"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

November 14, 2007

Let's Talk About Those Who Have No Homes

Over the week-end, Craig S. Carpenter was found dead behind the Liquors 44 store on King St in Northampton MA. The Gazette reported that he went to bed with only a thin blanket for protection from the freezing cold that night, and though the autopsy has not yet been completed, the police are surmising he died from exposure.

Yesterday, I visited the local areas here in the outlying areas of downtown Northampton where those who have no shelter make their homes, hidden in patches of woods around your neighborhood, against the highway, under the bridges, aside the tracks. I intended to speak with people who knew Craig, in an attempt to share a fuller picture of who Craig was, as all we got from our local paper who covered his death was a reciting of his criminal record.

I am now unsure if I want to publish the information I collected on video with people who spoke about Craig. I don't know if it would be the right thing to do, as I have reservations about publicly publishing video discussing the life and death of a man who recently passed away under such heartbreaking circumstance. A man who might be faceless to some, but a man whom I learned today has a father and a son, a family, and other friends he no doubt left behind while living on the streets. A man whom at one time had a full time job and his own home.

Thoughts floated in my head about how I would feel if I saw video online from a complete stranger, video which purported to be offering a more complete picture of a member of my own family. A member of my family who had just passed away while living on the streets, suffering from alcoholism, freezing to death.

I did not know Craig, do not know his son nor his father. I have never spoken to his girlfriend. How appropriate would it be to post video with friends he knew on the streets, talking about Craig however lovingly, without having made an attempt to speak to his own family? If attempting to draw a more human face on Craig is my goal, should I be reaching out to his family instead? Further, who am I to assume his family has any interest in seeing Craig's life discussed in public, online, either by themselves or by individuals who may or may not have really been friends of his?

At this time, I am unable to reach a consensus within myself on the value or purpose behind publishing the videos, and will not until...until...until what? Until I feel comfortable with doing so? Until I see value in doing so? Until I see purpose? I, I, I. In considering everyone affected by doing so, I am not sure that will ever happen.

In the meantime, I do want to share some things that I do see value in, in material that I do believe is important, and material I collected from people who were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

While out and about in the hidden areas of downtown Northampton that house the men and woman without any homes who are commonly seen on the streets of Main St., I documented what I saw, took many photographs, and recorded video with one man in particular, who agreed to talk on camera. These photographs and video are not about Craig, but about the larger issue of people who live in Northampton who have no home, no shelter.

I will be posting one of these videos later today. I do believe you should watch it. Just as I saw and heard upon hearing the man tell his story to me on camera, I imagine those who watch the video will see a surprising picture. A picture of homelessness that does not fit with common stereotypes or ideas one has about who is without shelter, and why. The man I spoke with is not a familiar face on the streets of Main St., is not addicted to drugs or alcohol, is white and middle aged, and has a job.

I happened upon this certain gentleman while traipsing through the woods, and introduced myself, and explained to him why I was here visiting his home which consisted of a tent, a fire pit, and a chair or two.

He explained to me that this is not where he lives. "I am here looking a friend who I know lives here, I am leaving him a note to let him know where I will be. I don't live here, I used to live on Phillips Place, but the landlord through me out on Friday for not paying my rent. I only missed one month. I lived there for two years. I work at Big-Y, and he threw me out and changed the locks. He threw all my belongings on the front yard. I don't know what I am going to do. I am so stressed out. It's hard to work like this. So much stress. I'm scared."

LABELS: downtown, williams st. neighborhood, real estate, public space, citizen journalism