Cathy Maier Callanan was driving down a Santa Fe road last July when she spotted a young man walking along the shoulder with a pack on his back. A few hundred feet later, she slammed on the brakes and turned around.
She didn’t want to give him a ride or give him money. She just wanted to take his picture—and hear his story.
Callanan, a professional photographer who cofounded the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, makes her living shooting portraits and wedding albums. But on the side, she uses her craft and passion to help those in need. In 2001, she founded The Heart Gallery, which today is a nationally renowned collection of photos of older children up for adoption.
Her most recent project is Face the Homeless, a series of portraits of homeless adults and children in and around Santa Fe. Callanan travels to shelters and works with local agencies to find homeless people willing to share their stories and have their pictures taken. Face the Homeless is currently making its rounds around Santa Fe’s places of worship as a traveling exhibit created to bring awareness to the problem of homelessness.
This week, SFR features a selection of the images and texts from the exhibit.
Callanan’s photos are not of men sleeping on curbs nor are they images taken surreptitiously. She gets to know her subjects, often becoming friends with them and spending time with them over many years. She listens to and records their stories, their hardships and their opinions of America’s attitude toward the homeless, and then takes intimate, nuanced photographs of them in shelters and on the streets.
For example, the man on the road—Tom—had a degree in psychology from Northeastern University, but he’d lost his job, gotten into debt and found himself without shelter. He asked to borrow Callanan’s cell phone to call his mother.
“I could hear her—the woman was so relieved to hear from her son,” Callanan says. “She got my number and has kept in touch with me a little bit. I felt so wonderful that I could let her know that he was OK.”
Face the Homeless was arranged through the efforts and cooperation of Santa Fe’s Interfaith Leadership Alliance—a group of more than a dozen churches and temples in Santa Fe—under the leadership of Sue Breslauer, social justice director at Temple Beth Shalom. Breslauer and the ILA then arranged for Callanan’s exhibit to travel around Santa Fe.
For the last three years, the ILA has run the Interfaith Community Shelter. During the winter months, the shelter, which has no permanent location, serves food to 60 to 75 people daily.
As for the 2009-2010 winter, the ILA has only secured $50,000 from the Santa Fe City Council (the shelter’s bare-bones operating cost is $120,000 for a November to April season). “More money would be great,” Breslauer says, “but we’re having trouble finding an actual building.” As of press time, the ILA had not been able to pin down a lease for the shelter’s scheduled Nov. 1 opening date.
Breslauer laments the lack of resources endemic to nonprofits. “There is health care for the homeless. There is food for the homeless. There is shelter for the homeless. But there’s not enough of any of it,” she says.
Despite budget shortfalls, Santa Fe, Callanan says, remains a bright spot on the map for America’s homeless. She also has photographed the homeless in New York City. “Every homeless person I’ve spoken to about Santa Fe thinks that Santa Fe is the most generous place,” she says.
Some of the subjects that Callanan documents are children. An often invisible part of Santa Fe’s homeless population, Santa Fe’s homeless children conservatively amount to more than 1,000, according to Gaile Herling, coordinator and co-founder of the Santa Fe Public Schools’ ¡Adelante! Program for homeless kids and their families.
¡Adelante!’s definition of homeless includes having no utilities, having substandard housing or having been evicted. The 2009-2010 school year has so far been particularly striking: In a “normal” school year, homeless kids total approximately 1,100; so far this year, the schools have counted 800 such children in just 2½ months.
“We get four or five walk-in cases a day,” Herling says. ¡Adelante! also has noted a 75 percent increase in the needs of poor and homeless families in Santa Fe since this time last year. In a standard 12-month year, ¡Adelante!, with the help of its Partners in Education fund, helps 130 families prevent eviction or utility disconnection. In the last 2½ months alone, it has helped 90 families.
Children, especially teens, are meticulous about what clothes they wear, even if they are free; they don’t stand on street corners holding cardboard signs. In other words, it’s easier for them to slip through the cracks.
“Santa Feans who are well-off don’t want to see homeless children,” Herling says. “It hurts the heart. We don’t often feel like we have much power to help.” Herling says the media ignore homeless children, and she has found herself needing to educate even the agencies tasked with helping homeless people of all ages.
Callanan’s exhibit captures that span. She speaks fondly of Genevieve, a mother she photographed for Face the Homeless. Genevieve’s sons, Manuel and Alfonso, Callanan describes as “awesome, just awesome.”
Geneveive managed to get an apartment at LifeLink for six months. She has two months left, Callanan says, to secure a job or else she will lose the apartment. “But how does she get a job when she doesn’t have a car?…It’s not like these people are lazy,” Callanan says. “And she doesn’t have a phone because she can’t pay her phone bill, so how do people call her for jobs?”
Herling laments the seemingly systematic way in which homelessness is perpetuated in the United States through racism and classism, lack of affordable rental housing, lack of health care, lack of residential treatment centers for substance abuse and mental illness, and lack of living wage.
“It’s not about giving charity—it’s about empowering the community,” Herling says. “Being housed is a right. The UN believes that too. But the United States doesn’t…We have a long way to go as a people, collectively.”
Callanan, Breslauer and Herling all hope that sharing the stories and faces of Santa Fe’s homeless population will help educate the community about its needs.
“I’m committed to ending homelessness,” Callanan says. “I am a photographer—that’s the way I know to use my talents. Photos speak to people. I’m out to get people to trust me. We are all one and we need to start working together to end this problem.