A Tale of Two Communities

“The greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.” Mother Teresa

This is a Thanksgiving story about two communities: Sacramento’s homeless community, what I call “Second City;” and, Loaves & Fishes, a sanctuary for homeless men, women, and children seeking survival services. Second City is where poverty, loneliness, fear and despair are found. Loaves & Fishes is where Sacramento’s homeless are welcomed and treated as wanted guests.

November 21, 2017. I am at Loaves & Fishes to shoot the Sacramento Blues Society Thanksgiving concert in Friendship Park. Vocalist Val Starr opens with “We’re here to take the blues away.” Today, more than 700 homeless Loaves & Fishes’ guests will be fed and entertained.

No doubt about it. Today is special. It is what Val Starr says it is, “you listen to the blues to get rid of the blues.” The images below evidence the magic of the blues cutting through “the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.” For me this is a fun time and a time to be thankful. I get to listen to great music and capture images of Loaves & Fishes staff, volunteers, musicians, and homeless guests enjoying themselves.

Veteran’s Day Salute

“In the aftermath, we are because they were”. R.J. Heller

Gale Filter, a volunteer at Loaves & Fishes is an air force veteran and a retired environmental prosecutor and educator. He believes that photography provides a powerful means to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and that in the eyes of many who experience homelessness, one finds the “homes of silent prayers” to quote Alfred Tennyson.  

November 10, 2017. I am at Loaves & Fishes to photograph and honor those veterans who served our country. I can’t help but think of those veterans who served honorably and have had a significant impact on my life.

To Glen, my high school football teammate. He served in Vietnam, and died of a drug overdose several years after he was discharged.

To my good friend Dan who I served with in Italy (1968-1970). Prior to his assignment in Italy Dan had served a tour in Vietnam and was in a communications trailer that was hit by a rocket. Dan was the only one who survived. He married Caroline, had two daughters and committed suicide in the early 1980s.

To Tommy (Army) and Malcolm (Marine) who were my Criminology and Political Science students at Joliet State Prison in the late 1970s. Both men were serving life sentences: Malcolm for killing a police officer during the anti-war demonstrations at the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968; and, Tommy for murdering another pimp.

To Robert, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran, who I prosecuted for killing his girlfriend. Robert is currently serving his time in a California prison.

To all of those homeless veterans who I regularly encounter as a Mercy Pedaler on Sacramento streets. You deserve better. There should be no homeless veterans.

To my good friends and photographer buddies Tom (Army) and Robert (Navy), who still stand tall and remain true coffee warriors.

To three generations of Filters (my dad, daughter and myself) who served in the Air Force. I did not learn that my father was awarded the Silver Star in WW II until after he died.

Thank you. I am because you were.

Gale Filter, USAF (1966-1970)

One City, One County, One Plan

Tuesday afternoon, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to use $44 million from their Mental Health Service Act funding over the next three year as a means to partner with the City of Sacramento in addressing homelessness. This partnership is a bold step forward.

Therefore, when we gathered with our fellow Sacramentans yesterday to participate in Hands Across I Street, the symbolic call to action transformed into a celebration of a new partnership. As hundreds of residents and elected officials lined the three blocks that connect the County Board of Supervisors building and City Hall, you could easily hear the chant: “One City, One County, One Plan!”

Gale, one of our volunteer photographers captured several images from the event, check them out below:

Dia de los Muertos

Gale Filter, a volunteer at Loaves & Fishes is an air force veteran and a retired environmental prosecutor and educator. He believes that photography provides a powerful means to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and that in the eyes of many who experience homelessness, one finds the “homes of silent prayers” to quote Alfred Tennyson.  

November 3, 2017.  I’m at Friendship Park to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

On Dia de los Muertos, Loaves & Fishes honors the homeless guests who have departed over the past year.  The community recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience.  The departed are a part of the community, present to share the celebration with their loved ones and friends.  At Loaves and Fishes Dia de los Muertos is a day not only of celebration, but also one of reflection, joy and spirituality.

My mind keeps wandering to “Truth” who died in 2017.  I shot these images of Truth at the old Friendship Park in 2016.  Truth loved his music and the day I shot these photos he was strumming his guitar, singing the blues on a warm peaceful day in the park.  As far as I’m concerned Truth was too young to be dead.

So this is a photo tribute to Truth and the homeless who departed in 2017.  Here are some other truths to think about:

In 2016, 79 homeless people died in Sacramento County.  This is a significant increase over the  32 homeless people who died in 2002.  For homeless men, the average age of death is 49.9 years; for women, it is 47.4 years.   That’s decades younger than the 78.8-year life span for Americans.

Below are my photos from Dia de los Muertos.  I believe the presence of the departed can be felt in some of these images.

Friendship Park’s Peace Day Celebration

The only true guardian of peace lies within: a sense of concern and responsibility for your own future and an altruistic concern for the well-being of others. 

Dalai Lama

World Peace Day-September 21, 2017.

I am at Loaves & Fishes to photograph the dedication of Friendship Park’s new Peace Pole. Peace Poles are recognized throughout the world as the most prominent international symbol and monument to peace. Peace Poles bear the message, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in all the languages of the world. It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 Peace Poles that have been dedicated in nearly every country on Earth.

Friendship Park is a safe haven for Sacramento’s homeless, a sanctuary where a little piece of peace can be found and shared. May you find some peace in these images.

731 K Street

Our volunteer photographer, Gale Filter, reflects on the history of homelessness along K St. 

The door above has memories for me. I see it nearly every week on my early morning K Street walks. From 1999 to 2007 it was the door I entered to start my work day at the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA).

I was usually the first person at work. Nearly every morning I would find the same homeless man, “Bill,” asleep in the employee entrance blocking the doorway. Most of the time I had to wake him and ask that he move so I could get inside. Bill would give me a gruff “good morning” and then move so I could enter the building. I in turn would give Bill some coffee money. For several years this was our morning routine. Then Bill disappeared and I never saw him again.

CDAA moved to a new location in 2007. The building at 731 K Street still stands but has been vacant for eight years. Whenever I walk K Street I often think of Bill, especially when I see other homeless people sleeping in what was once Bill’s place.

There are definitely more homeless on K Street today than there were in 1999. At the Sacramento Convention Center where I start my K Street walks there is statue with the inscription, “What have we wrought?” Good question.

The Decisive Moment

The “decisive moment” is a concept introduced by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of street photography. As Cartier-Bresson explains it the decisive moment “is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event is a proper expression.”

For me the image above captures the decisive moment of a homeless man in a wheel chair with his own decisive moment of determining whether it is safe to cross K Street in downtown Sacramento. Needless to say, the white “Safe-to-walk” sign above his head doesn’t apply. He is handicapped further by those red numbers that tick down the walking time that he has left to cross the street. Something so simple as crossing the street is an additional burden for the homeless man. And today, it will reach 105 degrees.

The decisive moment is fleeting, i.e., once you miss that half of a second to capture an image, it is gone forever. You can never recreate the same circumstances in terms of locations and people. Here are some of my recent decisive moment images.

Photos and text by Gale Filter

Friendship Park Breakfast Recipe

Each weekday at 7:00 am, coffee is served to the about 300 guests in Friendship Park.

Everyday, Friendship park powers through 60 gallons of Folgers coffee, 10 lbs of sugar and 10 lbs of powdered cream.

At 7:30 am, volunteers start serving breakfast to the guests.

Over the past year and a half, more than 40 different volunteer groups have come together to serve over 45,000 meals. The groups prepare bagged breakfasts before coming to Friendship park which often include oatmeal, sandwiches, fruit, bagels and breakfast rolls. Today about 270 hard boiled eggs were distributed in less than an hour.

It is a smooth and efficient operation thanks to the Loaves & Fishes staff who distribute breakfast tickets and keep the line moving. A special thanks to Elk Grove Resistance and Mercy Hospital Emergency Room volunteers who allowed me to shoot behind the lines. Great folks doing a great thing.

A volunteer’s Rhine River cruise inspires portraits of Europe’s homeless

Gale is Loaves & Fishes consummate photographer. He takes pictures of our guests and people experiencing homelessness throughout Sacramento. His photographs ask that we not look away from the crisis of homelessness perpetually unfolding in our city. Two weeks ago, he went on a Rhine River cruise with his wife and, while in port, photographed people experiencing homelessness in various European cities. The subjects featured in this blog post may speak different languages, but they all know the desperate feeling of what it is like to be without shelter. Below is Gale’s commentary on the photographs that he took and of course, pictorial glimpses into his journey:

I took the photo above a few weeks ago outside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg, France. I think the image captures what Mother Teresa observed about the homeless, “(T)he greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. . . (I)t is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.”

This May marks a year I have spent shooting images of the homeless at Loaves and Fishes and the streets of Sacramento.  No matter where my travels and camera take me, there is a constant theme that I find: the homeless are invisible—for the most part ignored and denied by the community they live in. Many are scared and scarred without resources to counter the misfortunes of living on the streets.

The following images were taken at the end of April in cities and towns along the Rhine River.

Gimme Shelter



“Gimme Shelter”

Oh, a storm is threatening

My very life today

If I don’t get some shelter

Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

         Rolling Stones (1969)

All that glitters is not gold.  Think about it.  We live in the Golden State, under the capitol’s golden dome and now have the new Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings. That’s a lot of gold, but for Sacramento’s “Second City” homeless there is no gold or for that matter little that glitters. The Second City homeless are the thousands of homeless men, women and children that have no permanent place to sleep.

If there is any doubt about the existence of the Second City homeless, all one has to do is take an early morning walk along the “Kay”, downtown’s K Street Mall, a stretch of seven blocks that runs from Sacramento’s Convention Center to the Downtown Plaza, home of the Golden 1 Center.

It is the morning after a heavy rain. I can’t help but notice all the new stores and businesses on the Kay.  There is a lot of construction going on, part of the urban plan for Sacramento’s revitalization.  This morning I also see many homeless in improvised, makeshift doorway shelters.  

A lot of money is being poured into the revitalization of downtown Sacramento and the Kay.  However, these images suggest that Sacramento’s Second City homeless is seeing little, if any, of the Capitol’s new capital.  Perhaps, some of that new money will trickle down to the Second City homeless, but the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” keeps playing in my head.