(Slide show is best viewed in full-screen mode by clicking on the arrows in the lower right-hand corner of the player. Click the right and left arrow buttons on the lower left to move through the slides. All photos by Noel Black and Michael Myers.)

Two years ago, I spent two days and nights living as a homeless person in Colorado Springs, visiting the different food lines and service organizations. I spent the first night sleeping outdoors and the second in the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter. I wrote a second-person story about it for Newspeak Magazine, which you can read HERE if you’re so inclined (it’s long). The experience left me with a great deal of empathy and a profound impression of how irreducibly complex the issue of homelessness truly is for those who are on the streets and for those trying to help them.

With so much negative attention from the media and the heated City Council meetings about the homeless camps along Monument and Fountain Creeks, photographer Michael Myers and I decided to revisit the issue from a different perspective, with different eyes and a question: Are the camps beautiful? It may seem like a strange question for a photo essay, but I think it has a great deal to do with one’s sense of dignity and home. And when you spend time on the street as a homeless person, you quickly realize that your dignity is your most valuable commodity and the thing you’ll struggle hardest to retain. In many ways it is your home.

There is a lot about the camps not to like, which is also to say that we know that there is much about the camps that isn’t beautiful. We don’t need to enumerate all the public health and safety issues here, nor to make an argument for or against any particular action. But we think it’s worth taking a close, respectful look at the camps themselves to better see the people who live in them.


11 Responses to Are the Homeless Camps Beautiful?

  1. CC says:

    No, they are NOT beautiful! First and foremost what they represent is ugly. Homelessness, desperation, hopelessness, unemployment, drugs and alcohol addiction. Sad but true. And furthermore, the camps are trashed and piled high with feces. If it is dignity that these poor souls seek, they are not obtaining it or showing it by littering and despoiling their living areas. You may have to live in a tent but you don’t have to cut down trees for firewood and have garbage and trash strewn everywhere. At least be respectful of where you live and be responsible for cleaning up after yourselves.

  2. V Lloyd says:

    The human spirit is beautiful. The ingenuity and survival of a homeless person is worth considering. This tent city represents many places created around of the world as proof to a common human desire to have a place to call your own. Its primitive nature and raw use of much of what we call trash is also worth a pause. Issues like sanitary conditions and effect on the fiver are also important to consider. I liked the reference to Dignity Village, being from Portland, it is a system that works and has problems, but is at least an example of a city trying to address the human need for people to exist in community, versus living from door step to shelter to shelter. Obviously there is no easy answer, and possibly none at all, but this article is important because it humanizes the situation, and really isn’t that pretty important to keep in mind with such an issue?

  3. Steven says:

    Noel and Michael,
    Thanks for your essay. It spawned many interesting and difficult questions as I watched and read the captions. The notion of public lands is a very complex one and the pictures and question you ask helped to present a cogent avenue to look at that complexity.

    If these lands are public how do we decide and then manage what uses may actually diminish the quality of those spaces? Is it just our complacency with having the luxury of open “unused” space that fosters a feeling that we’re entitled to these places to just remain “unused”. Some say that there is inherent value in such places and in having them throughout urban areas.

    But there is clearly a point of diminishing returns when individuals start taking the common spaces and making them their own – how are we to deal with that? As a community what is our responsibility to those members that are either unable or choose not to participate in mainstream living situations? How do we deal with and decide who has chosen to take this on and who really has no other choice and there are clearly both?

    Thanks for such a thought provoking photo essay. Keep up the good work with the Big Something it is a new and fresh perspective on our community and look forward to learning more each morning as I open it up.


  4. Facets of all people are beautiful (and the reverse is also true). I think if the camps existed out of choice and they were conscious communities there would be a certain beauty in the simplicity, archaic-revival/tribal nature of them. Being that they’re the opposite of an intentional community, formed from necessity, any attempt to see them as beautiful seems to come only with a very blind eye toward what they are and why they’re there.

  5. tOkKa says:

    –>> ..thinkin’ V. Lloyd presents the most balanced statement i can gravitate too.

    These people remain human – the complexity of the situation shall only compound even further.

    Photos essays such as this, despite any opinion help to keep focus on the issues surrounding and hopefully in a way help alleviate ignorance on the all the facts surrounding this very real problem.

    ~ t

  6. Vicky says:

    Thanks for telling some of their story. I’ve noticed that while a few have a trashy place, most are building a neat and orderly home, I’ve seen people sweeping/raking around their tent and doing the best they can to improvise and bring order and comfort to their place. I’m glad they have tents and tarps, and not just cardboard and scraps to huddle under. Homelessness is going to continue to grow and this type of community needs to be accommodated in appropriate and safe locations. These folks are being resourceful and as self-sufficient as circumstances will allow, instead of being dependent. Also, I’ll bet a lot of them are employed. You can’t pay market-rate rents on minimum wage.

  7. lt says:

    i was particularly struck by photo #23 of the billboard which looms above the tents. i can only assume that this is an antiabortion groups ad as i recall the amendment 48 backers “colorado for equal rights” using this slogan. how much money does a billboard cost? how much does it cost to put something like 48 on the ballot? it seems to me that this money could have helped the people who are already alive and suffering. but what do i know??

  8. Kim says:

    What the hell is so pretty about this? I used to ride my bike on this trail. No fear for my life of getting mugged if ride on the trail. This needs to be cleaned up and ASAP.

  9. Jan says:

    No, “homeless camps” are not beautiful. They are one of the aspects of a free society that people would rather forget- the choice to live as we please.
    They are worthy of dignity and respect. That means, they need help and guidance to leave that situation, not help to stay there. If getting drugs and booze were not so easy to get in this town, many of them would not be there. I know this, because I am a westsider and see the evidence of self-medication. I also see the panhandlers asking for help for “rent” in front of liquor stores. The do-gooders who bring stuff to the camps don’t live near these sites of misery. They never have crazy people pounding on their doors, begging to get in or men showing up on the doorstep offering to rearrange landscape materials in the yard for $300. They don’t have women with babies in strollers stopping them on the street asking for help with rent in one of the small motels.
    They don’t have panhandlers coming up to cars at shopping centers and asking for “gas” money.
    They don’t have to worry about locking their car doors to keep campsers out of them while on their daily hike to the Marian House soup kitchen.
    I don’t know when the campers will decide to give up on being miserable and get help. Until they do, the charities can only keep talking with them and provide glimpses of normal life- showers, clean clothes, food, shelter on bitterly cold nights, medical check-ups.Some offer spiritual guidance. None offer places to drink or take illegal drugs. The campers that finally decide that living in chaos no longer works for them are glad they got clean and sober, treatment for their underlying illnesses and rejoin society.

  10. tOkKa says:

    –>> ..what about a disease of the mind.

    Not all these cases are clear issues of people choosing not to be ‘clean and sober ‘.

    Mental illness is yet another complex factor thrown into the mix, – many of whom are outcast from society clean, camping or not.

    There’s no real clarity in this.

    ~ t

  11. Hiker gal says:

    The homeless that I have met and spoken with are, indeed, beautiful souls, and I am humbled by them.

    Perhaps the positive side of this situation – and of the economic downfall in general – is that people who care about each other are coming together as a community to help. Sure, we haven’t figured out what steps to take, nor defined what might be accomplished, but at least we’re on the path. And that’s more important to me than many of the glossier amenities we have in this town.


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