Photographers' Blog

Meeting the hungry of Caracas

Caracas, Venezuela

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

For a year or so now, we photographers have been illustrating Venezuela’s economic crisis with photos of empty shelves and queues forming outside supermarkets. But now I wanted to do something different.

Jose Rodriguez, 43, poses for a picture at the Mother Teresa of Calcutta eating center in Caracas March 21, 2014. Jose lives on street and he used to work patching up tires. He has eaten at the eating center for over 2 years, because he has no money for nothing. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In search of a more intimate perspective on the story, I found out about a eating center in Caracas that has been caring for homeless people for the last 14 years. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find it. The only directions I had were: “it’s in San Martin district, under a bridge next to some tyres”.

But even though there was no one on the phone who could help me pinpoint the centre’s exact location, when I arrived in the area a strong smell of vegetable soup wafting from behind a closed door let me know I was on the right track. Sure enough, there it was: The Mother Teresa of Calcutta eating centre.

In a dishevelled back street of central Caracas, under a bridge, the centre houses a number of long, concrete tables and benches. It has faded indigo-blue walls and bears marks from the floods that occur regularly during the rainy season, with just a couple of lightbulbs to complement the faint stream of light from the only window in the place. Willy, the shelter’s resident cat, helps keep the floor clean of scraps.

Everson Rodriguez, 22, eats lunch at the Mother Teresa of Calcutta eating center in Caracas March 19, 2014. Everson  lives on street and he used to work as a construction worker. He has eaten at the eating center for over 6 months, because although he makes some money watching cars on street, all he wins on that, he spent it on drugs. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The center’s Venezuelan version of Mother Teresa is Fernanda, a warm and smiling lady, who for over a decade has been carefully preparing soup in a gigantic pot. When someone makes a special donation or the budget stretches far enough, she provides a meat dish. The food is always free, and no questions are asked of the people who come in to eat it.

Homeless in Greece

Athens, Greece

By Yannis Behrakis

Marialena’s tears ran down her face onto the dirty mattress where she and her boyfriend Dimitrios have been sleeping day in, day out, for over a year, under a bridge in one of Athens’ most run-down neighborhoods.

Marialena, 42, is a homeless AIDS patient and a former drug addict on a Methadone rehab program.

Athens is full of sad stories like hers – of once ordinary people with a job and family who have found themselves on the fringes of society after the country’s economic crisis began in 2009. Up until a few years ago, homelessness was relatively unusual in this country of close family ties, but nowadays stories like Marialena’s are increasingly common.

In the spirit of a Franciscan Pope

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

It was Palm Sunday in Rio’s cathedral when I found them in a small group wearing their simple, traditional robes, with short hair and beards, praying, concentrating, amidst hundreds of other Catholics.  I’m talking about the Franciscans, young followers of Saint Francis of Assisi who on some occasions I had seen roaming the city, almost invisible, helping Rio’s poor.

I knew nothing about them, but with the election of a Latin American Pope and his chosen name of Francis, I began to do some research. Apart from what I learned from the Internet and through phone calls to a monastery, there wasn’t a lot more information available. The Franciscan orders have existed for centuries around the world, but I wanted to know more about those youths who one monk had told me are the “Church’s rebels.”

I stood observing them during an important moment in the mass, with their eyes tightly shut and very serious faces. I really wanted to photograph them, but with so many people around me I didn’t want to disturb the mass. I waited, and when the mass finished I was finally able to talk to them and introduce myself. Their serious looks disappeared and with smiles they told me that I would be very welcome to visit them in their home.

A roof for the roofless

Sao Paulo, Brazil

By Nacho Doce

It was close to midnight on Sunday night, the hour at which 1,200 families planned to occupy 11 vacant buildings in downtown Sao Paulo. Their mission was to improve their own living conditions by occupying and squatting in the buildings long enough to make their eviction a long, drawn-out legal process, and in the meantime, go on with their daily lives.

When I arrived at the meeting place for one of the building occupations, there were around 150 families sitting along a wall with their suitcases. The leaders were registering the names of all present, to keep control over who would enter the empty building. Elsewhere around the city, there were ten more groups like this one, ready to act.

These are members of a well-organized group known as the Movimento dos Sem-Teto, or Roofless Movement. The movement’s members are people who live in precarious housing in high risk areas, mostly in slums known as favelas. Contrary to what the group’s name implies, most of the family heads have jobs. They are largely not homeless but rather in need of stable, dignified housing that allow them to carry on with their lives. Their organized occupations of buildings are almost always in the city center where many of them work, and where they can’t afford to live in decent housing. The lack of a more extensive subway system in a city with more than seven million private cars circulating also makes it difficult to live on the outskirts and commute to work in the center.

Suffering in silence

Karachi, Pakistan

By Akhtar Soomro

Arriving for my trip to Edhi Home, I met an elderly man working as a driver sitting outside the building. He assisted me in entering the building and introduced me to the lady in charge. She welcomed me and let me in by crossing an iron grill gate separating this place from the outer world.

As I walked through the huge corridor housing a row of rooms, each consisting of a bath, windows, square holes in the roofs for ventilation and an iron bar door. In these rooms resided elderly women, victims of mental illness, children missing from their families and victims of domestic violence.

Beams of sunlight fell on walls adorned with graffiti drawn by the patients – depictions of amulet charms, inspirational quotes, a drawing of three girls holding flowers in their hands, a peacock, even a short letter requesting the reader to inform someone of something.

An American homeless family

By Lucy Nicholson

On her second day of camping near the coast north of Los Angeles, Benita Guzman lit a match, threw it on a pile of logs, and poured gasoline on top. As flames engulfed her hand and foot, her niece, Angelica Cervantes, rushed to throw sand over her. Benita thrust her burning hand into a pile of mud, and took a deep breath.

Camping’s not easy. It’s a whole lot rougher when you’re a pair of homeless single mothers trying to keep seven children fed, clothed, washed and in school.

Guzman, 40, and two of her children are living outdoors with Cervantes, 36, and five of her children. The two banded together in an effort to keep the children together as a family, and not taken away and separated in foster homes.

On the edge of reality

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I’ve known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

Hope Gardens

By Lucy Nicholson

Lilly Earp changes the diaper on her 5-week-old baby sister Emily with the confidence another child would have cradling a doll. She’s only 8, but she already shows the street smarts of an older child as she helps her mother. It helps to be resourceful when you’re homeless.

Her mother, Doreen Earp, 38, who is originally from Germany, and her three children ended up on the street after her relationship with Emily’s father fell apart. They stayed in a hotel for a month, then with people from their church and eventually ended up with no roof over their heads.

Today, they’re lucky to be among the 150 or so other homeless women and children living at Hope Gardens on the outskirts of LA. It’s a place where those at the end of the line are given a life line. The shelter for families is an oasis compared to where most of LA’s massive street population lives on a grim patch of downtown’s Skid Row. While homeless services are concentrated downtown, it’s no place for a child.

Greece’s new army of the homeless

By Yiorgos Karahalis

Ragged clothes, small piles of belongings and a bleak future, Greece’s new army of homeless have swelled in numbers since the debt crisis hit the country.

As part of ideas to highlight the story that has dominated headlines for the past two years, I wanted to illustrate the emerging problem of homelessness in a country which has seen a rise in the number of homeless by 20-25 percent in the last two years alone – a staggering rise in a country where adult children live with their parents, in some cases until the day they get married, and pensions traditionally go to support young families.

Athens is the country’s largest city with an estimated population of five million and where the homeless problem is much more visible than anywhere else. Even its city center, a top tourist spot, sees dozens of homeless people having made building entrances and shop fronts their new home. Sleeping bags and cardboard boxes piled against walls, a few shopping bags of clothes and food their only belongings.
Homelessness has now permeated all genders, races, ethnic backgrounds and social classes.

School on Wheels

In a corner of Western Avenue Elementary School’s yard, a dozen children excitedly circle Charles Evans at the end of their day.

Regional coordinator Charles Evans (C) picks up children from school to take them to an after-school program at South Los Angeles Learning Center in Los Angeles, California March 16, 2011. The center is run by School on Wheels, which uses volunteers to tutor homeless children in shelters, parks, motels, and two centers. There has been a surge in the number of homeless children in Los Angeles in the last five years, due to persistent unemployment and mounting foreclosures. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

One child bounces a ball, another picks a handful of play slime out of a jar as the others chirp with enthusiasm.

While other children have gone home for the day, Evans rounds up this group who have no homes. He leads them down the street to South Los Angeles Learning Center, where he runs an after-school program for homeless children.