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.”

Tell Me A Story– Spyke and Craig

Spyke & Craig

I got out of prison in 2009 and I’ve been homeless ever since. I’ve been going through Guest House and they are helping me apply for social security and once I get my social security, I can try and get housing. But 99% of housing are apartments and apartments don’t allow large dogs. I have a large dog–half Pitbull and half American bull mastiff named Spyke. Most of the housing will not accept my dog. I tell them, “he’s not a dog, he’s a family member.” I’d like to rent a small house that has a little bit of a back yard. That way, he could have room to run so Spyke has a small yard.

One of the things I’ve had to overcome today is depression and at first I didn’t want to get up and come in. It’s cold out there and Spyke looked at me – “uh, I ain’t going out there, it’s cold out there, I’m staying right here under my blankets.” But I knew I had to come in for my social security paperwork and to get my phone on the charger. Librarian helps me out, and Lisa, she’s always gotta cheerful attitude and always brings me out of my depression. Mart is always there so we can put our dogs in the kennel and do what we need to do, get coffee, eat lunch, and the workers here are always helpful. They are always ready with a lending ear and if there is something troubling you, then you are more than welcome to get it off your chest as long as you don’t start getting violent.

Normally I get up when my alarm goes off at 6:30 am. I get up and hook Spyke up to the bike, come down here because they open the gate at 7 am, and the kennel opens up at 7am, so by the time I get down here it’s a little after 7. Sometimes I don’t get here until 8 o’clock. If it’s raining I stay at camp. [when it’s clear outside] On a day like this I’ll sign Spyke into the kennel, go over to [friendship] park, get my lunch ticket and my coffee but the coffee goes real quick. So, I’ve learned to have a small plastic jar filled with Folgers in my backpack, so if there’s no coffee I’ll use their hot water. Then I come over to the library, read the paper and do the puzzles, sign up for the computer, and after that I’ll walk Spyke and go to lunch. After lunch I’ll get Spyke and go do my [recycling] route and I’ll make it back to camp by 4:30 and get all my recycling separated and get it ready to turn in, I let it build up sometimes up to a week. If I know I need to go to the 99¢ store and get food and snacks I’ll go to the one on Northgate and cash in and then go right around the corner to the 99¢ store.

A friend of mine, Alissa, moved to Idaho last year and she could only take her 2 small dogs and she also had 3 large dogs. One she gave away, the second one she let him out onto the levee, and that left Spyke. She didn’t want to take him to the pound or let him loose on the river because the rangers out here have a “shoot on site” law. If they come into a camp and they see a Pitbull, their first action is to shoot the pitbull, whether it’s leashed or not because they’ve got it in their head that all pitbulls are bread to fight.

So, I said, “Hey I need a companion dog, I’ll take Spyke.” He was just about a year old, so I’ve had him for just about a year and a half. When I brought him into the clinic here he was just about 78 pounds. When I brought him back in August to get all his vaccinations updated, rabies shots updated they weighed him and he was 89.7 pounds and they said he still has 2 or 3, maybe 4 years left of growing to do so don’t be surprised when he tops out between 120 or 130 pounds, that’s the bull mastiff in him. I said, “Cool, we’ll be the same weight.”