The Muskegon Times, Muskegon’s newest news site has recently published my story on Cowboy. This is a first for me, and it has been a long time goal of mine to have my work published and engaged with. I’m hugely grateful to Anna the editor of The Muskegon Times for her encouragement and support. You can find the full article, which includes a short video HERE.
Cowboy has been great through this whole process and has consistently held the attitude that the more people know about the lives of people who struggle with housing then the more opportunities for change will come. Thank you Cowboy.
A couple of years ago, after I had returned from a few years living in Iraqi Kurdistan I was lost and adrift in Cardiff, South Wales, my home. It was a strange time to be home, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean had hit full swing and was getting a higher level of media attention due to the people specifically fleeing the Syrian civil war. As a photographer that wanted to move in some way towards being a documentarian, I felt this was my opportunity to start some form of career or portfolio, this would be my break and step into the next phase of my life.
It wasn’t. I was broke, I had no connections, no idea of how to make contacts, a very limited grasp of Arabic (enough to order tea/falafel/shish and ask where the police were) and a high level of anxiety attached to finding my self back in Wales after being denied entry to the country I was working, and therefore out of a job I was hugely passionate about. It was at this point during a conversation with a dear friend (Becky), that Oasis came up. Oasis is a Refugee day centre east of Cardiff’s town centre that provides a safe space for refugees who were navigating the bureaucracy of UK residency.
It was a place for people to develop community and connections, to share stories and dreams, to share food and culture and slowly become accustomed to being safe, free and welcomed. I immediately went to volunteer and shortly after began to take pictures.
Although I was looking for images to launch some form of career, what I found instead was an international family on my doorstep, a family despite the immense and unfathomable tragedy it had suffered, had a sense of joy, love, and playfulness.
Oliver served in Vietnam as a communication line man. The war left him with a broken back and heavy “Shell Shock”. Although he was able to get treatment for both Oliver was left scared for the rest of his life. The “Shell Shock” severely disrupted his ability to hold down a steady job, and had a devastating affect on his family. After a long struggle of missteps and bad luck Oliver became homeless.
He slept in garages, struggled through the winters, and lost friends to addictions and bad health. Oliver was shunned by people he met, he was made to feel unwelcome in churches, he was treated like trash and told that he was to blame for his situation.
Unfortunately Oliver’s story is not uncommon, 1 in 10 of all homeless individuals in the USA are Veterans.