The Shantytowns of America: Inside the Shacks, Cars, Tents and Boxes that America’s Homeless Call Home
December 29, 2016
From Florida to Louisiana, one photographer has captured these captivating images of homeless people across the United States.
Mary Lou Uttermohlen’s ongoing documentary project, Structure Out of Chaos, shows how the homeless have organized their lives by building shantytowns.
Uttermohlen told Feature Shoot that the series began in 1993 when she moved to Miami.
‘At the time the city was being sued for arresting homeless people prior to public events.
‘During the federal court case a judge ruled that “safe zones” must be established where people could eat, sleep and bath in public without fear of arrest until services could be offered to them,’ she said.
Uttermohlen said that as a result of the ruling ‘shantytowns sprung up all over Miami and across the country’.
There are an estimated 1,200 people living in shantytowns in Miami.
She said that in order to take the portraits she had to ‘build relationships and abide by the requests of the community’, because a lot of people didn’t want to be photographed.
Uttermohlen told the website that there were some shantytowns that she completely avoided because they were too dangerous.
In Miami, laws were passed making it impossible for paroled sex offenders to move home with their families, Uttermohlen wrote.
She said they were required to wear leg monitors and sleep under a bridge each night or they would violate their parole.
The project has been waves of watching people organize until a task force comes along to sweep them away, according to Uttermohlen.
Shelter and services might be offered during a sweep, but the residents usually don’t want to lose their freedom.
The cycle of building villages and having them swept away repeats over and over again.
Homeless people get dis-empowered and disorganized every time the get disbanded.
And the lives of homeless families is a paradox as they need to ask for help but also feel vulnerable of losing custody of their children to social services.
In the past, homeless people built shanties with wood, and electricity was acquired by rewiring streetlights, Uttermohlen wrote.
She said, today’s shantytowns people are living in tents because it’s cheap and easy to move quickly.
Many homeless people work full time jobs, have bank accounts and keep up their personal hygiene.
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