Tag Archives: homelessness

Responsibly Photographing Our Homeless

When I took a photo of Michael, aka “Dreadlock Mike” a few years before he was murdered by a hit and run driver – I asked him for permission, because I knew how impactful his photo would be in my life. What I mean is not so much the photograph itself. It is the connectivity we have with each other in all our conditions as humans.

Michael, 2012 Fuzzytek Photography

Michael, 2012 Fuzzytek Photography

I’d seen Michael around the streets plenty over a decade or more, and he had come to recognize me as well. I had changed from being employed at Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan (roughly 1986 – 2004), to taking up being a freelance photographer, and subsequently from 2011 known more as a community activist. I was fascinated by a photographer’s exhibition at the Russell Industrial Center which contained a lot of photos of  Michael, this was after taking this single photo. I suppose my fascination was that I had a barrier to cross for a single photo, and I was encircled by many.

Not long after going into photography (2005) I saw the website Lightstalking.org and became engaged reading about photographers working in so many ways helped me immensely. There were war correspondents, fashion photographers, and so much more connecting through the site. It seemed many were traveling from place to place and connecting through the site for a temporary place to stay while on assignment. You might imagine the perks of coachsurfing to stay with another person sharing your passion and having equipment they might offer use of on the trip. Additionally you get localized during the stay and that can carry so much depth into the photos taken when you are familiar with the issues.

A photographer contact shared this post “Let’s Think a Little Deeper Before Photographing the Homeless” from the website Lightstalker.com. I admit to being tripped by the similar name for the blog and Lightstalking community website.

Lessons from Occupy Detroit

When I wrote the following blog post September 20, 2012 at Occupy This Blog I used the photograph of Michael above:

There are so many issues being faced by Detroit and it seems everyone wants to offer advice into the situation. It gets rather difficult to understand the stands around the issues until you look at the level of personal investment and capability of support had by those speaking and taking a stand.

Who Holds An Invested Interest?

  • City of Detroit residents
  • Workers in the city
  • Metropolitan are residents
  • Workers in metropolitan Detroit
  • Employers in the city
  • Employers in the metro area
  • People that formerly worked in Detroit or in the metro area
  • People considering coming to Detroit or the metro area
  • People who may invest in Detroit’s future in some manner
  • Curious bystanders – oddly this may be one of the largest populations if you follow comment posts made about Detroit that somehow seem to think it should be removed from the face of the planet
James Cole is a lawyer and activist

James Cole is a lawyer and civil rights fighter

I think that covers just about all the angles, and I’ll say that the weight of personal investment runs highest from the top of the list to the bottom. Those that are at the top of the list quite often have a tough time hearing solutions from people with what is perceived to be a lessor personal investment. That’s common in every community – those impacted directly are undeniably affected the most.

How To Occupy And Support?

Every position has the ability to learn through listening prior to (or while) proposing solutions to issues. Sometimes it will seem like a lot of venting going on with little solution. People just want to see change happen and positive results, be that in the removal of issues or growth of opportunities. Personal accounts can be valuable lessons to those whom haven’t had to deal with them.

Michael, 2012 Fuzzytek Photography

For example, today I was in a meeting regarding public transportation and we had several handicapped members attending. I mentioned that many of us don’t personally encounter the difficulty these people do daily until we “break a foot”, then we experience it for a brief spell and can go back to how we’ve known access. We have to consider with some handicap situations there is no “brief time” in the concerns raised. Things won’t just get better unless we do something that makes it better for us. In doing that for ourselves, are we then making it more difficult for others or improving for everyone?

Coming up with a least common denominator (LCD) solution is going to be the answer, however even that can be troubling or difficult to implement. Moderating a discussion to find that LCD can be difficult with a wide number of personal encounters and opinions. This is where consensus building enters and that is one area Occupy movements have championed worldwide. Everyone has a stake in creating a position and taking actions on it that unify. 

Can A Revolution Be Consented?

Jasahn Larosa from This Hood Of Ours

Jasahn Larosa from This Hood Of Ours

One of the concerns is that radical measures may be tough to get passed by consensus. We may be able to inspire a revolution, but personal risks and encounters can stand in the way of being in the active wave of revolution. It takes radical and passionate action that sometimes sees the consequences and is willing to accept that being revolutionary is dangerous. Those that see they can’t take the risks may choose to stand aside or offer support with limited involvement. All of these positions are helpful and needed for revolutionary action and should not be discounted. They are a reflection of personal investment in the situation and may end up changing the allies in your life as you mount an assault on society’s standards.

I’d like to ask people reading to support the world you’d like to see and be as active as you possibly can. You’ll meet people along the way, listen to new ideas, hear testimony, and hopefully be able to offer testimony yourself providing encouragement.


Becoming The Change Desired

I wrote the above two and a half years ago and the conditions at the time – Emergency Manager and Detroit Bankruptcy – have passed, but the impact of these hasn’t changed what intended above. I can say that I’ve been going through personal evolution myself and seeing the power of full and complete dialogue.

Living As a Peace Maker

The only way to get to complete dialogues is through healing and consciousness. We have to connect with the essence of human life in its individual experiences – being mindful that each of us has had encounters that shape the reality we are living. There’s going to be a lot of hurt and denial. Some dialogues bring up pain that we end up healing over and over. Even the notion of going through that path again leads to stress. We avoid confrontation with stress as much as we can. We bond with and circle our selves with those whom we’ve had the most healing and find unity of perspective with.

There’s a problem that happens when highly active people and their communities push back and deny confronting difficult dialogues in our lives. The potential for great work to be done starts to limit how it can occur. The willingness and conditions we place on making progress take on monumental proportions because community acceptance is integral to the respect we carry. This is why consciousness raising for communities is critical and the ability to continue to accept and respect outlying perspectives from community members as a path for evolution.

Consulting “the Elders”

Quite often acceptance has to be sought from elders in the community, those whom we honor with wisdom from their experience of perspectives changing through life and it’s encounters. Those with many encounters and great variations in perspective truly do carry wisdom and age can be inconsequential.

Community status is carried and the gateways for acceptance can be guarded by the elders. You can risk much when proving something outside what is accepted.


I’m going to leave “the chase down the rabbit hole” for another series of posts on consciousness. Bringing this post full circle back to responsibility as a photographer.

Overstepping The Triggers For Social Concern

There will be times that a photographer oversteps the boundaries which society finds comforting. Photographing the homeless, destitute, least privileged, our youth, our elders, the infirm, and those dying or dead – these are triggers for societal concerns. I can even say there are lifestyle choices that are hard to photograph.  Some will ask why didn’t the photographer move from observing to being involved. Finding consent sometimes isn’t just with the subject or society, it rests in the photographer’s psyche. As a photographer, my experience is that we carve out what we are comfortable with and how we work with that subject material. Our perceptions are also evolving and that may influence our comfort as well. Some photographs bring thoughts that trigger self-healing and the journey of life – they can raise our consciousness. This can also happen communally.

Detroit Bankruptcy and Blight Removal

Detroit Foreclosure Crisis – Blight Black Removal

Detroit was a  major target of fraudulent mortgages failing due diligence as reported by the Frontline special The Untouchables. The day after its release the Criminal Chief at the US Department of Justice, Lenny Breuer resigned. A portion of the show provided interviews with mortgage industry insiders who pushed through mortgages without complying with due diligence requirements. These whistle-blowers had all left their position once they saw the problem growing larger.

“When a case could be brought, we did. But when we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was criminal intent, then we have a constitutional duty not to bring those cases,” Breuer said. He added that when considering whether to bring a case, the department took into consideration the effect that such action may have on the broader economy. The statement drew a sharp rebuke from lawmakers, who said the interview raised “important questions about the Justice Department’s prosecutorial philosophy.” — WGBH, March 13, 2014

Targeted On: Detroit

Long-term homeowners in Detroit were targeted by the mortgage industry. Generational homes were put up as collateral for fresh funding which the industry inappropriately approved. Financially, these families couldn’t afford the payments on these loans and they were climbing a wall of debt sacrificing credit. The intent of most was maintaining and fixing up the house for many this wasn’t met due to the scam of inappropriate mortgages. Low interest ARMs (Adjustable Rate Mortgages) would be affordable the first few years then a balloon payment would hit and much higher interest rate. Were the consumers properly educated, but more importantly lending in good faith requires diligence by the lender! Financial vehicles such as this is how the mortgage industry delivered Detroit as “not investing in itself”.

This two part show from Breaking The Set, hosted by Abby Martin, is very insightful and leaves you wondering what the future will hold for Detroit.

Part 1 – Extinguishing the Homeless & Shutting Off Human Rights

Includes a visit to Detroit Tent City, and the Detroit Water Brigade.

Part 2 – Bankruptcy, Dictatorship & Foreclosed Futures

Includes an interview with Pastor David Bullock and a driving tour with discussion.

Up to One-Fifth (20%) of Detroit residents will be facing foreclosure notices in 2014-2015. [ source ]

Census data shows we have the highest concentration of black and African Americans in the US. 82.7% of residents are black or of African origin, 83.6% have lived in their home over one year, and income reported per capita is $14,861 (2012) – 38.1% are below poverty level. This compares with state-wide statistics of 14.2% black residents, 85.4% in home over one year, and $25,547 per capita income. The cause is described in the Hardest Hit Funds rationale produced through Detroit’s Emergency Manager. The paper from states:

IMG_0455-MOTION

What remains is to clean up around the targeted investment so that new growth in market-rate housing or new uses such as public green spaces, have an opportunity to flourish. The starting point for continuing to reinvigorate the market is the clearance of the decades-old signs of disinvestment in the area. This is the strongest way to solidify the investments made over the last two to five years and encourage newcomers and pent up demand to take the risk and become involved in the market.

Every worker in the demolition crew from Northville was white.

Every worker in the demolition crew from Northville was white.

The paper embraces demolition and lists neighborhoods to pursue, timelines, and specific companies to work with (many of which employ persons that don’t reside in Detroit).

Northville demolition company clearing houses on West Grand Blvd

Northville demolition company clearing houses on West Grand Blvd

Master of Treating Disinvestment

One has to note that banks led the way through predatory lending extracting money from Detroit. If Kevyn Orr, the Emergency Manager, is claiming DISINVESTMENT occurred – he is part of the problem as a financial lawyer from Jones Day that has plenty of history working as legal counsel with banking and investment clients responsible for the financial collapse which has swelled in the past decade.

Lets be perfectly clear
Blight Removal has another name
Black Removal

The majority of Hardest Hit Funds are allocated to demolition – blight removal. Stated reason is to improve the market. A market that very few of those being displaced fit within. What we have is homeOWNers turning into RENTers in their generational family homes with plenty of speculating investors (many are not in the USA) and property management companies now in control.

Homelessness and Genocide

The quest to invigorate the housing market of Detroit is placing profit over people, displacing thousands with no “Trail Of Tears” in sight. Detroit’s Black Removal is likely to be 2-3 times greater number of people affected than the Trail Of Tears in the mid-1800s (which was roughly 46,000). Some community members state this is genocide since the symptoms are present. 1)What is genocide? (GenocideWatch)  Stages of Genocide from GenocideWatch

A Future of Homelessness

Capitalistic lust for profit is driving people to homelessness. Capitalism is eating itself alive, the producers have changed from mankind to machines. Mankind is relegated to being a marketplace for consumers to generate corporate profit, yet the Market preys upon its consumers with credit/debt deals that push it farther into poverty.

Financial Assistance For Detroit

The following is excerpted from a recent article in the Detroit News, December 16, 2014. You’ll see the bulk of funds received are going toward demolition.

Detroit’s current allotment of $50 million is comprised of $47.4 million in second-round funding combined with $2.6 million in reserves from the more than $50 millionin first-round funding. The second-round aid will cover 3,300 demolitions, Detroit Land Bank Authority spokesman Craig Fahle said last month.

The city has spent $57 million this year on nearly 3,700 demolitions in targeted neighborhoods, Fahle said, adding the new money will allow the city to expand into more neighborhoods.

“Residents of Detroit have seen a major difference already with the first round of anti-blight funding,” Duggan said in a Tuesday statement. The additional money will help “improve the quality of life of thousands more Detroiters, right in the neighborhoods where they live.”

Another $420 million — saved by the city through its historic bankruptcy — also will be used to raze vacant houses and clear lots.

The city’s land bank is averaging 200 demolitions a week.

Detroit Grand Bargain signors

Detroit Grand Bargain signors

If urban leaders wanted a thriving economy they would invest in it by bringing up services needed for life: ensuring affordable adequate housing; clean water and energy; mobility for jobs through mass transit 24 hours a day; street lighting for safety (especially for bicyclists and those waiting for mass transit); health care and good food; education that is engaging and rewarding; and a mass transit system for mobility without stress.

The needs Detroit has are facing fierce opposition around the State of Michigan with political talk of “takers” and “entitlement” from legislators and influence from outside Detroit and the greater Detroit area. Detroit is treated like an underfoot problem requiring fixing from outside, no metamorphosis permitted.

References   [ + ]

1. What is genocide? (GenocideWatch)