Friday, April 3, 2009

Portraits of Tent City

As I'm sure anyone who reads a newspaper or watches the news in Northern Ca already knows, Sacramento's tent city recently made headlines across the nation and even in countries around the world. When I heard about it I immediately wanted to shoot there. So I one Monday morning I went to tent city for a couple hours and got a handful of shots. I had such a great experience that I went back the following Saturday and planned on staying the whole night. Things didn't work out, but I was still there for several hours. I met a lot of great people with fascinating stories and a few people whom I would not turn my back on.

Many of the residents at tent city were very open about how they ended up there and what it's like for them. Unlike the media would lead you to believe though, most of these people are not new to being homeless nor are they out there because of the economy. Sure, some are new, but most have been there for years. One man, Jeff(I had trouble getting last names from people) has been there for 15 years and every moment of those 15 years show in his face.

Enough with the reading. Now it's time for photos.

Jeff, a resident of Tent City who has been homeless for 15 years, calls over Groucho, one of four kittens he keeps as pets:

Luis is called by many the "Mayor of Tent City:"

William Hopkins sits with Rex, one of many dogs that call Tent City home:

Luis lives in a tent that closely resembles a bachelor's studio apartment. He has the luxuries of a twin-sized bed, a recliner, travel dvd player, a stereo, a propane stove, and even carpet:

Many residents of Tent City share food and drinks with each other that they receive from various churches and donation centers:

Michelle is nuzzled by her dog while she waits for a pan on the fire to heat up to cook lunch:

Two residents leave Tent City during the late morning:

In stark contrast to newer tents and newer residents, 15 years of homelessness can be seen in the face of Jeff and his tent, held together with strands of tape:

Daniel gets light from a friend for his hand-rolled cigarette:

Lady stands guard over the Mayor's house, a small community of several tents interconnected. When I knelt to take Lady's photo she was hunched over and growling at another dog. As soon as I started shooting she stopped barking and sat upright. This dog knows how to have a photo taken:

Michelle sharing her tent with her dog:

Horatio is one of the few first time homeless in Tent City. He came here from a 4-bedroom house in Meadowview:

Mary and Melody. Melody, left, is no longer homeless, but she often visits friends in Tent City and other homeless camps:

Mary holds up a pair of pants to Melody to check the size. Church groups often bring donations to the city:

A beer to end a long day in Tent City:

Drug use is not uncommon in Tent City. While she no longer buys drugs, Gayle still smokes marijuana. She is celebrating news that she will see and speak to her father for the first time in 13 years and she will hopefully have an apartment by the time he gets to California:

Melody does not live in Tent City, but she is homeless. She stays on nearby 12th Street:

Shooting this was eye opening. There was a wide range of people out there. From completely normal people that if you saw them in a store or talked to them you'd have no idea they were homeless to people were in a permanent state of left field. I hope you enjoyed the photos and I'd love some feedback on them.

Have a good one, folks.



  1. simply amazing pictures, your pictures capture so much. Nice Work!

  2. Thank you so much for this account. There is a tent city in Camden, across the river from Philly, my home. It is in a wooded area next to the main police station, so its inhabitants have a degree of security plus privacy. I have prowled around the perimeter but have not managed to enter it. Camden is a very violent, menacing city, and most Philadelphians would consider me foolish, if not insane, for going there fairly regularly, much less trying to enter its tent city to interview and photograph. (I'm not a journalist, though I've published articles on the web and in print.) Thanks again.

  3. Great work. Your pictures and text tel the story well!