The Camp Esperanza Photovoice Project recruited camp residents to take photos of their daily lives and identify the issues that are most pressing for their community. These residents have shared their voices in this project as a way to communicate with those who might not otherwise hear them. This photography project is a strategy for TOOF to amplify their voices and call attention to their lived experiences.
“cowboy black” photovoice
This is a speaker box that I’ve been working on restoring. It’s not complete, but it’s something I’ve been working on to do something positive for the people here. I had a speaker in there and it was substantially loud. This is a personal passion project for me. Music has always been my passion– I like music, I’ve written music, I’ve seen music, and I put this together because it’s also an occupation that I want to do.
People that choose to leave their belongings behind for the next person to clean up, throwing trash, that’s a choice. They don’t have to do that. We’re connected in every way you want to think of. If every person was to clean up after themselves, we wouldn’t see this. We would have a better living environment. This is a constant problem that gets worse. Someone pooped on the floor right in front of the toilet. When they do something like that you have to go ask around for gloves, and clean it up yourself. Regardless of how bad I have to go, I won’t use the toilet when it’s like that. The toilets are only cleaned 4 times a week, but I advocate for more frequent sanitization.
This is one of the major problems at the camp: electricity. What’s happening is people’s cords are getting unplugged because others need to charge their devices, this many cables causes the power to trip sometimes. You might be lying in bed with your fan running, it’s hot as hell outside, and suddenly it just goes off. Even prisons have proper electrical work.
TRAIL OF THE UNKNOWN
This is a picture of my bicycle on the trail that goes outside of the camp. It’s in a construction flooding zone, but we’re being allowed to go back and forth and use the trail because it lets us get to shops, our jobs, and the outside world. Since we don’t know how long we’re going to be here I hope funding can be made available to make this trail permanent to make transportation easier and safer. Sometimes it’s narrow, there’s bushes, tree stumps– and sometimes thorns get in your tires or cut you up, especially at night– there’s no lights. My bike is my primary form of transportation, it’s expensive if I get a flat and if something else goes wrong, and I have to order a part, I have to pay for that, shipping, and labor. It’s time consuming, and I still have to go to work. This trail is unknown, when you go down it, you find stuff you didn’t know was there like bushes, potholes, rocks, and it’s unpredictable. Despite this, I’d rather go the trail any day because if I leave the main entrance you take the risk of being hit by a car or semi truck.
GENERATOR - GENERAL ELECTRICITY
This is Big Joe from TOOF, he’s cool. I saw him working on the generator and we talked until after dark and he told me about how it works. I’ve seen how diligent they were putting the electricity in the building here, and I hope that down the road they might be willing to help us put electricity in the bays.
MASK OF THE UNKNOWN
This is a friend of mine in my bay. I wanted to see how the mask that I created for me looked on a woman. I made the mask because the mask head has screws in it, and they’re all pointing outward. If I had one screw in my head then it would malfunction, so the mask is meant to say: if it’s not broken why try to fix it? People have different reactions to the mask: some people are like “don’t wear that at night around me,” some people really like it like “damn that’s badass!” The response gives me enthusiasm to make more. It covers your actual face but it’s a mask you want to put on because once you do you become a part of the mask. I think it’s spiritual, when I put it on and I step outside my bay I can feel the energy of someone saying wow, I can feel the attention of people, it really grabs people.
This is a person who stays in the woods right outside of camp, but didn’t have an opportunity to come into the camp because it was closed to new residents due to COVID. Not only is there a camp inside the fence, but there’s also one on the outside– we’re still in community. We try to help these guys out to get food, water, and the same opportunity that we have. Sometimes we don’t have enough on the inside, so we aren’t able to give them anything, but we try our best.
RIGHT OUTSIDE THE CAMP
Another place people are dwelling right outside of the camp. They try to stay as close as they can get food, resources, and things that come into the camp, and there are things that we don’t have access to that they can help share with us too. Everyone is connected in some kind of way.
This is inside my bay, I took a picture of my laundry to remind myself I needed to do it. I pile up clothes right there, I work at a laundromat, and I do my laundry there. Other residents struggle to do their laundry. At the most, sometimes other residents will come to the water hose, and wash clothes right there.
MY VIEW OF THE WORLD
THE LONG WALK
Some days I look at the walk to the bathroom and want to cry. Accomplishing the most basic of tasks can a a Herculean effort. To the non-disabled, please step into my long walk.
MY VIEW OF THE WORLD
Sometimes disability brings out the best in people.
THE HIDDEN STRUGGLES
BATTLE TO THE DEATH
The amount of paperwork required to file for disability benefits is massive. Limited access to office resources increased the difficulty to overwhelming proportions. The question becomes: Will I die before I receive benefits?
THE HIDDEN STRUGGLES
THE HIDDEN STRUGGLES
HOW HOT IS HELL?
This is the daily temperature INSIDE our tent. We are blessed with an eight man tent with windows, to let in the breeze, a sun canopy above, and on pallets (keeping it off the concrete). Most people are not. Please notice that this thermometer does NOT measure temperatures above 120 degrees.
THE HIDDEN STRUGGLES
BUS PASSES OF OUR LIVES
THE HIDDEN STRUGGLES
THE HIDDEN STRUGGLES
MISSING! FAMILY DINNERS
THE HIDDEN STRUGGLES
THE HIDDEN STRUGGLES
NAME THAT RASH
THE HIDDEN STRUGLES
MY GOOD LEGS
Without shade, no one survives on the blacktop.
Amount of liquid required for one person to stay hydrated in the heat.
SAFETY x 10
Even before COVID, proper hygiene was imperative.
The majority of my food stamps go to ice. When I check on my neighbors, I ask, “Do you have ice, are you OK?” If someone is too hot, we use ice to cool them down. During the 9 month long Texas summer, ice is life.
GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS
Physical boundaries facilitate emotional boundaries. If someone I don’t know comes into my personal space, they have now become a threat. By making it easier for people to see that demarcation point, I am able to mitigate physical altercations by feeling safer.
E. COLI ANYONE?
You can’t buy cleaning products on food stamps, and yet they are necessary. Someone almost died from kidney failure brought on by a C. diff. Infection caught in the camp. This one bottle of bleach has daily cleaned the toilet seats and been shared to many hands.
TOOL OF WARNING: A WOMAN’S ARSENAL
The best way to stay safe is to prevent violence. As a woman, a good way to do this is by showing that you are not an easy target. Displaying weapons accomplishes this admirably. Anyone who does not see or heed this obvious “Stay Away” display automatically moves to the immediate danger category.
BEAUTY IS FREE
Someone told me that they were at camp instead of in hospice because “I want to die where I can see the trees!” No one can take the sky away for lack of payment.
COMMUNITY IS A GODSEND
Pastor George comes out periodically and brings us ice and gatorade. He prays over our ailments and asks that we care for others. We take this time to check in with and up on our neighbors and, most importantly, be thankful.
SLEEP IN PEACE TONIGHT
When I came out to the camp I was a single woman. The horrific domestic violence, the drug dealing, the physical altercations swirled around me from every direction. At night I feared rape. However, when I heard the trooper cars make their rounds at night I felt safe and could sleep. I wish them a measure of the peace they gifted me.
LIFE SAVERS – ICE DELIVERY
A Church brings huge ice deliveries every Thursday. They were the first to recognize and listen to our needs. They are always so sweet. They aren’t flashy, but they are there. This picture epitomizes so many that help simply because there is a need, NOT because there is something to gain.
DONald “hippie” montgomery photovoice
This waterline was buried and “completed” before full testing was done. Unnecessary work is the bane of public service and should be avoided where possible.”
Two donated canopies provide a much needed shelter for common areas. Good, clean common areas are essential to community building.
The Texas Department of Emergency Management and the Texas department of Public Safety personnel have been very good at taking care of the community. TDEM management has provided an excellent structure and guide. With no training, they rose to the occasion of properly managing a very challenging population. They established good boundaries for an aggressive group of people while respecting the dignity and personal space of the residents. I have to mention two particular heroes; Logan (from Sunrise) and Summer (from TDEM), who were fierce in their determination to do the right thing and do it well.
Medium level camping skills are required to cook in the current camp situation. Alternatives like restaurants and convenience stores are far too expensive and inadequate for proper food. Campfires are an impractical option, and attempts to cook or microwave at the charging station were damaging and dangerous. The food provided by management was, in the beginning, quite acceptable. This has eroded to snacks and MREs, supplemented by donations and people who bring meals to the camp. The groups who prepare meals are working hard to help a big problem.
The camping style and gear has been limited to tents or non-permanent structures, vehicles, camper shells and vans. The recent appearance of RV trailers without water service may be a new acceptable limit. No water, perhaps electric. Working wheels and axles. Probably should get a release.
As with any camping, the end of the day sometimes provides cooling and quieting. If kept dry, furniture can provide a moment of rest. The reduced lighting should be considered, excepting safety. The recent malfunction of the lights was enjoyable and manageable.
The community seems to thrive on salvage construction. Pallets are crucial to proper drainage for tents and repurposed for fences and many things. The burning of pallet wood should be prohibited, as it is treated wood and releases toxins when burned.
Many residents are active at night. In Summer, it can be the only way to escape the brutal heat. This camp has access to a private generator, and can employ lighting, fans, computers, and a charging station. Camp security lighting is particularly harsh. Recently a few have malfunctioned, leaving it softer and seemingly more calm. Crime and damage have not increased, but a bit more lighting may be called for beyond what the malfunction revealed. Safety first, but harsh environments can be improved.
As the impediments here weigh on a person, we don’t react as we might in conventional housing. Any of our daily functioning must be done outside or under tarps and tents. Things can get out of hand quickly. Depression or just fatigue will be the tipping point for more personal chaos. People without motivation don’t fight entropy and a growing mess results. Hoarders quickly overflow past their camp, obstructing others, breeding rats, ants, and foul smells. If it rains on such a site, decay takes over quickly.
I have been honored to be interviewed by a number of media. The Austin American Statesman, Endeavor Magazine, independent journalists and the Guardian UK are some notable. This is one of the Independents. It is a rare chance to speak out about homelessness and social issues. I might even be heard, somewhere out there.
THE OTHER ONES
After a total non-start by one charity, these folks have come in amazingly capable of delivering on their initial programs. Obviously not their first rodeo. They have put astounding effort in listening to the residents, noting closely their challenges, and have begun a machine-gun of assistance. Standing every chance of ameliorating one of Society’s greatest challenges, these folks are aggressively helpful and suspiciously happy.
We hand out supplies and disinfect the stalls between each user. Critical, particularly these days. The showers are now serviced by an eight-stall trailer allowing for male and female separation.
Two residents work at the shower trailer everyday. Disinfecting the stalls between each user is critical, particularly these days. A friend and I had a few weeks of shifts monitoring and cleaning the shower trailers. Good pay, and we do a pro job welcoming users, disinfecting equipment, and providing necessities. Trash, painting, and other work is ongoing.
Brought by The Other Ones Foundation, net access, in addition to phone, must be maintained for survival and success. Aggressive teaching and coaching of computer and internet skills would be potent ammunition for people trying to rise. Here, I am completing online First Aid certification for a project at the camp. In days past, I held high-level certification, and this is also the start of my campaign to certify again as a Paramedic.
This Christian group sings, praises, and feeds well every Saturday Morning. It’s good food with a kind delivery. Talented musicians sing praise and they have a short service attended pretty well.
This Church calls to food and worship just like it was done 2000 years ago, with a ram’s horn.
The clinic area will be the first organized effort for medical assistance here at the camp. In the past, I have functioned as a volunteer medic at nights and for those who are very authority averse. Anything beyond scrapes and cuts is referred to medical providers.
A quiet danger is the heat. Recent measurements show air at 103, 102 in the shade, and 165 degrees on the asphalt. Brutally baking sun pours onto asphalt on which live people with only cloth for protection. A local church was going to donate many of these canopies but just a few were allowed, over common areas. Residents make for the tables out of the direct sun. This is their only refuge. Improvement of these common areas for shade and cooling is not only more comfortable but can greatly reduce medical issues in an older population.
We’re all here because we’re not all there
Many spaces here can have urban art, adding much needed color and lighter mood. Many residents have skills; local artists are happy to show their talents.
Cell phone use and support have become surprisingly critical to any effort to survive. Despite its grave necessity, the charging station has been a source for conflict and problems from the beginning. Fights and near fights occur over plugs, placement, and those who abuse the electric for cooking or television. The circuits blow frequently, people break into the building to “fix” it. A nest of extension cords power bays and irate residents fly out to accuse the folk just charging of thwarting their right to basically steal electricity never authorized, while most do without. Phones were frequently stolen or broken by critically unaware persons. And then another fight would start, perpetuating loud, ignorant, repetitive arguments and conflicts lasting all day. The atmosphere was abusive and dangerous. I donated the desk used for charging which, although hard worn, is holding up.
A very strong pride-of-place is displayed by many residents. They call the campsites “home, and “my house.” Some are hoarders and some have camps worthy of showing.
The hose showers provide adequate cleaning at all hours, a pleasant experience. Sadly many are blatantly irresponsible with the water, leaving it on for hours, washing card,
A slight upgrade such as slip tread, and prepared wood surfaces, marine paint, minor repairs, and water management would maintain a useful choice in hygiene. I was born on a farm and know that outdoor showers can be the right option.
A smart move that will require some effort tending and promoting resident engagement. The first meeting will be a watershed for residents and management. Past efforts at community governance fell prey to typical human disengagement. A steering council was nearly formed but did not mature. A few members moved on, got housing, or just faded out. A committee of at least advisory status would be strategic in furthering goals and executing programs most beneficially. Prominently, we have a population of folks, however, who are highly authority averse. Engaging residents or their representative can promote uplift and raise quality of life.
I have considered this problem for years, and this seems to be a profoundly powerful tool for getting people off the streets and medians and squatters camps. In addition, imagine a system where no one has to fear eviction or poverty because there is ALWAYS an adequate place to go.
One of the saddest parts of camp is hearing the frequent litany of misery between couples. Loud and uncaring, this broadcasts their pain to all around them and seriously degrades our quality of life. On occasion this leads to police and ambulance calls. We need a compassionate approach to this serious problem. This picture was staged, the only one in this series.