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Tent City: The Unknown Community Of Woodbridge, Virginia

Steven Lewis Hardeman
Credit: Ryan Garza

Tent City: The Unknown Community Of Woodbridge, Virginia

At Midlothian, VA

Tent City: The Unknown Community Of Woodbridge, Virginia

 Jun 27, 2016

What’s it like to be homeless in one of the wealthiness counties of Virginia?

Welcome to Tent City, the homeless camp of Dale City, Virginia.

It’s just 25 miles from Washington, D.C., hidden along the forest of Dale Boulevard. Minutes away from the shopping and dining epicenter of Prince William County sits a neighborhood not many are familiar with much less, ever heard of. Tent City. I took a journey into this unknown territory to speak with its residents and discover what life is like for a small dozens of the hundreds of homeless in one of the wealthiest counties of Virginia.

Upon first entering I received glares acquainted only with the roar of vehicles coming from the always busy I-95 that is less than a mile away. The silence was broken by an older man yelling, “You look too clean to be here.” At this moment, I didn’t know whether to laugh or turn back. I informed them that I was there for a story and in exchange, I’d give any help I could offer. My introduction was less than ideal but was enough to get me so called “right of passage” an outsider needs to enter into this community.

I walked through this area nearing almost 50 acres. Flags, various banners, old carpets, and tents consumed the space. The only thing I could compare it with was something seem out of an post apocalypse movie or video game. The first gentleman I spoke to, who chose to remain nameless, is 38 years old and has been living here for the last three years. “I don’t know how it happened … Nobody’s goal in life is to be homeless… I was a regular guy then one day my life started crumbling before I knew it, I was here.” The man was very open about his experiences and seemed somewhat eager to show me his living space. He showed me his tent and explained how there might be anywhere between 10 to 18 in one tent. “It’s not much but it’s home,” he stated. Continuing through his area, he showed me a grill he said, “The funny thing about this grill is that its never cooked any food, only to start fires when it gets cold.”

The second person who was open to speaking with me was a 28-year-old woman, Destiny Grear, who has been a resident of the community for the last year. “This is my 3rd camp, there’s tons of em’ around here…”Unless you’re out here you don’t know how hard it is in the forest. All you’re ever worried about is just surviving, just getting by … People really don’t think this is real but it is.” Destiny said she has tried going to different types of shelters in the area but explained how you can only be there so long until you are forced to relocate. “I’ve been homeless since I was 23. Nobody could comprehend how hard it is for a young female to have to live like this … I’ve had to do things I’m not proud of at all sometimes you run out of options and make bad choices, that’s how you end up here I could I gone to school and done what I was supposed too, that’s my burden to carry everybody goes through stuff this the hand I’ve been dealt I don’t blame anybody.”

The last two individuals I spoke to that really struck a cord with me was a couple. Christopher and Donna Wise were once normal happy homeowners in Woodbridge,Virginia. “I grew up since I was a little girl went to Garfield High School, was a homeowner all my life then lost my home to foreclosure, my husband lost his job and couldn’t find any work that was the preamble… It sounds crazy, one day you got everything and the next, you’re dying for just a shower. ”

Day to day life for these people consist of holding a sign asking for any spare change. One resident said he’d be lucky to get $5 in a week’s time. What amazed me the most was the diversity of the community people of all backgrounds, all walks of life called this tent city home. Everyone I spoke to shared one thing in common they said they do anything for just some fresh water or a night without having to rummage through a dumpster for something to eat. People as young as 18 and as old as 58 are living in conditions that would barely be acceptable in some third world countries. Even through these hardships every member of this community was just that, part of a community. Everyone looked out for one another and through a bad situation became a family. Still fighting day after day. These people have to endure through freezing winters and scorching summers year after year. Somehow, whether through perseverance or an ever-lasting ounce of optimism they held their head high. Self-aware of their pain but strong enough and unwilling to express it.

For me personally, sometimes the hardest part of my day is finding something to watch on Netflix and its luxuries that are taken for granted every day. In Prince William County alone, there are reportedly over 500 people who are homeless. Most of us, I think, don’t take the time to even consider how real of an issue it is here in Northern Virginia new restaurants and stores are being built at an staggering rate and what will happen when these make-shift wooded camps for the homeless are eventually torn through in order to build the next apartment complex? If I want there to be any takeaway from this article apart from raising awareness, is next time you see someone in need of help, don’t be afraid to lend a helping hand. You just don’t know what they could be going through the residents of Tent City I spoke to said the hardest thing to find was simply help. The first thing that’s seen when coming into Dale City is a welcome sign that reads The Friendliest Little Town Around. Maybe its time we start acting on that motto a little more.


Man Turns Old Truck Into Mobile Shower For Homeless People To Wash Up And Restore Their Dignity

Man Turns Old Truck Into Mobile Shower For Homeless People To Wash Up And Restore Their Dignity

Man Turns Old Truck Into Mobile Shower For Homeless People To Wash Up And Restore Their Dignity

When people want to help the homeless they usually think of providing them with money or goods like food, water, and clothes. But what about their personal hygiene? It’s just as important. Soap, clean water, a safe washing facility – these…

I Photograph The Homeless By Becoming One Of Them


I Photograph The Homeless By Becoming One Of Them

I Photograph The Homeless By Becoming One Of Them

I’m inundated with emails on a daily basis. “What camera do you use?”, “How do you obtain the black background in your images?”, “Will you employ me as your assistant?” to quote but a few. The questions are varied, but all…

click title for more

homelessness around the world

homelessness around the world

25 Cities With Extremely High Homeless Populations


According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, there is an estimated 100 million homeless people worldwide. This is a startling statistic when you consider how affluent some parts of the world are. Here is but a short glimpse at this social travesty within these 25 cities with extremely high homeless populations.


Lisbon, Portugal


Most of the homeless people in Portugal are concentrated in the cities of Lisbon and Porto. Reports say that around 300 homeless people sleep on the streets of Lisbon every night. Today, members of the Comunidade Vida e Paz are persuading the homeless population of Lisbon to take part in rehabilitation programs in order to improve the quality of their lives.


Denver, Colorado


According to the 2012 Point in Time report from Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, Denver saw an increase in it’s homeless population from 411 to 964 between the years of 2011 and 2012.


Indianapolis, Indiana


There are as many as 2,200 homeless people every night in the city of Indianapolis, which is equivalent to around 15,000 over the course of a year. Thought this city is known for its faith-based shelters, there’s just not enough shelters to provide a place for the entire homeless population.


Dublin, Ireland


In a recent study shows that about seven people per day become homeless in Dublin. In 2013, there were about 2,366 people that were reported to be sleeping on the streets of Dublin every night. The government’s failure to increase the stock of social housing is said to be the root cause of this social problem.


Rio De Janeiro, Brazil


Rio De Janeiro is known for having a high homelessness rate with over 2,500 homeless people as of last year.


Baltimore, Maryland


According to a 2011 study, there are about 4,088 homeless individuals in Baltimore, Maryland, many of which are families with children. Today, the city government is making strides towards putting an end to this social problem by creating projects aimed at providing affordable housing and health care.


Tokyo, Japan


A 2013 study shows an estimated homeless population of 5,000 living in Tokyo. This number was a significant increase from the 3,800 homeless individuals recorded in 2008.


Chicago, Illinois


As of July 2013, analysis by Chicago Coalition for the Homeless found that 116,042 Chicagoans were homeless in the course of the 2012-13 school year. This is a 10% increase from last year’s homeless population.


Washington, D.C.


According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless people living in Washington in 2013 was around 6,865. Last year, the city government began to provide shelter to its homeless population whenever temperature levels droped below freezing point. Those who do not want to stay in temporary shelters are provided with a budget to stay in hotels.


Rome, Italy


Out of the 17,000 homeless people in Italy, 7,000 are from Rome.


Tampa, Florida


Lack of affordable housing and homeless shelters has contributed to the alarming number of 7,419 homeless people who call the streets of Tampa their home each night.


San Diego, California


The second largest city in the State of California with a population of 1,345,895, San Diego is home to 8,879 homeless people.


Athens, Greece


Homelessness statistics show that out of the 20,000 homeless people in Greece, 9,000 are from Athens. The number of homeless people in Athens has continued to grow since the economic crisis of 2009.


Seattle, Washington


According to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, Seattle is home to a total homeless population of 9,106.


San Francisco, U.S.A.


Around 7,000 to 10,000 people in San Francisco, U.S.A. are homeless, 3,000 to 5,000 of which refuse to live in temporary shelters provided by the government.




Street Outreach programs have afforded me a rare glimpse into the lives of those who sleep on the streets. Rife with addiction and mental illness, this community is hard to penetrate and even harder to document. Approaching subjects on the streets of LA has become a delicate art. I had to be well versed on all topics of incarceration, addiction, and health. I had to navigate the streets with care, having a few close encounters with gangs and people out of control on cocktails of hard drugs. An acute street knowledge helped me get on the level of the people I was photographing, and dismantled any apprehensions they had about me taking photos. In an attempt to get more candid and intimate photos, I never shoot a person before having a friendly chat and getting to know them a little better.

I hope these photos afford some insight into the reality of being homeless.


A homeless teen panhandles on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This photo was taken on assignment with the PATH Street Outreach team, just after sunrise on a cold spring morning in Hollywood.


Street Outreach plays a huge role in getting people into housing. The man and woman in this photo have been married for seven years, and homeless for six. When I approached them with a Street Outreach team, they were cuddling each other on the sidewalk in the front of a dilapidated theater in Hollywood.


This shot was taken on the Hollywood Walk of Fame out front of the Chinese Theatre. This 20-year-old homeless girl dresses, talks, and walks like a boy to deter unwanted attention on the streets.


A dog is a man’s best friend. This homeless teen has been moving his way down the West Coast of America with his skateboard and his dog Charlie.


This photo was taken right after sunrise in the ghetto of East Hollywood. These teens have a small window of time right before rush hour to pack up their encampment, or run the risk of an arrest or fine from the LAPD.


Heroin is the drug of choice in Hollywood. This drug den is set up under the 101 freeway next to the Hollywood Bowl. The ground was strewn with used needles, and the stench of human decay permeated the air for 100ft in either direction.


Susan had been homeless for two weeks when this photo was taken while a Street Outreach team from PATH give her a hygiene kit and packed lunch. She is a long-term heroin addict, having lost her apartment whilst spiraling into addiction. She is now living on the footpath with her three chihuahuas and all her possessions stuffed into shopping carts.


Courtney and Reggie head out every morning to cultivate relationships with the ‘help resistant’ homeless population. It can sometimes take years of work to establish a strong enough relationship with people to pull them off the streets and into temporary housing.


Taken before sunset, this image shows a homeless man who has locked himself into a ‘utility cupboard’ to keep himself safe from attacks overnight.


Children’s toys are hung in a depraved artistic expression in a Hollywood heroin den under the 101 freeway.


“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor that die.” 75% of the homeless population in Hollywood are under the age of 25.


Margret has been living out front of this condemned building in Hollywood for more then a decade. She supposedly has quite substantial wealth, but chooses to live alone on the streets with her mental illness.


PATH Street Outreach director Courtney attempts to calm a homeless women who is high on crack. Paranoia and erratic behavior compound the symptoms of mental illness associated with hard-drug addiction.


Rife with gangs, loan sharks, and thieves, Skid Row is a dangerous place to live. Homeless veteran Slayer shows me his only form of protection.


This woman posed for a portrait in my local bus shelter in Mid-City LA. Bus shelters provide shade and protection from the elements, but it is illegal to occupy them for long periods of time.


Panhandling in LA is illegal, but the sheer numbers of homeless people that rely on the generosity of passersby make it hard for the LAPD to control or regulate.

Barber spends his Sundays cutting the hair of the homeless for free, because ‘every human life is worth the same’


Barber spends his Sundays cutting the hair of the homeless for

free, because ‘every human life is worth the same’


Instagram account.


Act of kindness gave one homeless man the confidence to look for work
 Wednesday 20 August 2014

Hair stylist Mark Bustos works in an high-end salon in New York City during the week, but on Sundays gives back to the city by walking the streets in search of anyone who would appreciate a haircut.

Bustos approaches each person with the same introduction – “I want to do something nice for you today” – and if they’re interested sits down to give them a trim or a new style, cutting up to six people’s hair every Sunday and documenting them on his Instagram account.

This is no stunt though, Mark has been giving free haircuts since May 2012.

Speaking of a visit to the Philippines where he paid a barbershop owner to provide services to poor children, he told The Huffington Post: “The feeling was so rewarding, I decided to bring the positive energy back to NYC.”
Asked of his favourite impromptu client, he replied: ” Jemar Banks — I’ll never forget the name.

“After offering him a haircut and whatever food he wanted to eat, he didn’t have much to say throughout the whole process, until after I showed him what he looked like when I was done … The first thing he said to me was, ‘Do you know anyone that’s hiring?'”

Though a haircut may only be a simple, aesthetically-based good turn, it can prove symbolic of a fresh start and give people who are down on their luck the confidence and self-belief to go out and pursue work.
“Every human life is worth the same, we all deserve a second chance,” Bustos captioned one of his Instagram pictures.

The hairdresser’s girlfriend often joins him on his weekly trip around the streets of NYC, asking the people he cuts what they’d like to eat.

“One response we’ve gotten is, ‘Nobody ever asks me what I actually want. I usually just get leftovers and scraps,'” he added.

A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco


A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco

A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco

An old MUNI bus in San Francisco is getting a second life with a noble cause. Outfitted with toilets and showers, Lava Mae‘s refurbished bus will bring mobile bathrooms to homeless people around the city. The long-awaited bus will make its first rounds this weekend.

Homelessness in San Francisco is famously (and infamously) a growing concern. With thousands of homeless and just a handful of shower facilities for them, Lava Mae will be providing a much-needed service in the city. It’ll park at various spots around San Francisco, drawing water from fire hydrants.

Doniece Sandoval, Lava Mae’s founder, first got the idea two years ago. After securing an old bus from MUNI, she’s raised money—through crowdfunding and corporate sponsors like Google—to outfit the bus with two full-service bathrooms. If all goes well, she hopes to have three more shower buses up and running.

A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco

For better or for worse, the fates of public sanitation and homelessness in San Francisco—and elsewhere—are intertwined. “For at least a decade, bathrooms have stood in for the city’s anxieties about homelessness, public utilities, and the changing economy,” wrote Rachel Swan in an excellent piece on public bathrooms in SF Weekly. That the city’s shiny JCDecaux public toilets—with their futuristic-sounding self-cleaning cycles—have turned into dens of drug use and prostitution is a symptom of the city’s problems.

Lava Mae isn’t going to solve the root cause of homelessness, but it does very directly address a real issue faced by the homeless. And it’s an idea San Franciscans who love to complain about smelly streets can certainly get behind it. [CBS San FranciscoSFist]

A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San FranciscoEXPAND

Doniece Sandoval in front of the Lava Mae bus. All photos by Kena Frank






Life Under The Streets: Drug Addicts And Orphans In Romania Find Homes In The City Sewers

Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is a beautiful city full of graceful architecture and rich with history. But beneath its beautiful streets is another world, buried there after the fall of Romania’s brutal communist dictatorship – a world of sewers and forgotten orphans.

This underground network of sewers is home to the city’s lost and forgotten souls, most of whom have HIV and a quarter of whom suffer from TB. The sewers, and their king Bruce Lee, were the subject of a recently released Channel 4 News film.

Bruce Lee, this underworld’s king and primary drug dealer, is a complicated figure. He keeps the underground supplied with a metallic paint called Aurelac that they inhale to get high and with other synthetic drugs. However, the fearsome orphan and former street-fighter also pays local gangs for protection and protects other young orphans who have fallen through the cracks. Social workers say that Lee protects the youngsters from sexual predators and that junkies are far less likely to die when Lee offers them a warm place to sleep.

The sewers are remnants of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s grand plan to centrally heat the city. Although this plan didn’t work out, the ruined infrastructure gave the orphans who were forgotten after the fall of his dictatorship a place to live.



Bruce Lee enters his underground sewer kingdom underneath Bucharest









Lee provides these sewers’ denizens with metallic paint and synthetic drugs – their only comforts


Most of these people have HIV, and a quarter have TB


Amazing Artist Goes Dumpster Diving, Builds Homes for the Homeless


Amazing Artist Goes Dumpster Diving, Builds Homes for the Homeless


Here you see Artis Gregory Kloehn going dumpster diving.


Instead of selling his art and trying to get rich, he feeds the ones who have no material possessions to give in return.

This is how the starts to build homes for the homeless—cute little ones that drastically improve living standards.


Now his project is getting attention from the media.


And doesn’t go unnoticed by the people he helps either.


Changing lives, one sofa sized house after another.


Each house is unique and can fend off the weather.


And each has little wheels, so the houses are mobile if the owner wants to move.


A huge upgrade from their previous housing situation.



Knowing that his work is actually helping people, Gregory feels more satisfaction in his work.



Just working with the stuff he finds, every house he creates is one of a kind.



They are called the little homeless houses.


Some are simple, with just sleeping space and room for some stuff.


Some include a small kitchen and a ….


…kitchen sink.


He plans on teaching his craft so others can do it too.



“A lot of people who hear about what I’m doing want to get involved,” he said. “Maybe we meet some place and put a couple homes together.”


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