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Health Topics > Community > Photovoice > Homeless Contiuum of Care Advisory Board/Public and Environmental Health Advisory Board

Homeless Contiuum of Care Advisory Board/Public and Environmental Health Advisory Board

The "Put a Face on Homelessness" campaign was a joint project of the Homeless Contiuum of Care Advisory Board (COCB) and the Public and Environmental Health Advisory Board (PEHAB). Both COCB and PEHAB are composed of Contra Costa residents appointed by the Board of Supervisors to provide community input to the Health Services Department regarding community health needs and prevention priorities. The goals of this photovoice campaign were to educate Contra Costa leaders and residents that:

  • homelessness is a significant issue in Contra Costa
  • a significant portion of the homeless population is families with children
  • policies must be developed to prevent homelessness by addressing its root causes: low incomes, shortage of affordable housing, and lack of access to support services.

The photographs were an important part of the campaign. Photographs and stories were displayed in a number of venues in order to raise awareness of the issue and advocate for policy change. The pictures were installed in libraries, high schools, a hospital, and in the Board of Supervisors chambers during the time they were deliberating support for additional homeless shelters for families.

Here are their portraits and the stories they told describing their lives as homeless families in Contra Costa.


This photo is another trailer in the area where I live. This is much smaller than the trailer that I live in. The person who lives here is an older man who doesn't have enough money to live in a better place. He has more problems than me and needs help for his health too. He needs special attention for his health because he is old, but cannot afford to rent an apartment or a house. Being homeless and having to live in these places can get us sick. It can make us stressed.

This is very sad. The people who live here are ashamed of this situation. This is another problem they worry about. People feel like they are low in everything because they have to live in this situation. They have a low-income and feel low.

We don't have enough money from work. You can't get your own place and we don't have the jobs where we can make enough money to get a better place. There's not enough security to take care of the kids. I don't worry that much about myself, but I worry about my kids. I don't understand why we can't do better or get a better job.

It's hard because, here in the United States, the people who speak English have better opportunities. They get paid better. To get a good job, you have to speak English. It would be good for me to get help with speaking and understanding English. There should be programs that could help me with English and help me search for better work. There should also be programs that help with training so we could get a better job.

Miriam is a single mother who is homeless and is living temporarily in a trailer park.


This is a picture of my insulin. I'm a diabetic and that's hard all by itself. Working a job is hard. And when my wife is at work I have the kids with me. I have to make my appointments to go to the pharmacy, so I'll go by myself with the kids. Sometimes it's hard because the pharmacy will say there is a glitch in the computer. But I have been there every week and every month and they know who I am. Sometimes I won't even get it until the next day. It's also hard because I have to have it on ice all the time and sometimes we don't have ice. We have a cooler, but we don't have ice in it. Sometimes motels give you free ice, and sometimes they don't.

We're on welfare. But, since we're working, that's going to deteriorate a little bit. I'm afraid that when the welfare goes, I won't have any more medical coverage. I don't think our job supplies coverage. There's no other easy way to get my medicine other than taking the kids to the pharmacy with me.

Another problem I have is that I would like to quit smoking. But insurance doesn't cover Nicorette gum or anything. Since I'm a diabetic, doctors have warned me that smoking puts me at a greater risk for heart attacks or strokes. I would love to quit smoking. But under these conditions, it just won't happen. It's not going to happen. That's one of my vices, I guess you can say.

Michael has been homeless for over a year with his wife and two children, ages 1 and 3.

Abandoned house

This is a picture of an empty, abandoned house. Most of the homeless people in our neighborhood live here at night. They wait for the housing people to get off work about 4 or 5 at night, and that's when you see them going in and out of the abandoned houses. It really trips me out that we have all these empty apartments, but we have so many people that are homeless.

This house is used for a bathroom. You go in and see blankets, pillows, shoes, and people changing clothes, and drinking. I feel like, why mess up a good, perfect apartment? You could have a waiting list for people that are homeless. And when a house or apartment becomes available, you could go down the list and find the people or put them in the apartment or something like that.

I feel that if they can go to another country and help them, then they need to help the people that are right here and right in front of them-right here with them. They spend all that money going all over the world feeding the homeless. But we have homeless right here too.

Stella is a single mother who is homeless and lives intermittently with her mother

Boy on bus

This is a picture of my 3 year-old son getting on the bus. This shows what our daily travel and commute is-going back and forth to work. Sometimes, my wife will drop herself off at work. But I have to go to work right after she gets back. So to pick her up, I have to take the kids with me and then she takes the kids back on the bus to where we're staying. Sometimes it gets real hard, doing that on the bus. Especially having two kids, a stroller, and all that.

Paying for the bus gets into our financial situation because we have to pay daily for both of us. Right now, with the way we're working, we're afraid we're going to lose our jobs because one day, we won't have enough money to pay for the bus to get to work. And then we'll lose our jobs. We're highly nervous. It's very scary.

What can be done about this problem? Well, we need resources for bus passes. It would be helpful if I could find a resource where I could get a monthly pass. It's a problem because we're spending so much money on the bus fare.

Michael has been homeless for over a year with his wife and two children, ages 1 and 3.


These two pictures are of my wife. She will come home from work around 5pm, when I have to go to work, and is totally exhausted. But just moments later, she will have to give the kids a bath. I will be gone at work and she will bathe both kids. The motel in this picture only had a shower. So, my wife had to bathe them one at a time. When there's a bath, she can do both kids at once. That makes it a lot easier.

Michael has been homeless for over a year with his wife and two children, ages 1 and 3.

Unhappy family

This picture shows part of a family. I have a family and this picture showed me how this family is unhappy. They are out in the rain and it's cold. The child in this picture really touched me. I couldn't understand why they let this happen to these people-to this family. I don't understand how, with all the money that the government has, a family like this one is out like this. I think that the government can make homes and put them up somewhere. I feel for the child because she isn't getting her education. And that's very important to me because I have a young baby and young child. It really touched me inside and outside.

Barbara, who is a single mother of two, has been homeless for several years and lives intermittently with her mother.


This is a picture of my daughter while we were staying at a motel. The surroundings are so different when you have your own place. But when you're at a motel, you can't hang pictures on the wall, you can't feel like you are really at home. See how empty it looks behind her? It kind of makes me sad. I have my mom and I go to her house every now and then, when I'm low on my money for my rooms. And I try to also give my mom her space, so I go to the motel every now and then.

Going to the motel makes my daughter feel sad because she is a people person and she likes to play. But when we get to the room she is kind of confined. Anything could happen out there so I don't let her go out and play. You know, you can't go outside and play like you're at home. It is a place of business and anything can happen.

As far as health issues, my daughter gets a lot of headaches because she thinks a lot. And I really hate that for my baby. It just hurts me to see my baby think so hard and to be just seven years old. It hurts me that I can't have her a place for herself.

Stella is a single mother who is homeless and lives intermittently with her mother


Here are some bills from AFDC. I just recently went to the Souper center over in Richmond that says they have to re-certify us. I guess they have to do that every year. And if we don't re-certify, we will be cut off with no aid-as in no food stamps. There's kind of a little lifeline for us on food stamps and Medi-cal. So we try and stay on top of that.

The bills here in the picture, are just some of the scary moments. To me, these moments are scary, because when the bills come, I'm not sure what they're about. Sometimes they're okay, because they just want some information that I can send right back. But, sometimes they want us to go visit them. And this puts a big dent in our budget, a big dent in our day. This is because we have to somehow get over to El Sobrante to get all the needed information. That means we have to take the bus and BART, which takes about 2 hours and costs about $20 a trip. Plus, we're working in the morning and at night. And we don't know how to fix that.

We need to get our case transferred down here, and then it would be easier. But sometimes that can take 4-6 months. It would still be a hassle getting to the place. But we can do it. Anything closer than Antioch is better.

Michael has been homeless for over a year with his wife and two children, ages 1 and 3.

Wall heater

This shows the wall heater at a motel we stayed at. Sometimes it's been real cold at motels. It's better than being on the streets, but it didn't really help. Those are the elements we have to deal with, especially with the babies. Problems with heating can get them sick in the morning. Sometimes we have them sleep with their clothes on to keep them warm and comfortable. Sometimes they don't like it, but we don't want them getting sick.

If it's too hot, it stays warm, like an oven. So we have to open the door. But in a motel, you have some bad people going through. You don't want your door open or people seeing the way you live. Some of the motels were right on the street. It's really not a good thing.

The heating situation really messes with the kids' health. One of the boys has asthma, and the other has a little bit of asthma. The heating in the place we're at right now isn't too bad. This is actually a nice motel, but when it costs $350 a week, it's scary.

Michael and his family have had difficulty renting an apartment because of an eviction from their previous home. They were evicted due to a late rental payment.

Unhappy woman

This woman told me that she really wanted me to take her picture because she said, "I'm unhappy, I'm disappointed, nobody listens to me." She is speaking and nobody is hearing her. Maybe because of the way she's living. What I see in her is that they are just brushing us under the rug.

People could think I'm on drugs or whatever, but somehow I didn't put myself out there like this. I think all the homeless people need resources; they need help, they're unhappy, and the government doesn't really care.

My mother is keeping me from being out on the streets. If I didn't have my mom in my life, then I would be right where they are. I've been looking everywhere to find me a place. I've been checking newspapers, but I have a situation with a landlord. I don't think homeless people know about resources. They don't know how to get it or come by it. People need to let them know. But would you want someone to look at you when you're all dirty? Maybe they just feel ashamed of themselves. People have feelings. Maybe they don't want to go face those people like this. Maybe a clean bath and clean clothes would be helpful.

Barbara, who is a single mother of two, has been homeless for several years and lives intermittently with her mother.

Trailer #2

These pictures show the problems where I live. This is the trailer where I live. Sometimes the trailers have a lot of people living in them. The trailers are too small and they don't have enough room inside or outside, so the kids cannot play. Also, the windows are not very safe. When the weather is cold and when it rains, we get wet from the water that comes through the windows. I have been sick from this. Most of the problems we have with our health are in the winter. We get health problems because there is no heater or air conditioner. I do not have a place to go when I'm sick or when the kids are sick. When we're sick, I will ask to borrow money from the neighbors to get medicine. We get over the counter medicine instead of going to the doctor.

We need housing. There should be more resources for housing and for helping us to get a good place. This is important for my kids so they can live in a safe place. We need better health programs that can help us when the kids get sick. Another problem is that the water is contaminated and we don't have any clean water. The pipes in the trailers are not safe. They are old and dirty, but we have to use this water anyway.

Miriam is a single mother who is homeless and is living temporarily in a trailer park.

Content provided by the Family, Maternal & Child Health (FMCH) Programs of Contra Costa Public Health Division. For more information, call 925-313-6254.

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