A FEW PEOPLE IN THIS GALLERY ARE HOMELESS BY CHOICE – the kids, for instance, who ride the rails. Others are homeless because of temporary circumstances: an illness, a fight with their family, a job that went away. But most are homeless because they can't hold a job due to mental illness and “self-medication” with drink or drugs and they have the terrible job of holding themselves together when every form of external support has been taken away. Even if they qualify for the highest amount of welfare, SSI, ( approx $980 a month), it's not enough to survive in the cheapest room in the Bay Area. And welfare for mothers is worse. After Clinton's welfare-to-work program passed in l996, a mother with four children in California not gets a little less than $900 a month for a maximum of four years during her entire lifetime! A single mother gets around $340 a month and after four years she and her children are on their own. Forever. Felons coming out of jail or prison are banned from staying with family or friends who live in most kinds of low-income housing, so the risk of going back to prison often makes more sense than living alone on the street.
There are also some folks from Salinas California in this gallery who live in a small area called Chinatown where an experiment in tolerating drug-using was going on.
I rarely photograph people without asking for permission and if possible I return to give them a print. The ethics of photojournalism prevents me from giving my subjects money, even though I do give it to random homeless people on the streets.