by Marilyn Gore
Professional photographer Todd Parker got to personally know many of the parishioners of Lord of the Streets, a Sunday morning service and ministry for unhoused Houstonians at Trinity Episcopal Church, while doing volunteer work there. "When I would ask them for ID or other information, they would all reach into their bags and pull items out," he recalls. "The same items that you and I have are the same items the homeless have – cellphones and chargers, clocks, calendars, paperwork, personal care items. I wanted to show this through photos. I wanted to photograph the specific items from their bags in a unique way.
"As I continued to plan the shoot and the exhibition (at FotoFest 2016), I realized that what I was actually documenting was the ever-so-slight delta between the homeless and those who have homes," he explains. "Through my recent personal life experiences, I realized that the veil between life and death is thin. It is odd to feel so close to something that can't be proven or seen. I now believe the veil between the homeless and those who have homes is just as thin."
It occurred to him that people would benefit from associating the "bagged essentials" in his exhibition photographs with their owners. "Through my volunteer work at Lord of the Streets, I have galvanized my goal of depicting the homeless in a positive light," Parker continues. "Tons of people have photographed the homeless at their desperate worst - sitting on a curb looking forlorn, rummaging through garbage cans, or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. I want to depict our residentially-challenged neighbors at their optimistic best. Giving them a few moments of pride during the shoot while showing their treasures was a bonus for me. I also photographed headshots of each of the subjects and I ensured that we were all happy and 'present' at the time of our photo shoot. The smiles are totally natural and add to the warmth of the exhibit."
To commemorate World Homeless Month, St. John the Divine's Director of Go Ministries, Tany James, assembled a display in Sumners Hall that includes Parker's photos of Houston's unhoused along with some of their possessions and comments that were exhibited at FotoFest and several additional photos taken by Tany.
Once a month, SJD volunteers cook and serve breakfast for unhoused parishioners who attend the Lord of the Streets service at Trinity. Tany took five additional photos of parishioners she met there to include in the SJD installation. She asked the subjects of her photos to answer a few questions about themselves and anything else they would like to share. Many of these comments are displayed along with the photos.
"Their faith in God and positive and hopeful outlook are inspiring," Tany shared. "I wanted to do the photo exhibit to honor the homeless on World Homeless Weekend — to humanize them and to help the audience understand that these folks are not so different from you and me. In fact, most of them I have met were just like us at some point.
"As a volunteer, working with the homeless is probably the most rewarding work I have done in a long history of volunteer experiences. The homeless smile because I smile, and are always grateful because I am more than grateful for the blessing of serving them. These are the very people Jesus came to serve, so it is a privilege and a joy to be able to provide HOPE, comfort, acknowledgment, and dignity to those who feel unseen.
"Not one time have I met a homeless person who wants to be homeless, out of work, sick, hungry, cold/hot, or tired. For me, when I serve, I take away so very much more from them than I give them. I can take that moment in time to get out of myself, walk in Jesus’ path, and serve those who have so little. The irony is they help me more than I can ever help them."
St. John the Divine offers a number of ways to serve the unhoused. Contact Tany James for more information about all these opportunities:
The photo display will remain in Sumners Hall throughout the month of October. Visitors are encouraged to pick up one or more backpacks that the SJD staff filled with supplies to give unhoused Houstonians.