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Wednesday, January 25, 2017



Photo by Terry Rogers

The series of black and white photos, anonymous portraits, held my gaze because of their sensitivity and intimacy. The work of Dr. Terry Rogers of Shoreline, Washington, they reminded me of images seen in Life magazine or National Geographic. Expressive eyes of total strangers connected with mine. Their faces seem oddly familiar, because they could belong to co-workers, friends, family members, or neighbors. As fellow humans, they were not so different from me, except for one thing. Every one of them is homeless.

Many of us lucky enough to live in better circumstances, at least for now, quickly assume most homeless people are criminals, drug addicts, drunks, or mentally ill. Certainly some are (as are some people who live in houses). But negative stereotypes make life as as a homeless person even more difficult for all the other who are not. I think of the young married couple I met who spent all there money to come to Seattle for promised jobs that did not materialize. Consider the family that could not pay their rent, the mother with children escaping domestic violence, the teenager who ran away for good reason, the old man, the veteran whose life fell apart, the sick and disabled without help. Yet they are, for the most part, treated as invisible human beings. Many people avoid eye contact or cross the street rather than to have any conversation. Automatic condemnation helps to justify a lack of caring or assistance.

Photo by Terry Rogers

Rogers, a retired Seattle area specialist in pulmonary disease and critical care medicine, is a member of Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Shoreline, one of many Northwest churches effectively helping the homeless. When Saint Dunstan’s hosted a “tent city,” Rogers had the opportunity to meet some of the camp’s residents. I asked him to share his story of taking these photos and what the experience taught him.

Good Life Northwest: Please tell me about your church's efforts to help the homeless.

Rogers: This is about the third time we’ve hosted a tent city group. They usually come for about a three-month period of time. We have some undeveloped land to the east of the church on the property, so it works out pretty well for them to use this as a site.

Photo by Terry Rogers

GLN: You titled the collection of photos “United We Stand.” What does that name represent? 

Rogers: It’s the name of this group. They named themselves and present themselves this way. This is an organized group of people who have gotten together to be an entity. There are various kinds of homeless camps. There are the sort of ad hoc spontaneous ones that just develop, but then there are groups that actually get together and support each other and try to do things that help them get along and prevail.  

GLN: How many individuals are in this group, and have you hosted them before?

Rogers: I think we have about 30. It varies in number, but it’s between 30 and 35 people. This is the first time we have hosted this particular group. 

Photo by Terry Rogers
GLN: How did this opportunity to photograph the group members arise? 

Rogers: I was curious about wanting to do a project like this, so I approached the minister, the Rev. David Marshall, and asked if he thought it would be an appropriate thing to do. He said, “Yes. Just go down and talk with them.” So I did. 

They have sort of a central tent where they administer, or govern, their entity. I just went down and introduced myself, told them what I wanted to do. I wanted to know if anyone was interested in having a portrait taken. I would provide an 8½ x 11 copy for anyone who wanted that to occur.         

Photo by Terry Rogers
He [the group’s spokesman] said, “Sounds good. Let me bring you to our all-member meeting then.” They meet every Monday afternoon or evening. I’d left him my number and he called me on Tuesday and said, “We have some folks, so let’s do it.” 

There were probably five people that I took photos of initially. I printed them up and brought them back. Then a couple of days later, I got a call asking if I would come back and do some more. So that’s how it all transpired.

Photo by Terry Rogers
GLN: What comments did you receive from them, before, during, or after?

Rogers: Honestly, I haven’t heard too much. They were pleased. They’d say “Thank you.” It was good to hear that. I delivered them and basically that was it. 

I’ve only had some discussion with two or three of them who thanked me and said, “This is really good. I’m pleased to have it.” There was one couple, the black couple with their heads together, smiling…she actually used to model when she lived in the Los Angeles area. She wanted to have some more pictures taken, so I said “Sure. Let’s go ahead and do it.”

Photo by Terry Rogers
GLN: Have you heard some stories from these folks, about how they ended up homeless?

Rogers: When they came, I’d say “What part of the country are you from? What sort of work have you done? How’d you end up in Seattle?” That sort of thing. They come from various parts of the country — Tennessee, Kentucky, California, Montana, Minnesota—and they all have stories. “I used to do construction,” or “I’ve been injured.” One guy shattered his leg, and he lost his house. He had a couple of kids he hasn’t seen. The stories just go on and on. One guy owned a store that he lost because of the financial crisis. They all have their stories. Any of us could get into a situation like that. 

 Photo by Terry Rogers
The other thing our church does is sponsor a community dinner every Tuesday night and it has grown considerably. It’s open to anyone, actually, but a lot of people in the community, particularly the homeless and downtrodden, know about it. We feed 300 plus people every Tuesday night. Over the time that this has been going on now, we’ve served over 31,000 meals. It’s all done volunteer. It’s all done with food that’s obtained as day-old food or food that was going to be thrown out from Safeway. The protein (meat) does need to be purchased, but the money is donated.The link that we have is the guy who actually does the cooking. He’s a member of our church, and he works for Safeway. That’s what has kept this going as another part of the support for this population of people. 

Our pastor, David Marshall, wrote a guest editorial in the Seattle Times within the last three months. It basically says, we can solve hunger. If one tiny church in North Seattle can do this with the excess food from one Safeway, just think what could be done across the community.

[Note: According to the church’s website, Saint Dunstan's serves about 100 on the premises and deliver food to about 200 more in other camps. After our interview, Rogers sent an email with an example situation: "Tonight we served 117 dinners, with at least 200 more people being served at their tent gatherings. Out of pocket expenses for tonight’s meal were $275, so 300 people ate a great meal (and it was good) for less than a dollar per head. And lots of volunteer help."]

Photo by Terry Rogers

GLN: What is the reaction from people living in the neighborhood? Are any of them pitching in to help, or is it just the congregation?

Rogers: We get various people who help. Initially, the neighbors were a little wary of embracing this notion, but as it turns out, [neighborhood crime did not increase at all]. They police themselves very well. There are no drugs or alcohol allowed on the premises, which is their rule. They are very careful about being good citizens. They keep the place tidy and are proud of and responsible for their actions and for their community. I think our surrounding neighbors have accepted the fact that this is a good thing to do and it has not hurt them in any way. (Please read this article from the Seattle Times — "Homeless camp gets a bad rap from Ballardites")

Photo by Terry Rogers

GLN: Your photos are beautiful.

Rogers: Thank you. I enjoy doing it, to be able to connect and have someone trust you enough for them to show who they really are is very gratifying.

GLN: What did you take away from this? What was the most profound aspect of the experience?

Rogers: Everybody has a story. We all have stories. Some of our stories lead to things we have hoped for in the past, and some lead to things we had not hoped for. In spite of all that, every one of the people has pride. That sense of self-worth was pretty impressive for me. These are people who are our brothers and sisters, people, just like us. At the very least, respect them. And say hello. Reach out. They would enjoy it, and you will be rewarded by it.


1 comment:

Janet Runbeck said...

The writing is evocative and insightful. The photos are powerfully beautiful.
Thank you for bringing awareness to the plight of those among us, who could be any of us, except for fate.