Carey Schaeffer’s Who Are Those People? is a powerful exploration of
homelessness in our contemporary urban environment. For the average
citizen who knows nothing about the complexity of homelessness,
Schaeffer’s photographs and text lead to an understanding of the pain,
suffering, and hope of people living on the streets in a midwestern American
city. The book also serves as a fresh awakening for those workers in the
homeless service community who can become hardened by the daily challenges
of working with homeless persons. The book is a reminder that all human beings
share similar feelings and aspirations, and that every individual is capable of
change and growth.
Schaeffer’s journey into the world of homeless persons began in 2004, when
she accompanied an outreach worker to the hidden camps where homeless people
reside. Schaeffer discovered that these places are tucked away in the depths of the
city. Then she photographed the “homes” that the residents had built. Over time,
she began to learn about the individuals who inhabit them. It was this “hands-on”
experience that led her to many more visits and gave her the opportunity to hear
the stories of persons invisible to the public.
While Schaeffer shares some aspects of her subjects’ life histories, their entire
biographies are not revealed. This leaves the reader wondering about those
personal histories that have contributed to these individuals’ homelessness
and leaves the reader with many unanswered questions. At first, I found this to
be disquieting, but I later recognized that Schaeffer was setting the stage to invite
the reader to explore the phenomenon of homelessness in greater depth.
Although some readers interested in learning about homelessness might be
looking for a volume containing statistics, tables, and graphs, such information
is not to be found in Who Are Those People? It is also not a treatise on those
political forces that contribute to the extent of homelessness found in this country.
Rather, the book offers the reader and viewer an emotional experience that takes
us away from the daily routines of our jobs, our family, and our chores. For a
moment, Who Are Those People? transports the reader to a place where poverty,
addiction, and mental illness are pervasive and interfere with an individual’s
capacity to make wise choices. Although it may be distasteful to visit this corner
of the human condition, the depth of understanding that can be achieved
will offer a rewarding surprise.
Columbus Coalition for the Homeless