The Dimitri House is a shelter for men at night (during the months of November through April) and a daily drop-in soup kitchen by day to feed those in need — men and women. In 2013, I was approached by the Dimitri House board of directors and asked if I'd be willing shoot photographs of the house and the people it serves, pro bono, for their annual donor campaign. Unlike some other shelters, the Dimitri House doesn't receive any state or local funding. As this was a project I believed in, I obliged. Homelessness is a big problem societies face. It's a global problem. They needed images to tell the story of how life really is for these men. I found that the only way to tell the story authentically was to immerse myself in their world. They needed to trust me and I needed to trust them. These people were homeless, not criminals. Some of them had serious physical and emotional problems. Alcoholism was common, but the shelter turned away anyone who exhibited signs of active drinking.
I spent nearly three months going to the shelter at night and sometimes during the day, when I could, to get to know these men and their stories. I didn't bring my professional cameras with me, as that would too intimidating. I used my iPhone and the Hipstamatic photography app to give the images a little flair. I dressed as they did, yet they knew instantly that I was an outsider — someone who didn't belong there. I did my best to join in and engage in conversations and was honest in my approach. I explained to them what I was doing there and why. Some of the men embraced my presence and others were very distrusting. One man went so far as to confront me about his right to privacy. I completely understood — I was able to calm his fears a little bit by showing him the pictures I was taking. Many of them had smart phones, so they felt at ease with mine.
It was a tremendously moving experience for me. I gained an enormous amount of insight to the world of the less fortunate or those who had fallen on some very hard times. While I cannot save those folks, I hope that the images will make people stop and think. A little compassion goes a long way.