Stunning new photos show tragedy of homelessness in U.S. (videos)

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An investigation into a homeless crisis on the West Coast has led to a set of stunning photos (see slideshow below) by Associated Press photographer Jae Hong. Taken in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, Hong captured intimate portraits of homeless Americans with a special focus on their eyes.

“It’s harder to look away when you’ve seen their eyes,” the AP report declares.

The portraits are moving, and include images of haunting loss, troubled appeal and placid endurance, while the report delves into how the subjects came to be without a permanent residence.

“The questions don’t always have easy answers,” the report says. “Solutions are not always available. The extent of someone’s past troubles can be impossible to know.”

The surge in homelessness on the West Coast is reaching epic proportions. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, there are at least 168,000 homeless individuals living in California, Oregon and Washington. Rising rents are the main problem the residents face.

To follow is a summary some of the stories from the AP report:

MOI WILLIAMS, 59, Los Angeles, California – Williams told the AP that he’s been on the streets three or four years. He had a job, but “it just got away,” he said, recalling that he intended to find another but his prospects have since diminished. Now he is trying to beat drugs and alcohol.

TAMMY STEPHEN, 54, Seattle, Washington – On the street, Stephen is called “mom” because she cooks and generally looks after others in Camp Second Chance.

“I’m not going to let my family go hungry,” she said. “We’re doing our best to get through life.”

In and out of rehab and addiction, Stephen said she’s been homeless for over three years, and is working on a plan to live with others from the camp. In Seattle, that could run them $1,200 to $1,500 a month for a small apartment.

“Most homeless people I know aren’t homeless because they’re addicts,” she said. “Maybe they were at one time. Most people are homeless because they can’t afford a place to live.”

JOHN RUIZ, 9, Mountain View, California – Ruiz is a fourth-grader who dreams of going to college. His father is a minimum-wage landscape worker, and his family lives in a camper since they were evicted from an apartment whose rates rose to nearly $3,000 a month.

He says the worst thing about living in a camper is the close quarters and the fluctuating temperatures inside. Still, he’s grateful to have a place to live.

“At least we have a home we can live in,” he said. “I have a bunch of toys. Mostly the good part is there’s a little stove where we can eat.”

Ruiz dreams of having a home and his own room. “I want to have a happy life,” he said. His mother is five months pregnant.

SEE SOME OF THE HAUNTING PHOTOS IN THE TWO SLIDESHOWS BELOW:

 

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