Reportage: Living the American Nightmare
Living the American Nightmare is a collaborative project with residents of what was one of the largest homeless encampments in the US, before it was shut down in February 2018. I invited residents to write captions on the photos I made during the month-long legal battle over the fate of the encampment as a way of guiding the story's narrative. Other images feature text from interviews I did with them; other photos have no text.
The closure of the Santa Ana River Bed homeless encampment -- which sheltered an estimated 700 to 1,000 people along a a two- to three-mile stretch of river bed -- was the latest battleground in California’s ongoing struggle with homelessness and an unrelenting affordable housing crisis. Some 25 percent of the nation’s homeless – about 118,000 people – live in the Golden State.
Local government officials announced they would evict everyone from the camp in late January, 2018, as part of a plan to close the area for an “environmental remediation project.” Homeless advocates argued the county and city governments involved were “criminalizing” the homeless and sued to stay the eviction. A US District Court judge criticized local governments for essentially making it illegal to be homeless, and ordered them to work to find housing solutions. Under an agreement reached by the two sides, the cities and county had to offer temporary housing to river bed residents for at least a month through motel vouchers, and also had to create other spaces for the homeless to camp and to expand shelters. The case adds to an evolving body of case law as courts across the United States work to balance the constitutional rights of the homeless with the interests of government agencies in ensuring public health and safety.