- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) - Each haunting photograph tells the story of survival.

The 64-square-foot shelter along the banks of the White River provides a home for a man and his dog. Torn tents, repaired with scraps of tarpaulin and trash bags, crowd underneath railroad bridges.

Close-ups of individuals with deep creases that warp their faces, their expressions frozen in a permanent scowl. Some bear black eyes or other injuries from fights and scuffles they encounter on a near-daily basis.

The images reveal the scourge of homelessness in central Indiana. Created by Jim Eickman, the photographs show the lives these men and women live with no permanent shelter, no homes and little prospect for improvement.

When he started, Eickman’s efforts were intended to portray the homeless in a realistic way. But with an exhibition opening in January, the Greenwood resident hopes his photographs can help reveal the realities of homelessness in this area and potentially start discussions about helping the thousands living without a home.

Eickman will be joined by fellow photographers Rhonda Clark and Sophie Doell in helping to raise awareness of a growing problem.

“We’re trying to let them know that they’re still there, and that they’re people,” Clark told the Daily Journal (https://bit.ly/1r2P316 ).

Eickman is drawn to the homeless that are described as “outsiders.” These men and women have been pushed to the fringes of society, living on the street year-round.

Typically, they’ve been homeless for years.

“They’re the people with the least amount of resources available to them,” Eickman said. “The people who have been homeless for three, four, five years are completely off the radar of the groups that help the homeless. There’s no real programs for them.”

Much of his time was spent in the Irish Hill camp, a group of homeless living under the Davidson Street bridge in downtown Indianapolis. At any given time, 60 or 70 people lived in the encampment.

One of the men he met is named Bill, who works as a trained carpenter on odd jobs around the area. He has his own tools, and sometimes his projects last for a few months, providing some good money.

The problem is that when the job is done, he’s not needed anymore and then Bill is struggling again, Eickman said.

“So he won’t give up his little (8-foot-by-8-foot) shelter that he has at the camp,” Eickman said. “He doesn’t tear it down and take his earnings to get off the street, because he’s been in that situation so many times that he has to come back to his shelter.”

Another man named Kevin is an 81-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea. He spends his days in a motorized wheelchair in downtown Indianapolis, begging for dollars at the corner of Meridian and Washington streets.

One of his subjects went by the name “50 Cent,” a moniker given to him by passers-by because he always asks for “fifty cent” when he begs for change.

“The more I learn, the more I realize how big of a problem this is,” Eickman said.

Eickman has been involved in photography for more than 40 years. In the past he had worked professionally covering weddings and shooting portraits, but he had mostly given up photography as a career.

But about three years ago, he started shooting snapshots with a digital handheld camera. Eickman started shooting portraits and fashion photography again but was quickly bored of it.

When he took his handheld camera out on the streets of San Francisco during a trip, he invigorated an artistic spark.

“I had taken some pictures out there of some homeless people. From an artist’s standpoint, I found them somewhat intriguing,” he said. “They were somewhat rough-looking, and I found them to be interesting to shoot.”

Eickman brought that approach to Indiana when he returned.

Rather than shoot the homeless from afar, Eickman wanted to get as close into their world as he could. He walked up to them, introduced himself and asked about their lives.

He listened to them talk about what led them to homelessness. Finally, he asked if he could take their photograph.

“That experience led me to want to learn more about them. When I asked them, the question was always asked of me, ‘What are you going to do with it?’” Eickman said. “My comment was always the same - I didn’t know. I didn’t have an agenda or want to sell it. I just wanted to learn more about them.”

During the span of three years, Eickman collected hundreds of personal stories and portraits of those living on the streets.

Through his work at Irish Hill, Eickman had become familiar with Maurice Young. An imposing man standing 6-feet-4-inches, Young was known as the “Mayor of Irish Hill.” As Indianapolis city officials worked to clear out the camp, he stood up as a spokesman for the group. Eventually, he was arrested in August 2013 for refusing to leave Irish Hill.

Eickman had never spoken to Young but had seen him on television. Then one day, while walking into a coffee shop in downtown Indianapolis, he walked past Young. After introducing himself, Eickman explained his work to raise awareness about homelessness. Young offered to speak at any event about his experience.

A photographer and friend of his, Rhonda Clark, approached him earlier this year about exhibiting his work in public. She had photographs that focused on similar subjects and thought they could do a poignant show together.

“My church has been involved in helping the homeless. We had made backpacks for the homeless, then started taking supplies to a couple of different camps,” Clark said. “There are still a lot of people out there, and we wanted to do something.”

Eickman was hesitant at first. He had never planned to showcase his photographs, instead content to post them on Facebook. But, somewhat surprisingly to himself, he agreed.

“Most photographers exhibit their work to try to sell it. But my work’s not for sale,” he said. “It came back to my desire to increase awareness of homelessness.”

His wife, Susan, also emphasized the need for Eickman to do more with the photographs. She told him that something more needed to come from this project.

“That surprised me, because she’s always driving me to be less aggressive, stay more retired,” Eickman said. “But what she is doing is encouraging me to be more involved.”

The first show, called “The Edge,” debuted at the Ellenberger United Church of Christ in November. Many of the photographs that he showed there will be part of the similar show at the Greenwood Public Library.

“Jim approached me and was interested in sharing his photography,” said Valerie Moore, assistant head of reference at the library. “It’s something different we hadn’t done before, and it’s unique. We thought it was a good fit for that space.”

During a special event for the exhibition, Eickman has invited Young to speak about his experience with homelessness. The library also will be screening the documentary, “The Advocate,” an award-winning short made by Taylor University filmmakers about Young’s life.

The program hopefully will bring more attention to the plight of the homeless, Eickman said. But he has more substantial hopes for the future.

Since starting his project, Eickman has started paying more attention to possible solutions to homelessness. He sees inspiration in cities all over the U.S. In New Orleans, a group is preparing to open a mixed-income housing complex in a former nursing home damaged in Hurricane Katrina.

The home has been rehabbed as studio and one-bedroom apartments for veterans with disabilities, the homeless and people earning half or less of the area’s median income. Eickman would like to see central Indiana social service groups partner with management companies and builders to create a similar situation.

“Maybe with my work, I can get these people together, let them know that there is a need, and be there to push,” Eickman said.

He is 69 years old. At his age, he’s not prepared to take on the organization and implementation of such a plan in Indianapolis. But his hope is that his work can get conversations about such solutions started and momentum can begin to build.

“I’m on this bus. I’m not driving, but I’m driven by something,” he said. “Now I need to take this bus to the next level. I have to do something with it.”


Information from: Daily Journal, https://www.dailyjournal.net

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