Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Homelessness’

The Gentlemen of Baltimore: Charles

In Photography, Writing on May 29, 2012 at 6:00 am


Charles, age: 40

“I’ve been on the street, on and off, since I was fourteen. It was my fault. I wanted to do what a grown up did. I was just a kid and made bad decisions.” He told me of his various illnesses, including diabetes. “I also suffer from depression, but take medicine.” He described his circle of seven or eight friends. They all sleep together at Charles and Saratoga, at the steps of St. Paul’s Church. “There is safety in numbers. We all look out for one another. If somebody has food and somebody’s hungry we give it to them.”

Gentlemen of Baltimore: Flynn

In Creativity, Photography, Writing on May 22, 2012 at 6:00 am

If all goes as scheduled, today I return home. I look forward to catching up with my friends at …the house…. In the mean time, one last prepared post, another story from The Gentlemen of Baltimore.


Flynn sat on a bench in the shade. There was a book next to him, The city Boy. “It was the first book Herman Wouk wrote,” he said. “I have an eidetic mind. The second definition of it is total recall, a photographic mind. That’s what most people are familiar with.” I asked him what is the first definition. “Science of the world,” he quoted, “intuitively apprehended.” He said he wanted to open a bank and cited regulations required to start a financial institution. He said his bank would also provide inexpensive used cars. “I will address the needs of moderate and low-income people.” I remarked on his creativity. “I have a lot of ideas. And they are all elegant.”

Gentlemen of Baltimore: Alphonzo

In Photography, The Examined Life, Writing on May 17, 2012 at 6:00 am

Please remember, I am traveling, out of the country and in the hinterlands. If you leave a comment, don’t be offended if I don’t acknowledge it. I like to reply to every comment, but likely won’t be able to do so until I return.

Here’s another profile from my Gentlemen of Baltimore project: Alphonzo


Alphonzo moved to Baltimore from the Eastern Shore. “I didn’t want to bring shame on my family.” He has been on the street since. That was five years ago. “I just got comfortable, not paying rent, getting high.” He says he makes money panhandling and turning tricks. He also has a drug problem. Two weeks earlier a drug deal turned ugly. “We were in an abandoned warehouse and the dealer told me to do jumping jacks. I did them. Then he told me to do push ups. I did them. Then he made me stand on a box and sing. He had friends there too and they started to stab me with little stabs all over. Finally, they heated a knife blade and burned my face. I went back a week later for more drugs. But he was gone. It was probably a good thing he wasn’t there.”

Thanks for reading.

Gentlemen of Baltimore: Nyster

In Dogs, Photography, Writing on May 8, 2012 at 6:00 am

As promised previously, here is another story from my project, The Gentlemen of Baltimore.

Nyster, age: 44

Nyster had a dog with him. The dog’s name was Oscar and had been his companion for twelve years. “She’s a medical alert dog,” he told me. I noticed a large attachment to her collar, a red shield with a white medical cross. “I have grand mal seizures, petit mal….” He continued to list his maladies. He said living on the street was difficult, but he managed, even with his health problems. The other challenges of the street were more troublesome. “The last time I was robbed was for $7.68,” he said. As we sat he appealed to passers-by for food for Oscar. “She keeps me out of the shelters,” he said, “not allowed.” He patted her. “But she’s a good dog.”

On August 7th the Baltimore Sun carried a story about Nester. Someone had stolen Oscar.

Gentlemen of Baltimore: Ben

In Life, Photography, Writing on April 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

Ben, age: 27

“I am vietnamese.” To compound the challenge of homelessness, Ben hardly spoke English. He came to America to be with his aunt three years ago, to pursue a life in America. He worked in a restaurant until it closed nine months ago. His aunt left him. “She go with somebody. I don’t know where she went.”

It was his hope to get to Washington, to the Vietnamese Embassy. He hoped they might be able to help him. He kept wiping his tears. He was a picture of despair. “I want to go back to Vietnam. My mom and dad are still there.” When I left him he grabbed his bags and walked to the corner. I watched him. He stood there, staring into the street. I walked a block away and when I looked back he was sill there, motionless.

The Godfather of the Inner Harbor.

In Books, Life, Photography, The Examined Life on April 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

In 2007 I began a project that would engage me for a year and alter the way I view the world.

I was living in Baltimore. It was winter, and so cold that on the night of December 4th two men died of exposure on Pratt Street, a major downtown thoroughfare. Reading of their deaths in the morning paper, I wondered: how it is that people freeze to death in the country’s 9th largest city? I set out to understand.

Consequently, I spent a year photographing and interviewing men living on the street. The project came to be called The Gentlemen of Baltimore. Indeed, they were gentlemen. One at a time, over many months, I sought them out. They were kind and generous and intent on an earnestness that surprised me. They sat with me and allowed me take their photograph and they answered my questions. The project was exhibited on two occasions and I was invited to present before audiences interested in the nature of urban street existence. A portion of the effort–I did 100 interviews–became part of the permanent collection of the University of Maryland.

I chose to do the project straight up; that is, a simple headshot and a transcription. My questions likewise were simple: “How long have you been homeless?” “How did this happen?” “Do you have any family?”– and so forth. The quotes that accompany the portraits are verbatim.

I thought it might be of interest to occasionally share a story from the project. Allow me to introduce Lonnie.

Lonnie, aged 36

“They call me the Godfather of the Inner Harbor. I never leave the harbor, here twenty-four seven.” Lonnie was bright and articulate. He said he had a degree in psychology. “The [homeless] life-style itself is addictive. I have no responsibilities, no bills, no commitments. It’s the life I’ve chosen. It gives me time to do what I want. My main thing is books.” Lonnie said he pulls books out of the dumpster behind Barnes and Noble. “Reading is my drug of choice. It changes your mind, takes you other places, a different reality. And it’s legal!” He said he chose his homeless life and that it agreed with him. “That’s what this great country is all about. Choices. On the other hand, America is all about getting things. It’s about what you have in order to be somebody. But that’s all materialism and temporal. Until the time comes when I am no longer happy with what I do, I am happy. When that time comes, I’ll change.”