Everybody is Somebody Homelessness in America

In 2015, more than half a million Americans were homeless, a quarter of them children.

The EVERYBODY IS SOMEBODY project focuses on the hundreds of thousands living on the streets. The abandoned, the lost, the forgotten, the working poor, the war veterans, abused women and children, the addicted, victims and victimizers. The lives of those living on the streets and their reasons for making their homes on beaches and sidewalks, under stairwells and in bathroom stalls are as varied as human beings are themselves. Photographer Kathy Sherman Suder and writer Jason A. Suder, set out to show, with dignity, the lives of those living on the streets and peel back the layers of debris that cover the truth about what brought them there.

"Tyrone"
Warren & "Tyrone"

Jimmy uses a bottle of Listerine to nurse the infection in “Tyrone’s” cracked and blistered feet. A dirty paper towel and piece of string keep the dental wash pressed loosely against his open wounds. He looks away from the camera and stares at the distorted events of a life lived aggressively.

“I choose love,” he said, but “I give up.”

The mint traces the ebony contours of his arch and drips off his heel adding another wet stain to the concrete. He doesn’t wipe his feet. He doesn't dry his cheeks.

He won’t give us his name but insists we call him “Tyrone.” He doesn’t disclose many details about his life. Not to us. That faith had been sterilized from his heart years before.

“I don’t trust no one. I can’t,” he said, “except God.”

He said, back in Texas, it was how he was raised. His sister hates him, so he tries to respect women. He has no friends, so he tries to be a friend. His mom couldn’t take care of him, so he dreams of building a nonprofit to assist single mothers raising “lost causes” in the ghettos.

“This is not fun. This is the hardest part. To stand up and do what God tell you to do.” - Tyrone
Barbara Crest

Barbara keeps her mouth closed when she smiles. It’s not for lack of light glowing on her world, but from the gap where the tooth had rotted out of her mouth. Last year, she pulled a chocolate bar out of her mouth, and the tooth went with it. Still, she’s happy enough for a girl who jumped around group homes following her mom’s death at 14. The weed she was smoking was still a year from devolving into crystal meth.

Otherwise, Barbara was a normal girl, suffering the insults of catty middle schoolers because she was “the tall girl,” and vying for the love of a father who helped raise her on the streets. “He’d always talk shit about my best friend, which was my mom,” Barbara said. “He may have been a piece of shit husband, but he was the best dad in the world.” Weekends, Mom would force Pop to get a hotel room; otherwise, they would sleep under stairwells, in abandoned buildings or on balconies. “It always felt like camping,” Barbara said.

By the time she was old enough to mess around with boys, she had stopped talking to the one who brought her into the world. To fill the void, Barbara said she was replaced by a girl he could raise differently, and she was looking for a man to treat her like daddy did. He and his friends were alcoholics.

“I was so focused on finding someone who reminded me of my dad,” she said. “Then I lost my dad. ... I’m not careful about boys. I was on a dry streak and then a boy came into the picture and a week later he said, 'you should get checked out.’”

The boyfriends lied to her and messed around behind her back, but she was still willing to go off to bed with them on the floors of public bathrooms. It's a living.

“When I didn’t sleep in handicap restroom stalls, I slept on two-by-fours,” she said.

If you look for one at Home Depot, skip the lumber aisle. These are the individual stalls you may notice are just big enough for one person to sleep sitting on the toilet, leaning against the wall while the other hugs the porcelain. It’s easier when you’re high.

“I like to say I don’t have a problem, but I kind of do,” Barbara said. “It’s not getting high; it’s getting normal.” She might try rehab. “If I didn’t do as much drugs I could be a model.” She might try finding a house or finishing the tenth grade, even though it would be her fourth attempt, or she may just stay out under the stars in the places the 20-year-old has called home since childhood. She did say she was happy. Ish.

“I’m baldish, toothless, chestless, and I’m stil beating them back with a stick."

Jennafer Foss

The old schoolers know Jennafer. The new kids on the block do too. She’s as 90291 as it gets.

“I went to all the schools here,” she said. “I went to all the churches here.”

She’s tattooed, aggressive, commands respect from the new arrivals in the neighborhood and is as gentle as the pastel glow of the Pacific sunset over the Santa Monica Mountains. This woman is a real Dogtown pirate.

That doesn’t count for much when the studio where you worked and lived shuts down, sending you out on the Boardwalk. Nor does it make a difference when you get evicted from the apartment where you nursed your dying mother. It doesn’t help when, after all that, a hit and run leaves you worried if you will ever walk again.

“She’s O.G.,” her friend Moe threw out in defense. “Make sure you get that down.”

At least her two daughters, 16 and 12, can stay with Grandpa.

“Venice has changed the last three years,” she said. "They're trying to get rid of all the artist spots. It's making it harder."

Rebecca D

Rebecca’s hands are clutched. In her right is a plastic bottle squeezed so tightly that the water barely trickles out. In the other are two puppies, batting at each other and lapping at the waterfall.

These siblings are inseparable. The girl is rambunctious and not the slightest bit shy. Her brown runt of a brother is timid to all but the nuzzle of what were probably the first eyes he saw in this world. With no mother or safety, they rely on each other and the steady grip of the protective hands holding them.

“These I’m hiding,” she said. “He really needs her to stay alive.

Rebecca’s actions are deliberate. And loving. And indicative of the tough runs she and her sister have had.

Rebecca’s family moved to California when she was just five. The subsequent three-year routine was to run away, come back home then flee for the streets again. At 8 years old, she moved in with the woman she would eventually call sister, Jennafer (see preceding story & photo). “I just wouldn’t go home,” she said.

She grew up but couldn’t break her juvenile trend to get away. About eight months ago Rebecca was given a gift: a Chevy pickup, complete with a camper shell — a dream machine for any roving vagabond. It could have been free, it could have taken four years for Rebecca to wrangle the funds to buy it, or she could have acquired some other way. She kind of alluded to all three. Regardless, that sort of security is in rare supply when living in her kind of hostile life. It was short lived.

To hear her tell the tale, meek and with plenty of genuine emotion, the authorities charged the window with arms drawn, and it didn’t take long for them to find her license had been suspended for six years. “The police pulled me over at gunpoint,” Rebecca said, “because someone reported it stolen. They must have been embarrassed, because they towed the car.”

Seven days later, she found it was more than $300 to lift the suspended license, an amount she’d spent years sweating to save, and then she went to the impound. “I don’t have two cents to my name, and you’re telling me it’s going to cost $750 on the first day?” she said. “You just took my home! You’re going to put me out and tell me to go down to the beach, do you know how retarded that sounds?!”

They said she would figure it out. “No,” she said. “I can’t. You just took my home.”

We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. Anais Nin
Tyler Brandon

Tyler left Florida six months ago. He took a Greyhound out of Orlando to put the gangs, drugs and violence in his taillights. It was wishful thinking.

“I feel like trouble finds me,” he said.

His shoulder is a constellation of microscabs, not unlike his forehead. His hands are covered in dirt or grease or both, and the two are not unrelated.

Where he lives, there is a code that everyone seems to follow. Pair up and protect each other. You watch my stuff while I go find a shower, and I’ll look after yours when you head downtown to pick up your emergency relief funds. Andre looks after Tyler.

The situation actually kind of makes them look like roommates. Roommates get mad at each other. Yell, swear, slam a door. Except those conveniences are not afforded to this duo. Anger is in the pavement. There is no blanket to tuck tempers in for the night. You watch my back, and I’ll make sure if anyone hits you, I’ll be the one to do it.

“My forehead was a fight,” Tyler said of the scab that looks out like a third eye. “Miscommunication and people on drugs. People lose their mind and think everyone’s out to get them.”

He seems to be an authority on the subject. Four months ago, Tyler was released on summary probation for possession of six ounces of heroin. He’s trying to keep clean. Well, at least he doesn’t sell anymore.

“Follow your nose,” he tells the friends looking for their own fix. He'll then go back to building a bicycle.

Venice is riddled with parts and provisions to fill the tinkerer’s time. Chained to electric lines or locked for just too long, Tyler can find everything he needs to put together a new set of wheels. Too bad he hasn’t invested in a lock himself, otherwise he might have been able to sell the dozen or so Frankensteined machines to other sidewalkers or kids looking to fashion themselves with a good-looking fixed gear.

“I don’t really steal because they’ve been there forever,” he said. “Even the cops know I don’t steal."

“How do I get them? From a bunch of fuckers who leave them around.”

Amanda Young

She’s 22 with the face of a 16 year old and a stare as though she’s 40. Her fingers fidget in the morning, grabbing her arms to keep them from reaching for another fix — for warmth, for comfort, for something to stop the shakes. When Benny talks, she looks down.

“Show your pretty smile,” he said. “She has the prettiest smile.”

Her lips stretch across her face then press forward into a seductive, Kardashian-like pucker. It’s an invitation.

Busted for public intoxication as an 18-year-old Oklahoma girl high on bath salts, she fled out west to find her singing career and “touch bases with America.” It hasn’t been going well.

Benjamin Goll

The brushstrokes are wide and sweeping across the plywood. At first, there was a yellow base. Then came a woman’s face and accents of her figure. Blended in are the signature marks of a fellow artist, and there you have it. Perched up on the Venice Beach Boardwalk is Benjamin Goll’s latest work.

He stands close by, his face washed in joy and the flip book phases of a clown — a goofball goaded on by beach culture. It compliments the freshly dyed vest that didn't have the yellow brush strokes just days before. He is a walking work of art.

The 26-year-old Virginia State University grad has found his paradise. Since he was 18, his eyes have been pointed west, and a month and a half ago, Benjamin finally made it to the beach.

“I never want to leave,” he said. “Free Wi-Fi!”

Raymar Hardy

A roof isn’t worth much when your nightlight is the stars over the Pacific and you’re closer to home in the shadow of sloped concrete than what your parents offer in Oakland. For some, homelessness is a choice: is it more lucrative for a kid barely out of high school to sleep on the Venice Boardwalk, rolling closer to a demo video and brand endorsement every day or sliding into the sheets of his boyhood home? Raymar Hardy picked the skate park; he bunkered down on the boardwalk on Venice Beach in the early days of summer with not much more than a backpack and skateboard to accompany this endeavor. No roof. No sure meals. No real privacy.

"This is my way of going to school and staying out of drugs," Raymar said. The joint in his mouth and the sweet smoke he blew for the camera readied him for a morning fighting gravity in the concrete pools. Maybe the Safe Place for Youth (SPY), where he is learning to mix music on Ableton, will fill his afternoons. Armed with the confidence of undefeated youth and conviction to find his place in the Thrasher world, night and life on the streets is of his own devise.

"I choose to be homeless," Raymar said. "Back home, I can’t get a job and am stuck at my mom’s house. She didn’t kick me out or anything. She’s super cool and supports everything I do. This is my way of growing up."

Daniel Fefer

Daniel doesn’t drink or smoke.

“Nothing like that,” he said, pulling Mather's '60s geologic tome “The Earth Beneath Us” from the depths of his overstuffed grocery cart, not as easily accessible as if he held it in the stroller to the side. It’s an improvement from the five baskets he at one point hoarded.

Plastics bottles and beer cans don’t spill out the sides. They would run away save for the yards of caution tape tethering Daniel’s bread and butter to his mobile storage space.

“I make a few bucks,” he said. Recycling pays, collecting tolls pays, gardening pays, but, unprovoked, he puts forward that looking for work is the last of his priorities.

“Instead of getting a job, I decided to recycle and go into garbage, and that caused my problems,” he said. “I couldn’t look for jobs afterward.”

Whether it be stains on his jeans, the stink of unlaundered sweaters after a roll in the dumpster, the grip he holds on keeping his urban survivor skills sharp or true contentedness with his world that kept him from the employment line, dumpster diving is his life. Twenty years have passed since he skipped out on the rent and went to work by himself, for himself.

He starts in the predawn glow each day. Sleeping is a luxury the streets have taught the happy ambler to toughen his skin against.

“You know what I say?" Daniel mused. "Thank God I’m healthy every day.”

Most of the time, Daniel is a vegetarian. He doesn’t beg, nor will he refuse a decent meal even if it does have some meat on it. Preferential treatment goes to the fresh pizza he seems to regularly find placed neatly in street-side trash cans. He almost exclusively feasts from others’ garbage.

“I wonder why people throw it out,” he said. “Maybe to help me.”

Throughout his 66 years, fortune has carried the Israel-born, longtime Los Angeles transplant. Smothered in sewage and sleeping alone on the side of Lincoln Boulevard, the man carries confidence and a mage-like smile in his eyes.

When your body is the only thing you can hold onto, you become grateful for each moment that it hasn't fallen apart.

“The reason I’m content, there’s one reason,” he said. “I say to myself every day, 'Thank God for letting me live another day.'

"Thank you for speaking to me...this was one of my best days, ever!"

Keyley Walker

Keyley has ideas. She holds out napkins scrawled with thoughts like "Legalize," "prostitution," "volunteer," John Lennon lyrics and personal affirmations.

"God gave me these ideas on the bus," she said.

At the top of that list lies the myriad ways she can offer assistance to anyone in need. Her heart is not limited to those without roofs; those are just the people who surround her these days.

She moves slowly, the fibromyalgia swelling in her engorged ankles makes it difficult to walk. On her block, there is no expectation of breakfast, so it does not matter when she arrives with the bulk of groceries she bought and will pass out to her fellow street dwellers.

This has been life for six months. Keyley was in a home in Bullhead City, Arizona. "A nice home," she said, not far from the town of Laughlin, the one she said her family founded.

"My family’s worth $9 billion," Keyley said.

The falling out was without precedent, leaving her with nothing but the tale. Then her husband got picked up on drug charges, and she followed advice to head to the west coast.

Soon, she has long since determined, Keyley will be back in a bedroom and able to help those who have kept her safe during the precarious past half year off the boardwalk.

"It starts with finding them work, jobs that," Keyley said, "would be so fun that people won’t even realize what they’re accomplishing."

What will come of it, the seaside Tom Sawyer said is the "Peace and Love Foundation" she plans to create, a group that will provide rooms and clothing for those in need.

That is the nature of this 43-year-old mother of five.

"Don't be a victim; Don't prey on the weak."
Morgan Westover

Her wild red locks fall down her shoulders and point to the credo that keeps her going.

"I am fucking crazy, but I am free."

The script dances supremely legibly across her inner bicep. She shows it off proudly to her Venice Beach Boardwalk family, passersby, pals and everyone else who catches her smiling eyes.

Trace the rest of her appendage down to her fingertips and attached might as well be another tattoo: her guitar.

As any artist will admit, the music is refuge. She sings to the tune of a 1990’s coffee shop in Seattle but with the shaved annunciation of a southern drawl. The chords are simple, but like a good country song, you listen for the story.

Moe’s started as does every Army brat's. On the road. Her mother retired from military service, while her father climbed to the rank of highest enlisted soldier, but the heroine of this story just strums away to the amusement of her friends and the visions of journalism or writing classes at Santa Monica College.

"Anything that’ll keep me doing what I like," Moe said.

But let Moe tell her own story: soundcloud.com/moewestover.

Justin & Nikki

The road west has been long for Justin and Nikki. The gateways to Tennessee seemed closed, at least while his ex-wife, with help from the courts, was blocking Justin from his two toddlers.

How else does an aggrieved partner hurt the husband who left for another woman?

“When I left her, my wife went kind of crazy and made it so I couldn’t see my kids till June,” Justin said. “I’m not supposed to contact her, or I go to jail for a year.

“I ain’t talked to them since May.”

He and Nikki had the kids that night. Justin didn’t say where he’d taken his little family that day, but the play date ended at home, before he could even take baby Harmuni from her carseat.

Seeing the woman for whom she was left, Justin gets shoved away from the car door while his baby mama tears into the car and rips her daughter from the seat’s confines.

“She didn’t even undo the seatbelt,” Nikki remembers.

“I called the police,” he said. “I don’t hit women.”

A backhand across her face says otherwise. He pled guilty to domestic assault so as not to go to jail and instead carry one year of probation.

“I still went to jail,” he said. “and because of the guilty plea, I was given the order of protection.”

“If I’m walking out of a grocery store and she and the kids are walking in and my daughter’s hysterically crying for her daddy I have to pretend like she doesn’t exist, otherwise I go to jail.”

The best option was to get away. Not for long because “I need to be around my children.” But just to kill some time reconnecting with his L.A.-based mother before getting back on his way.

With $3,776 and plenty of time to kill, the couple set out. Passing through Texas, they lost all their money and identification to a pickpocket. In Albuquerque, they lost the car.

“We never lost hope, even when the car blew up,” Justin said. “They offered us $100, so we left it on the side of the road. If I’m not giving it to someone else, I’ll give it to someone who needs it.”

Somewhere in New Mexico, he hopes someone else living in homelessness found shelter in the worthless shell that carried the couple halfway across the country. A 74-year-old Samaritan helped them finish the trek, but without a driver’s license and without a car neither Justin nor Nikki can find work. There was one prospect.

“They said if I have an I.D. and car, I’ll hire you on the spot,” Justin said of a potential delivery job. “I said I have this bike with the basket, why doesn’t that work?”

Nikki might not do so well the hours he would spend away. A lifetime of abuse, first from her family, then the men she kept close, anxiety cripples her, sometimes, Justin said, to the point of seizures.

“When she’s on Venice surrounded by strangers and If I’m in the bathroom too long, she will become so anxious she’ll have a seizure,” Justin said. “I’m the only man who hasn’t abused her.”

With the tender affection he shows, it’s hard to imagine that can’t be true.

Lui Abundi

In Kansas, broadcast images of the Pacific are vast. Lui needed to see it. With one year left in high school, the 18 year old packed his camera, computer and everything he needed into his backpack and fled home.

"On TV," he said, "the ocean looks bigger."

He also wasn’t expecting that all but his camera would be stolen. Backpack, gone on his first day. But, at least he had bought a bike to get to Venice Beach. That got stolen, too.

The food is too expensive, and he can’t find a shower, but at least he’s not in Kansas anymore.

"I didn’t care," he said. "This is where I wanted to be.

"I feel like I was ready to live on my own here. I didn’t like home."

His eyes get stormy and the smile shrivels into a thin line across his face when he mentions his upbringing, the warehouse where he worked — that constant stench of dog chow — and holds back something he’s not willing to share.

"I saved everything and came here," Lui said, fingering his camera as though it too was on the verge of leaving him. That is how he is going to make his name.

"I have some DVDs," he said. "I want YouTube to be my career." Staples sold him a DVD burner so he could pass out copies of his comedy.

It doesn’t get much use now that his laptop is gone.

Storm Sailsbury

Symbols are drawn in the sand around her. The back of her shirt is a web of custom braids. She reaches into the tote bag separating her from her dog and pulls out a needle. Storm begins to weave her life of suffering into a scarf. She is an artisan, not an addict.

Like Oscar Wilde canonically said, “Behind every exquisite thing that ever existed, there is something tragic.”

As Storm will say, “One thing that I learned, if you start digging, roughly two-thirds of addicts were abused as children. … I’m a domestic violence refugee.”

At 11, Storm had a dream: to study theology and one day become a professor focusing on moral frameworks, because morality is a conception of good and evil.

By that time, she had already placed her mother into the category of the latter, having helped her father in his abusive ways. As she grew older, nothing changed except for the man who shared Mom’s bed.

“The first time he raped me, my mother held me down,” she said.

At 20, she was treated for post-traumatic stress and was inappropriately medicated. Dad came back into her life.

“He took good care of me, but fell back into old habits,” Storm said.

In 2013, the sexual assaults continued and further abuse set in. Social service’s money was embezzled because he was “my payee by law.” He absconded with $1,000; she couldn’t get back on her feet. At least she had kicked the meds.

“[They] were making me non-functional,” she said. “The noise makes me run away. Traumatic brain abuse still affects me. I don’t think in words; I think in harmonic vibrations. It melts my brain. It gets to the point where it’s painful.”

So painful that Storm had to be placed on involuntary suicide watch twice in the past year. She can’t hold down a restaurant job because of all the chaos.

“But I’d make a helluva editor,” she said. “I cant to go back to school.”

"God gave me these ideas on the bus"
Nino Brown

Nino Brown speaks in verse. He calls it rap.

The conversation ends abruptly when he calls out,

"I’m just gonna spit some shit I wrote.

"I’m higher than Aladdin’s myths. I don’t give a fuck what you think about me. I’ma get it till the getting is done."

The one-year old bull terrier on his lap flashes a scowling look around his friends, as though protecting him from any more trouble that has landed on Nino. Steady life was for other people.

"I have been traveling since I was five. Then, I got taken away from my mom because we were traveling," he said. At least he wasn’t alone.

"I’m four of eight [kids]," he said. "Probably nine now." He counted his siblings. Nino is number three.

Michael Ledoux

When you really have nothing and no one to help you out is what Michael calls “the struggle.” He’s not in it, but he is struggling, struggling to get his share of the American Dream.

“Even though I’m homeless out here,” he said, “I’m tough.”

The skateboard scene in Miami was stifling the 18 year old, and with four years on the grip tape and a GED under his belt, he headed west to impress the sponsors scoping the Venice Beach Skate Park.

“It’s better than living back in Miami,” he said. “I’m making it.”

"I'm a Traveler, like Jesus was"
Caleb Harris

Caleb was on the rise. He had skateboard sponsorships from Visionary Clothing and Ace Trucks. His clothes were clean and fresh, and so was his brother’s car.

“People were jealous of me coming up,” he said. “They put me at gunpoint, and they took my stuff. Well, not my stuff, my doughnut. I had a doughnut.”

He also had a home. And a baby.

“My baby mama and her family went to east L.A.,” he said. “I had to come here.”

That was in 2015.

“I wonder why people throw it out,” he said, “maybe to help me.” - Daniel
Marquise Tyson

Marquise was 15 years old the first time he set foot on Venice Beach. He and his uncle had to make a "transaction."

"He was selling drugs," Marquise said.

"I just got caught up in it." For two years, that was life for the Texas native followed by three years of travel with his guitar on his back, an urban turtle trying to stay out of trouble at 20 years old.

Cory Gerich

Every time he speaks with an officer, he walks away with a new sticker bearing their station’s badge. The travelers’ bible that keeps them together is barely contained within the rubber band, similar to his head’s ability to contain his smile.

Cory is a true citizen of the world, happy to roam over beach, mountain, inner city and rail yard as if it is all a gift. It is as if the spirits immortalized when Kerouac penned his epoch “Dharma Bums” floated across time to occupy his drifter's frame.

“I sat by the pavilion with a giant sign that said, ‘Do you want to hop a train with me?’” he said. “That was when the coastline was running, and you could get from Oxnard to Oakland in eight hours. So we, me and my friend Kai, who’s also homeless out here, would grab as many kids as we could from Venice beach and bring them up to San Francisco. It was our version of cleaning the streets.”

The “sticker kid,” as the west coast cops know him, lives by a code. You’ve probably heard it.

“I am referring to the other person's conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another's conscience?” from I Corinthians 10:29. Or as Cory likes to paraphrase, “It’s not up to man to judge. God will judge me.”

He puts the bible away, offers a handshake instead of a hug, because “no hugs, no bugs; you see a hippy kid, you shake his hand," takes hold of Conchita and works his way up the beach, northbound in a boxcar back to the Bay.

"I'm a Traveler, like Jesus was."

He keeps his bible in a leather holster he made so he can keep it with him, always.

Conchita Anderson

story to come.....

Shawn Dick, Veteran

The Zig Zag Man on Shawn’s forearm is barely decipherable these days, but he still brandishes that international pot smoking sign he picked up from his days in Vietnam.

The mermaid on his other marks the night he fell into a threesome with Marian and Irma. But, the old vet named his Mississippi memory after someone a bit more memorable: his buxom old flame Debbie.

He flashes his few remaining teeth in a racy smile.

Dick is weathered. Six years were spent behind the pew at an Arizona church. The few months in an El Paso sewer were followed by a year and a half in a tent as a minister at a local church and trading moonshine for marijuana. The Cass Dental Clinic in Phoenix was better to him, significantly more so than the five drunken years he spent preaching on Venice Beach.

“I survived like that,” he said.

He survived, but friends didn’t. One passed away in his arms, still clinging to Shawn while he let go of life. He had overdosed on Listerine in VA housing.

“I held his hand while he died,” Shawn said.

The fury of his already political leanings were let loose on the assistance organization, and in 2000 Shawn said he waged a congressional investigation into the VA.

White haired and now a success story in the housing assistance program for the organization he once decried, Shawn is less apt to action and sticks closer to the pulpit. He still spews venom at the political structure: “Obama is about to declare Marshall Law to take our guns, and he’s known about Hillary’s crooked ways for years.”

The signs are nigh for this missionary, and the impending war is one he won’t fight, although he is not afraid to go back to Rose Avenue and bestow a sidewalk sermon on his old cohorts.

“I believe we are in our last days,” he said.

Chantry Stratton
He feels his future is no longer in his own hands

"This place will destroy you if you let it."

Chantry lives in old Venice.

"They say 'Old Venice' for a reason," he said, "cuz if you're not from here, they won't take your bullshit." His Southern twang is rich. And gentle. And genuine. The lines across his face are from years of toiling to help his family. The sorrow in his eyes is because he couldn't. The struggle to lift the corners of his lips is because he doesn't have a smile left in his heart. It is a big heart, adjusted to the darkness from a lifetime of depression. Chantry had a good job with a good pension. GM, Ford, General Electric and Dell had all benefitted from his expertise in computer programming. At Kirby Steel, he was a welder.

"I did all those jobs to get the job at Nissan, because it was right around the corner from my dad," Chantry said.

His dad was dying and leaving him the house. The home stayed in his name until his mom needed a new car. It's always been family first. For his brother, too.

"Back on the farm in Virginia, I walked toward the barn, made sure no one was around," he said. "It was one of those days I just didn't feel like going anymore, drew a noose, put it around my neck and hung there dead for four hours. I came to with my brother beating the life back into me."

He paid it back, but 20 years taking care of Dad and 20 years paying off Mom's bills left him with two bouts of cancer and an enzyme eating away the lining of his stomach.

"Dad's dead, kids are grown, I need my healthcare for the future," said the 38-year-old father of two.

"I can't do this shit in Nashville."

August saw him arrive in L.A., but a new city brought new troubles. Local clinics won't give him the stomach medicine he needs, but there is another facility that works with his coverage.

"It's far away, and it's ass, cash or grass, and I ain't selling my ass," he said.

"I got my grass. So, I'm happy enough with that."

Yadollah Salarvand

After two armed robberies and just as many stabbings over a 30-year career behind the wheel of a L.A. taxi, Yadullah is happy to sit on the Lincoln side streets collecting sun and stories instead of making more of his own.

His leathery skin stretches back over a gap-toothed smile while his Persian accent proudly proclaims his Earthling citizenship over anything else. "The Earth is my mother, and the lord is my father, and I don't pay rent," he said.

At one time early in his 64 years, he was Iranian. It was the '70s and the "God damned Shah was still in power."

There was Gorky, a Russian playwright whose play "Enemies" had been banned for its anti-communist sentiment. Yadullah had to have it. A friend from the "underground" placed a coverless copy in an innocuous public space. Yadullah cased the area for 20 minutes before retrieving the text and hurrying home to pry out its censored content. "You either burn it so no one can find it or put it in a park for someone else," he said of its disposal. It was found, and Yadullah was sentenced to two months in jail over the offense, a term that he claimed would be elongated to six years for smuggling hashish into the compound.

Some 40 years later, he withdraws into the recesses of his memories. His loving smile fades to a bitter scowl. Some atrocities warrant no forgiveness. Although he would not get into details of his torture, Yadullah grits out that he spent two weeks in the Shah's secret torture chambers, one of three notorious hellholes hidden in Tehran.

"I was beat up so bad I was coughing blood," he said.

The interrogator took a liking to this captive because of a shared affinity for poetry and released him to a standard cell with a fresh pack of Winston cigarettes.

"A woman came in with burns all over her legs and cigarette burns on her chest, because women cannot show legs," he recalled. "I had to cry the first time I saw her.”

His eventual release did not add up to freedom. A city job took him outside of the urban center each day. Then one afternoon, it became time to flee the country. He came home to a door kicked off its hinges exposing a thrashed apartment. His books were piled in the middle of the room, and a blood-soaked nephew recounted the story of the SAVAK, Iran's then equivalent of the CIA, barging in, throwing him to the ground and holding him there with a boot to his throat. "Move and you're dead," the nephew was told.

Somewhere his father had the equivalent of $10,000 from selling a plot of family land. One month later, Yadullah had turned his father’s retirement into a student visa and was on his way to L.A. to study business at Woodbury College. He didn't finish those studies.

"I have a degree in love," he said, "and that's why I'm here. "It's not easy to be on the streets, brother, they're after you!" he said, but "I'll take the streets any day, and I haven't seen my family in 30 years."

Reed Segovia

The Rubik’s Cube is the perfect metaphor for Reed’s life. It starts off ordered, untouched, but as the years go by and the toy gets twisted and takes a prismatic character. It shows the whirlwind of chaos that befalls it. But, the one in control always knows that it just takes another few turns to find completion.

The art is in persistence. Religion is in the art, and he’s a professional.

His sanctuary is agile in its mobility, open in its invitation and, in the narrow eyes of a street-hardened survivalist, there is exuded a mysterious wisdom of someone far beyond his 34 years.

"Desperation leads to some interesting things," he said. "Ya know?"

In some contexts, it’s sacrificed; in others, it’s given up, but what he relinquishes, even living on the streets, even without a safe space for the art he pours his soul into and bears to all who roam the Venice Boardwalk, is his hold on love.

"We gotta hold some space for decency and love," Reed said.

… and war.

"It’s better to be a warrior in the garden than a gardener in the war."

Passion is his watchword, and it drove him away from the desperation that was constricting his world. So last year, he moved out onto the boardwalk.

"I have more room to work on my stuff out here," Reed said.

His work is a sea of rudimentary colors that come together in such an interwoven way that the plywood becomes alluring. Paint stairwells up his canvas in patterns, but heavy globs let the hard lines drip — a dichotomy of order and disorder, a balance.

“Mermaid and maids mer” cover one board. Skulls —an homage to his Mexican heritage and lust for the Grateful Dead — dominate another. Central to the Technicolor tabernacle where he offers his views of life, creation and hard work is his creed.

"Love is nothing without passion," it reads.

With a faux samurai sword in one hand and the plastic puzzle in the other, Reed has no shortage of either.

Arley Lewis

Arley holds himself above the street. Maybe because he lays his head on a cot a foot off the concrete, instead of piling ragged blankets on top of the sidewalk stains.

It gives him a better vantage point in dealing with the community. He spends more time at the skate park and trying to set up public concerts. He gets out to city council meetings to track what is happening to his transient cohorts.

“City Council hates us because they pay a mortgage and we don’t,” he said. “I’d happily trade places with them for a week. They go home and hide behind their doors in their houses.”

He is on to the makings of a new reality show, he jokes, but he does have plans. This entrepreneur wants to start his own dirt bike clothing line, while booking bands for motocross tour race stops. He works the logistics on his own, about the only decisions he can make for himself.

“I don’t want the cops to tell me where I can go,” he said. “I just want to be happy. I know what the soldiers are going through at war. They can’t process that.”

Whatever it may be, people come to see Arley, if for nothing else than for hope. Before the recession, Arley was a homeowner, multiple-home owner. He and his wife worked as mortgage brokers and held the deeds to at least five properties. A fall in the market and a bad divorce left him with nothing but a name on his wife’s Truckee chalet, a nest egg that is about to go to pay for his daughter’s collegiate education.

“My whole life was comedy,” he said. “I don’t like to use ‘homelessness.’ I like to use ‘structurally challenged.’”

Dean Raymond Walker

If Dean’s life were a pie, it would be blackberry: seedy, juicy, a little bitter and not for everyone.

“Eric Clapton’s son fell out of the world. Paul McCartney lost his soul mate. It’s not the money you have but the life you make,” Dean said.

His SoCal start was a bit rocky, landing his first prison stint at age 20 for a beer run gone wrong. Nineteen years later, well, mistakes happen again. He got caught stealing a beer.

“They looked up my license number and the film,” he said. “I got 16 months for that.”

Now, he’s not allowed anywhere near a liquor store, not for a can of coke or to break a bill for laundry. It’s fine though. He has other hobbies.

“My number one joy is the … Rollin’ 30s,” he said of the Westside gang.

There was a prospect for pure happiness. He was in love, and engaged. On June 10, he was going to tie the knot. On June 7, she was murdered.

There’s a new woman in his life, a 6-foot, 2-inch 20 year old who has lived on the streets for the past four years.

“She’s like a daughter to me,” he said.

But, he hasn’t seen her for some time.

“I don’t know if my chick is alive or dead right now,” he said.

Little deterred, Dean keeps cracking his crooked smile. He remembers the horoscope he read when he first bunkered down on Venice streets.

“You’re a creative person,” Dean said, “but you’ll be more creative.”

i am fucking crazy, but i am free

About the photographer, Kathy Sherman Suder

Her first major series of work on boxers, KNOCKOUT, as described by The New Yorker, “owe more to Caravaggio than to Sports Illustrated". Exhibited in Fort Worth, New York, and at Paris Photo, KNOCKOUT marked Suder’s arrival on the U.S. art scene as an image maker of unusual emotional and visual power.

Suder’s later series of work have chronicled the street life and domesticity of Paris, Havana, Morocco and Coney Island; a medical mission in Guatemala; religious festivals in Sicily; portraits of breast cancer survivors; and life on the Subway in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. Diverse as these contexts are, Suder’s images maintain a sensitivity to subjects in extremes of physical, emotional and social tension. She especially latches onto moments of vulnerability and, in UNDERGROUND, created encounters that made her an active participant in her images. The psychological and graphic power of the work is reinforced by its significant scale, dramatic lighting and vivid color.

Kathy Suder’s work has been included in three thematic museum exhibitions in the United States and was the subject of the solo exhibition UNDERGROUND: Photographs by Kathy Sherman Suder at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas. Acquired by a number of major private collectors, her photographs are also in the permanent collections of LACMA, the Amon Carter Museum and the Miami Art Museum. Her photo book, which accompanied the exhibition, UNDERGROUND, won accolades and competitions .https://www.instagram.com/kathysuder/

www.kathysuder.com

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About the writer, Jason Alexander Suder.

An award-winning multimedia storyteller, Jason, from Texas, most recently living at the base of the Teton mountain range and writing for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, is currently on the road and working on assignment.

Four years ago, equipped with a camera and freshly earned journalism degree, Suder left his job as a summer intern at CBS and moved to Santiago, Chile.

Suder spent five months running in and out of riots, being sprayed with tear gas, and hit by police batons, while photographing students being brutalized in the streets. He was arrested twice for documenting the horrors.

When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.

Resources:

Safe Place for Youth (SPY) • 2469 S Lincoln Blvd• (310) 902-2283 www.safeplaceforyouth.org

St Joseph Center Homeless Services and Meals•204 Hampton Dr•(310) 396-6468 www.stjosephctr.org

Venice Community Housing•720 Rose Ave•(310) 399-4100 www.vchcorp.org

The Teen Project of Venice www.theteenproject.com

Volunteers of America www.voa.org/homeless-people

Department of Veteran Affairs https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/index.asp

Salvation Army www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/housing-and-homeless-services

We welcome your services and are happy to add more links.

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All photos ©Kathy Sherman Suder/Stories @ Jason Alexander Suder

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