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Scenes of Homelessness

Scenes of Homelessness
At dawn, a homeless woman pushes her cart down Winston Street near skid row in downtown Los Angeles. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

To portray the life of homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles, Times photographer Francine Orr enters their world slowly.

Working alongside colleague and videographer Albert Lee, Orr visits at night to witness people at their most vulnerable.

She asks permission to photograph them, and when they allow it, she spends time listening and watching. Her work is painstaking. She compares it to casting a fishing net and waiting for the right moment.

People sometimes yell at her for being there with a camera. Other times, they thank her for documenting their lives. She wins the trust of those who are untrusting simply by being there, respectful of their space but unflinching in her gaze.

Her images are stark, raw and haunting. Her pictures capture the despair and perseverance of people who are homeless in L.A. and give their lives a depth and dimension that passersby rarely see.

Homelessness has a harsh, daily routine. Morning means waking up on a sidewalk at San Pedro and 5th and rolling up your belongings before heading off to wherever the day takes you.

On Skid Row, one homeless person shuffles from one side of the street to the other as police and sanitation workers clear it for deep cleaning.

On those rare days when it rains, a blanket serves as an umbrella. In fact, a blanket for a homeless person is like armor. It offers warmth and privacy and fends off intruders, both well-meaning and malevolent.

Homelessness has become so normalized in Los Angeles that a man waiting at a crosswalk for a light, engrossed in his phone, doesn’t even notice the body on the sidewalk under a blanket next to his feet. A worker outside a downtown storefront simply sweeps around a man sleeping on the sidewalk, taking care not to disturb him.

Those who are homeless carry on through the day, harrowing though it may be. An addict and her boyfriend near MacArthur Park refuse to go to an overnight shelter with its numerous rules. An Iraq War veteran on the streets of Hollywood says he keeps his hands filthy to repel anyone who may come too close.

A flock of birds flies over a sidewalk encampment early one morning — a vision of calm above a landscape of misery.

HOLLYWOOD, CA FEBRUARY 20, 2018: Michael Tipton begins to cry as he stands outside of Jack in the
Michael Tipton begins to cry as he stands outside of Jack in the Box in Hollywood, CA February 20, 2018. Mike says he is a veteran and he served in Iraq. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES , CA NOVEMBER 17, 2017: A man climbs into the garbage bin in an alley in Los Angeles, CA
A man climbs into the garbage bin in an alley in Los Angeles. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA NOVEMBER 8, 2017: A homeless person sits under a blanket next to a McDonald's bag ne
A homeless person huddles under a blanket next to a McDonald's bag near Alameda and 4th streets. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
RICHARD MOOREHEAD takes a break from wheeling his cart. The 39-year-old, who says he was diagnosed w
Richard Moorehead takes a break from wheeling his cart. The 39-year-old, who says he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, wants to live in an RV. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA NOVEMBER 17, 2017: Shirley Velastegui, (CQ), 22, sits next to her luggage near MacAr
Shirley Velastegui, 22, sits next to her luggage near MacArthur Park. She says she has been homeless for a year and is a drug user. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LONG BEACH, CA November 15, 2017: Oscar Gonzalez, 50, showers using a small bottle of water before h
Oscar Gonzalez, 50, showers using a small bottle of water before he heads off to work in Los Angeles. Gonzalez said he has been homeless for five years. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA NOVEMBER 17, 2017: Homelessness is such a common scene that a woman sweeps around a
A shopkeeper sweeps around a man sleeping on the sidewalk in the jewelry district. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA January 19, 2018: A woman sits outside on the sidewalk outside The Midnight Missio
A woman sitting on the sidewalk washes her hands using sanitizer outside the Midnight Mission in the skid row neighborhood of downtown L.A. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
Hollywood, CA January 31, 2018: LAPD officer Yolanda Gutter, left, speaks with Ken Adam, right in
Officer Yolanda Gutter, left, speaks with Ken Adam while riding the Metro in Los Angeles. Gutter is a mental health evaluation officer with the LAPD and works as part of the HOPE project, the Homeless Outreach Partnership Endeavor. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
VENICE, CA DECEMBER 6, 2017: At dawn, a homeless man walks around Venice Beach wearing a blanket N
At dawn, a homeless man walks around Venice Beach wearing a blanket. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA FEBRUARY 13, 2017: Angel Barros, 48, packs up her tent in preparation for sidewa
Angel Barros, 48, packs up her tent in preparation for sidewalk cleaning on Spring Street. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 2, 2014: A person stands beneath a blanket in the rain trying to keep dry
A person stands beneath a blanket in the rain trying to keep dry, on San Pedro Street on skid row. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA February 2, 2018: A man sleeps on the slide walk beneath a blanket in downtown Los A
A man sleeps on the sidewalk beneath a blanket in downtown Los Angeles. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
HOLLYWOOD, CA DECEMBER 1, 2017: Sitting in a wheelchair Isabella, or Bella, is a homeless woman li
Isabella, who goes by Bella, lives on a sidewalk in Hollywood and uses a wheelchair. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA February 2, 2018: A person sleeps on a piece of card board, surrounded by boxes o
A person sleeps on a piece of cardboard, surrounded by boxes on the sidewalk on skid row. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
Even as it continues to gentrify, downtown L.A. remains the epicenter of a staggering homeless probl
Even as it continues to gentrify, downtown Los Angeles remains the epicenter of a staggering homeless problem. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA February 2, 2018: Wearing only a pair of boxers, a beach umbrella, and nothing on hi
Wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, a beach blanket and nothing on his feet in the predawn hours, a man sits quietly on a sidewalk on skid row. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA NOVEMBER 15, 2017: At dawn people are sleeping on the sidewalk wrapped in tarps and
As dawn breaks, several people wrapped in tarps and covered with cardboard sleep along a sidewalk on Boyd Street. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA OCTOBER 26, 2017: A homeless man eats dinner out of a Campbell's Soup can while he c
A homeless man eats dinner out of a Campbell's soup can while he clutches a teddy bear at a bus stop on Spring Street. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
A flock of birds flies over a sidewalk encampment early one morning--as if they could lift up the m
A flock of birds flies over a sidewalk homeless encampment early one morning. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGLES, CA FEBRUARY 2, 2018: Pre dawn - Cat hangs out joking around and talking with his chil
A homeless man known as Cat talks with his childhood friend next to a small fire on skid row. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
A PERSON sleeps at 1st and Spring streets, across from Los Angeles City Hall in November. The number
A person sleeps at 1st and Spring streets, across from Los Angeles City Hall. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA February 15, 2018: While sitting on the sidewalk Josua (no last name given) injects
While sitting on a sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles, a man shoots up. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
After photos showed portable toilets on skid row being used for prostitution, the city hauled them a
After photos showed portable toilets on skid row being used for prostitution, the city hauled them away in 2006. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES, CA OCTOBER 15, 2005: "Thick and Juicy," other wise know as TJ stands on the corner of
"Thick and Juicy," otherwise known as TJ, stands at 6th and San Julian streets in the skid row neighborhood in 2005. She said she worked and lived in the portable toilets, which later were removed. "I run this corner," she said. Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
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