Yesterday, Friday March 27, 2009, I went to visit the Tent City in Sacramento, CA. This community of people is very special because they were living quietly, unbothered for some time before being nationally publicized by the Oprah Winfrey show. Her visit launched a media circus of coverage that still lingers, at least two visits per day by “people” shy camera crews that make no effort to speak to the very people they are reporting. They come set-up on the far outskirts, film and leave. Because of the media hype, Sacramento’s reaction to this community is to have it moved. At the end of this month the camp is being relocated to the Cal Expo center.
Yesterday, I spent the whole day meeting a number of the city’s residents. Most were very friendly, and wanted to talk. I was invited to sit down, was fed, and was offered a tent if I needed one. I was hesitant at first to approach anyone here. They had literally been raped by the media, left with a bad taste in their mouths for journalists, were hesitant of anyone walking into the camp with a camera slung around their necks. I know how I like to approach any long term project, and even though I was so tempted to bring my camera out I left it in my backpack. I wanted to blend in. I wanted to get to people, establish a trust with them. To me this is the most important thing: Take the time to get to know who you are about to photograph. Talk to them, let them get to know you. Don’t be in such a rush to take photos. You’d be surprised what kind of doors are opened for you from exhibiting a little emotion and interest.
Back to how Oprah helped to destroy a community. While the camp was being nationally exposing, the city of Sacramento became very embarrassed at what was allowed to develop in their city. Many plans were discussed. The one that stuck was to relocate the whole tent city to the Cal Expo Center. Many residents of the camp hate this idea. It takes away their freedom. Being at Cal Expo sounds a lot like a relocation, or an internment camp, from how some of these people described it. I was told that there were some people there who would definitely benefit from being relocated. But a majority of these people will not stand for it, and will go back to living on the streets, parks, or along the banks of the river. One resident of the camp told me that this camp signified freedom, and home. Moving to the camp gave him an opportunity settle down without the fear of having to be constantly bumped from one location to the next.
Over 100 people have come to call this tent city home. Many people want to keep it clean, and sanitary. They can’t get port-a-johns there on their own. At one point, from what I was told, there a few. They were taken away. So why do these people have to be forced to live at a location, expo center, where they run the risk of being denied the same privacies that we in our own homes. What these people fear the most is being relocated to a place where they are heavily monitored, denied the comforts of home, doing their drugs, coming/going as they please.
One woman told me the problem is that no one knows what it is like to be homeless, except for the homeless. She told me that even though she knew my intentions were good for being there to tell the story of the city, I still had the ability to go home to a house, apartment condo.
This really struck a nerve in me. It was same way I felt about photographing Garrett and his family, Garrett: The Bondage of Bandages. I get to leave each time but they are stuck in their hell. The homeless situation is much different from having a life threatening disease. Or is it?
With that in mind I decided that only way to get to the heart of this and capture the true essence of this conundrum was to embed myself into this tent city, and become homeless for a few days. I have made my plans, am stripping myself down to the bare essentials, one camera, one lens, as many memory cards, and batteries as I can carry, my edirol for audio, and a field journal. I am going out there with the same as anyone else there did, nothing. One thing is for sure from what I saw yesterday, these people are like anyone else, they have feelings, problems, hopes, dreams, and nightmares. Yet, they still are proud, whether they chose to be there or are just trying to pick themselves back up.
Each day I will be updating my field journals here on the blog, from the camp. Please pass this blog on to anyone you might think would be interested this project. This is my first time embedding myself into a group. I am scared, excited, and wondering what am I about to find? In no way have I asked, “WHY am I doing this though.”