helped Elden get some of his money back, though he still experiences homelessness.

As I talk to Elden, he points east across the room to a small bindle nestled between the bookshelves in the library, “There’s my house, that rolling suitcase, that’s my world, or whats left of it.”

“What do you have in there that’s most precious to you?” I ask.

“My sleeping bag and the mat I lay on and of course my paperwork, a couple books and pictures — I lost everything. I mean it was total chaos because I have this cancer thing going on which is making me feel so sick and disoriented.

A few weeks ago I saw Elden and I waved to him. He put his hand up as he rounded the corner, entering the rain-soaked parking lot. Small gloomy pools of water dotted the pavement. Their watery darkness reflects back the unbreakable youth within this man. His newly acquired bike, cart, and rolling suitcase all move slow and steady to win a race that has yet to be won.

Please donate to Loaves & Fishes and help guests like Elden.

Mark Ryan

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Mark Ryan arrived in Sacramento in the 1980’s and worked as an accounts receivable bank auditor for 14 years. He is 56 years old, college educated with a degree in business, and loves studying languages. He has been homeless on and off since 1999. 

Mark has an uncanny ability to recall an incredible amount of factual information.  Of his interest in languages, Mark says, “I like Spanish and German but we are lucky we speak English because English has twice as many words, and out of 67 possible sounds, English has 44, so we are hard wired for those 44 sounds.”

Sam

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Homeless for almost 3 years, Sam hasn’t had an hourly paying job since 2009.

As we talk, Sam scans the room, puts his video poker game into his vest pocket, and explains, “I’ve worked all the temp agencies here in Sacramento and I worked for 12 years and I never got fired once. Every job [I worked] in Sacramento ended because it was temporary or seasonal or [the company] went bankrupt.”

Sam uses Loaves & Fishes and Friendship Park as a safe place to get coffee, food, hang out and sleep during the day. He works or stays up at nights and as Sam puts it, “I sleep in the day [and I’m awake at night]. You couldn’t sleep at night because there is always someone bugging you. On the weekends I go to Cesar Chavez park–it’s a pretty safe place.”

Father’s Day Portrait Revisited

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Six months ago, I photographed Andrea and many other men for Father’s Day at Loaves & Fishes but he never saw his portrait. Little did I know during that Father’s Day photo session that Andrea and I would meet up again. His big laugh and smile and humor are infectious. “Hey, do you have the photo of me from Father’s Day?” Andrea asked as he sat down on the worn wooden library chair under the broad light of our makeshift studio. “Yes, I have the photo.” I pulled out my phone and found the photo, “Here, take a look.”

Although Andrea’s photo was on the Loaves & Fishes website, many homeless don’t have access to on-line resources. He hadn’t seen it posted.

“I look the same, that’s the Father’s Day photo, right? I didn’t have a haircut or a shave. That’s why I left my hat on, too, probably. Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up, and I’m trying to get home to Colorado. I’d love to give this photo to my kids.”

“I will get your photos for your kids.” I said as Andrea handed the phone back to me.

Andrea looked up and began reminiscing about his Denver childhood: “I graduated from East High school–I grew up in Park Hill. The big concrete gates to City Park–that was our backyard. Did I have a beautiful neighborhood and life? The golf course, the museum, the planetarium, the zoo, that was our backyard and I still have memories and dreams of that house. Those were beautiful times.”

Andrea and I talked about home, about Colorado. I’m from Colorado, too, and we shared a lot of the same feelings about our hometown. We talked about our small memories of Elitch Gardens, an amusement Park in Denver, and the giant wooden roller coaster that had been sheer terror and exhilaration to us as kids. Riding it was a rite of passage for young men.

“Downtown Denver is one of the most beautiful downtowns in the whole country and they moved Mr. Twister from Elitch Gardens [Mr. Twister is one of the biggest wooden roller coasters in the country] to downtown. It’s gonna be like Coney Island and Atlantic City and to me it’s on that level now. and Mr. Twister ‘aint no joke,” Andre said.

We found some common ground from our childhoods and of the experience growing up in the paradise of Denver, Colorado. It’s times like these when I find someone from this time and place from Denver that I miss my home. It makes me wonder what really makes a home. It makes me think of family and friends and the collective memories of everyone that has come and gone before me. From my time at Loaves & Fishes, I know this: family is where you find it and home can be carried in your heart.

Tim and Patty

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

Tim and Patty, a heartfelt couple who often finish each other’s sentences, spoke with me at the Loaves & Fishes library about their experiences living in Stockton, California as a homeless couple and how they came to relocate to Sacramento.

Patty began to tell me the story of how they lost many of their belongings. Caltrans, along with Stockton Police Department, did a massive clean-up in Stockton a few months back.  During the clean-up, Caltrans threw away tents, medications, and other valuable items. As Patty explained to me, certain items might not seem valuable to a person with a home, but to someone who is homeless, those items do have value and can be hard to get. Patty explained to me that this wasn’t the first “clean-up” done by Caltrans and Stockton PD and won’t be their last. As Patty speaks of their experience, Tim speaks up, “One time I was going through the alley with all my stuff on my cart in the Slough where we stayed and Caltrans wouldn’t let me out of the Slough and they said the only way I could get out of the Slough was to leave all my stuff behind.  All my belongings: 2 bikes, my cart, the dog food for our dog (a 160 pound Rottweiler) and they wouldn’t let us walk out of there.  Everyone’s stuff was just piled high.”

After this Caltrans event, Tim and Patty left Stockton and the Slough and moved up to Sacramento to live near the River, and to help out one of their children while waiting for their SSI and GA to start. Tim and Patty have extremely unique and creative ideas about how to help homeless people and their community. Patty has talked to city council, the Sacramento mayor and has spoken in other venues to try and get their message heard.

Patty looks up from the brown Formica library table where we are talking and looks me in the eye, “Most of the people out there are like us. Waiting for our SSI and certain things to happen. One minute you are way up here (she raises her slender hand above her head and makes it dance), the next minute you are living paycheck to paycheck and the next minute you are living in a tent”. Tim breaks in, “We both come from good places. I use to own houses, buy houses and flip houses and she was a secretary since she graduated high school, a legal secretary, and now we are homeless living in a tent.”

Patty chimes in, “[This is currently] by choice because we won’t live with relatives, where we have certain rules, not at our age, and that’s our own thing but when people think of homeless they think of mental health patients and mental health [care] failed a long time ago. It’s just us out there.”

Tim kicks down, his work-worn hand tapping the table, “We help out the community more than anything because if it wasn’t for us, a lot of the cans and a lot of the bottles and a lot of the other materials that people who do have homes throw out as waste.”  He’s speaking about garbage that gets tossed out on a daily basis from residential homes.  “They [people who do have homes] worry about a lot of us going through their garbage but we are going through their garbage because we know what’s in there that could be recycled and it’s not just always cans. There’s lighters, toilet paper, there are so many different things that we can recycle as a homeless person.”

Tim goes on to talk about the importance of trust, “We want more of the community to have more trust with the homeless. If they come up and ask for a job, or if they ask you ‘can I get a peach off your tree?’ or ‘can I do some yard work for you?’ at least they are not trying to take it from you. They are trying to earn it.”

Patty’s and Tim’s ideas are innovative.  “We want to start a temporary employment service that hire homeless to small business and in-home care.”  Patty is speaking of tent-care when she speaks of in-home care. She presented her ideas to a local small business association.  “The small business association loved the idea and there is so much potential [for homeless workers] to make money and to make a difference in the homeless community. There are many people who need in-home care right here in their tent and they still get SSI and why not get a [qualified and able] homeless person? This way you could pair up disabled people with health care workers, because we we’re doing it already out there, and we had a circle that we kept, very tight knit, with people who are compatible. Hey, you are homeless, and you are homeless and now we are both out here homeless [so let’s help out our homeless community].”

Patty goes on to say, “Some of them die because they need in-home care and people out here who are already homeless are out here doing it and they are not getting paid for it.”  The reality is that if they were in a home, they would be paid.  “Small businesses were asking what would work.”

Patty’s hopeful in her ideas, “Teaching people how to work in employment with skills they already know how to do, getting a contractor to let another person work under them that did it themselves before so they can get back to work. When you go back to work again, there’s nothing like making your own money when someone hands it to you, a paycheck, it gives you self-worth.  [It adds] a value to your life and you feel good and that will put you back up on top. Just that feeling alone will give you the confidence to be able to do anything.”

“I told Tim when we met one small success at a time and you’ll be able to achieve anything,” concludes Patty.

Leota Canady

Doug Winter, a professional photographer, comes to Loaves & Fishes once a month to take beautiful portraits of our guests. When he has time, he likes to interview the subjects of his photographs to capture the story behind their eyes.

His artwork and journalism will begin appearing on our blog once a week. Doug operates his own photography studio — you can check out his work here

I made Leota’s portrait in June 2017 at the Loaves & Fishes library. The key around her neck caught the light; the silver metal winked and touched my eye. Loeta’s key reminded me of the latchkey my Mom gave me that I, too, wore around my neck to get into our house after school when I was a little kid.

I asked her, “What does the key mean to you?”

Stamped into the worn metal key Leota wore was the word “Chosen.” “God has “Chosen” me and He has me here for a purpose. He has something planned for you, too, but we don’t know what that is. But He knows our every step”.

Leota looked down at the ground, scanning, searching for the words. She lifted her head back up, meeting my gaze, her brown eyes twinkling in the soft sunlight. “We don’t know when things will happen because it’s on His time. God’s will, not ours, be done. To walk and have faith in Him and know He’s got something planned? That’s what “Chosen” means to me.”