Photo essay: A broken family. A broken home. A broken heart.

Shane is homeless but not helpless. He fights every day to escape "the sour kick" that life has dealt him

By Maeve Walsh, McCallum High School

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Shane (not his real name) has been homeless for 6½ years. He has been living in this place for one month now. He has decorated his place with graffiti and things he has found for free rather than typical home furnishings. When Shane got out of jail, he learned that his dog had been given up for adoption, his truck had been impounded and his trailer was stolen along with all of his belongings inside. When I asked Shane why he is homeless, he said “I learned my own lessons, I caused my own problems; my life is my fault; my life is my success, and you can’t enjoy the sweet without the sour; right now, I’m at the end of a sour kick.”


This is where Shane sleeps and stores his belongings. He has put together this room with wood and materials he has found in dumpsters, and he was given a mattress by his friend, Toni. When Shane hit a breaking point with his mental health, he removed himself from the world of professional employment for fear of not being able to keep himself together emotionally in front of clients or coworkers. “I found myself with a bigger hole in my heart than I’ve ever been able to fix,” Shane said. He used to have a dog that he said kept him sane, his “trusty Blue Bell” that was his everything. When he got arrested for selling illegal items, his friend who had promised to take care of his dog gave her to the shelter, and she was adopted by someone else. When he got out of jail, he had nothing. Not having his dog and not having human interaction every day makes him extremely lonely.


A jar full of gold that Shane has extracted and liquefied. He extracts gold from anything that has ever been plated with gold, touched with anodize, electroplated, or dipped in gold. He takes gold from a solid form, turns it into a liquid form, then back to a solid form using different chemicals and heat. He is doing this to be able to earn enough money to buy a truck, a piece of land, and hopefully be able to pay the people that took his things in order to get them back. He also wants to send money to his 15-year-old son whom he hasn’t seen for many years. “That’s my greatest fear in life. I don’t even know how to approach my son and tell him I’m sorry,” Shane said. He learned and continues to learn about extracting gold from researching about it at the public library.


This is the back of Shane’s shack. He put pieces of cloth and wood up with nails and a screwdriver for privacy. Shane’s days don’t run on a consistent clock. “My days are nights, and my nights are days,” Shane said. He doesn’t wake up at 7 a.m., go to work, come home at 5 p.m. and “watch cartoons and eat cereal.” Shane spends his days researching and learning about gold extraction and zero waste lifestyles at the library. He believes “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” He spends his days “lerping,” which is when you are high on drugs and you jump into people’s trash cans looking for things that are of no value to that person. He re-purposes, up-cycles, up-scales, recycles, or turns items into something of use to him. On a daily basis, Shane stays awake for 20-40 hours then sleeps for four to six hours.


Shane is nailing carpet to the wood as an insulator in an attempt to make his shack warmer. Shane has built his “home” from discarded items that he finds in dumpsters and continues to gather materials daily to use for his renovations. Even after spending many weeks gathering materials and working to improve his place, it still doesn’t keep him safe from intruders or the weather. “It’s frustrating to work so hard and still not feel comfortable or safe,” Shane said.


Shane mimicking the face he spray-painted on his wall. Shane paints as a creative outlet for himself and a way to pass the time. Painting is a way for him to express emotion in a positive way. Shane collects paints that other people have discarded and has been given painting materials by his friend, Toni. “I don’t have a lot of money, but I have a lot of time to create things that I love,” Shane said.


Shane is hanging up a stuffed animal he found as a decoration for his living space. He is standing in front of the boxes he keeps his clothes in to keep them from getting wet. Shane has himself stuck in a box, “I haven’t taken advantage of a lot of the opportunities that I would be able to have paid for by the state if I got a formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder.” Shane said.” As an army veteran and someone with a mental illness, he could be eligible to receive monthly financial support, housing, food stamps and health care through government programs if he followed through with the application and eligibility requirements for these services.


This is a view of the train tracks from Shane’s shack that he crafted from leftover wood scraps. He sometimes has to duck when trains drive past because the speed of the trains shoots rocks up into the air. When Shane is lucky enough to get leftover food from restaurants to enjoy, this is where he eats. There is a Starbucks location where Shane sometimes gets leftover food that they would otherwise throw away when they close for the night. Restaurants are supposed to let all of that food go to waste instead of giving it to someone who really needs it, but this particular location is generous and gives it away. Shane has only gone to a food pantry once out of his 6½ years of being homeless. He compared going there to going to a grandmother’s house hungry  and “trying to get the Fig Newtons before your sister does.”


This is where Shane makes his “alcohol.” He uses gel, sanitizer, and sanitization materials and presses them down in a bucket which leaves pure ethanol and ether at the top which he drinks to get drunk. Getting drunk helps to numb his emotions and gives him a break from the stress of his reality. “When you can’t afford alcohol you go out and steal hand sanitizer from businesses,” Shane said.


This is the outside of Shane’s “home.” “Home is something of my past, I haven’t known what home is for a long time,” Shane said. Shane’s family is not involved in his life. He gets an occasional Facebook message from his mom telling him to come see her because she is getting older and she misses him. He and his father don’t see eye to eye and have a strained relationship. Shane said, “I’ve allowed myself to accept the fact that 95 percent of people that are under a bridge are pushing dirt instead of a pillow at night, and they all come from one general common thread and that is a broken family, a broken home, or a broken heart.”

All photos and captions by Maeve Walsh.

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on January 29, 2019.