They all have stories. They will recount their particular histories if you are interested, and if you respect them. But they may not tell you the whole truth. Some are independent people, tired of society; they say they feel good about the way they live - that it's a choice.
Others are addicted to drugs or alcohol; their hands shake as they hold out plates for food. Still others have been broken by crippling disease or incapacitating mental illness. They are ex-cons who skipped parole, moms and dads who left families, and veterans who never quite got off the battlefield. All have this in common: they have gone outside. To them the world is divided into those who are in and those who are out. Most want back in, but getting there requires a climb up from the bottom. And that climb can look pretty steep.
Over the course of a month, photographer Jim Stem and writer Tim Ohr spent their Sundays with these men and women - the homeless, and the caring people who strive to help them.
AJ isn't with us anymore.
On a cold Saturday night in December, the space heater in the utility shed where he lived threw off sparks, starting the fire that eventually took his life. If his death made the newspapers, people on the street didn't see it. No one paid for an obit. Instead, his homeless comrades lit candles and spilled beer at an impromptu memorial site.
AJ's friends nicknamed him "the reader" - he plowed through two or three books a week. Even though AJ was in his 50s, he didn't need glasses. He said he read because he had nothing else to do.
He also said that he was a military man, and that he'd worked in special ops for the CIA. He regretted what he'd done. And he worried that the government had a hit out on him. Paranoia or truth, we will never know.
AJ was a tunnel rat in Nam, just like I was. But when I tried to find out his last name - when I wanted to know AJ just a little bit better - I couldn't. We don't know AJ's last name, just his face.
AJ isn't with us anymore.
AJ's friends put up this memorial on the corner of E. 15th Avenue and N. 51st Street in Tampa, where he spent his days reading. AJ, whom Kristin Taylor befriended early in her work with the homeless, died in early December when a fire broke out in his shack. From Samoa to
Imagine having 12 children. Most modern-day parents are boggled by the financial and emotional expense of having just one. Kristen Taylor and her husband David Staszak have four children of their own, including Mariah, now 23, who was born with Spina Bifida. And yet the couple adopted more. Eight more.
"It brought peace," Taylor says now of the day four years ago when she officially adopted the children, most of whom she'd cared for since they were infants.
Yet Kristin Taylor has found a way to open her heart even wider. The founder of T.H.O.R.N. Ministries, Taylor has spent her Sundays serving meals to the homeless for the past seven years. It has been a long, circuitous route, but Taylor says she's had one guiding principal since she started her work. "Everybody," she says, "can do something more than nothing."
A motivational singer with her own Christian recording label, Taylor was asked by a friend to perform at a Catholic youth conference in western Samoa in 1995. The trip changed her life.
In Samoa, she met people with leprosy, elephantitis and a range of birth defects. The sufferers were without medicine, wheelchairs or supplies. Looking further, Taylor discovered that no one was addressing these people's needs. So she took action.
Jordan, a Samoan boy born with an open facial cleft, became her first extended case. Once Taylor got home, she tried desperately to line up help for Jordan in the U.S. through charities and proceeds from her own records and concerts, and finally raised the necessary funds for medical assistance and transportation.
Jordan passed away en route to the airport.
"When he died," she says now, "it was devastating for all of us."
After taking an aid trip to Jamaica and Haiti (where she "fell in love with serving the poor"), and frustrated by how long it had taken to help Jordan, Taylor decided to start giving assistance on her own. She began collecting wheelchairs and crutches from wherever she could find them: a hundred wheelchairs from the Shriners; crutches, one at a time, from neighbors' closets; some of each from dumpster-diving. Soon she had enough supplies to fill a 20-foot container, but no money to ship them anywhere.