A fashion mag trend inspired this moving project about the plight of the homeless
The photo documentary site 'Homeless Essentials' shines a light on the struggles of those living on the streets
May 15, 2019
You might be familiar with those features in fashion and entertainment magazines that highlight the lifestyle of the celebrity of the moment by listing the “essentials” that get them through the day—whether it’s their $200 face cleansing brush or Hermès Birkin bag. A pair of creatives have turned the concept on its head for a more noble cause—to shine a light on the plight of the homeless.
Freelance copywriter Simon Dolsten and art director Chris Bosler are behind “Homeless Essentials,” a photo-documentary project that aims to tell the real stories of those living on the streets via their most prized possessions.
“Almost all types of fashion magazines have articles that feature celebrities' and influencers’ ‘essentials’ [that are] framed as ‘Essentials I Can’t Live Without’ or as part of ‘must-have’ lists,” says Dolsten. “But none of the items are ever actual essentials. They’re luxury goods. To return meaning to the word, we asked the people who barely had anything what they relied on for survival.”
The effort, which also seeks to support homeless organization Urban Pathways, pairs photographs, shot by Gabriella Lincoln, with stories behind the objects. Each intertwine to depict the struggles endured and victories achieved by their owners.
One subject, for example, is a man named Ian, a recovering heroin addict who survived three overdoses and is now 10 months sober. Among his essentials are his methadone clinic ID card, a pack of wet wipes and a picture of his girlfriend and daughter. On the wipes, he explains, “I had so much shame in myself and in my addiction to begin with that I didn’t even want to be around anybody when I was on the street. So these [wipes] were so crucial to me,” and regarding his children, ”My daughters are the opposite of my bad side but a reflection of my good side,” he says.
45-year-old Tennisha, another subject, counts a plastic takeout container and a spray bottle of perfume among her most important goods. “A lot of the lunch places will give you little baggies and things like that,” she says, regarding the container. “Food might get ruined in your bag or you might drop it. You keep it in something like this.” And the perfume, she says, may be the difference between getting a job, or not. “The public bathrooms will get to you. If you're going to a job interview, you don't want to smell like you're homeless.”
At first glance, it might not compute that some of the objects are possessions of someone who's homeless—among the goods you’ll also see makeup, a Kindle, an iPad—but that’s part of the point. “Homeless, not hopeless,” reads copy on the site--they’re living, or trying to live, normal lives, just like the rest of us.
Dolsten and Bosler, who first met while working together at KBS (now Forsman & Bodenfors), say the experience, so far, has been enlightening. “We didn’t realize how complex homelessness is,” says Dolsten. “There’s rarely a single cause but often a combination of things like addiction, disease, abuse and lack of a support system. But everyone we spoke to had a sense of hope.”