You have seen their faces everywhere from the street corners and freeway off ramps to television news. Times are tough and people are out of work. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, people they love, everything. You try to avoid looking, instead you take a non-existent call on the cell phone, adjust the car radio, pretend they are simply not there.
I met a couple of these folks the other day, face-to-face and there was no looking away. Carol and Mark West’s story has been the subject of a series of articles published in the Orange County Register. I was asked to photograph them for the afternoon for an update on their struggle to get back on their feet.
Mark and Carol’s new journey began last January when they both lost their jobs and a short time later the apartment they shared. They went on unemployment, continued to look for work while living in a budget motel. Things got tighter when the only vehicle they had needed repairs and they had to choose between fixing the truck or sleeping in a bed. They chose the truck.
There is no school for the newly homeless. You have to figure things out for yourself. For Mark and Carol this meant sleeping in their truck, missing meals and doing without simple things like showers. They separated, Carol going to a women’s only shelter while Mark continued to sleep in the truck collecting tickets for “illegal camping”.
The road back started when the first Register article appeared. Some readers made donations and other offered help. They have learned to work through the system of county agencies, churches and non-profits. A year before they would enjoy worldwide vacations, now a roof over their head is a luxury.
The reality of going from a middle class life to the nightmare of living on the street has had a profound effect on the couple. “You never think it can happen to you and so quickly!” Carol said. “But it does.”
You can follow Mark and Carol’s story by reading Yvette Cabrera’s column in the Orange County Register. Check out the most recent segment at She Might Get Her Life Back.
* “You Have Seen Their Faces” is a book published in 1937 with photographs by Margaret Bourke-White chronicling the great depression in the Deep South.