December 21, 2016 News » Cover Story

Homeless locals share their most prized possessions 

The things they carry

Christmas is just weeks away when I meet Daniel Vasquez.

The curiously long Indian summer of 2016 is decidedly gone and the ground is frozen hard. I stop Daniel because he is walking out of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado's Marian House Soup Kitchen, and because he is carrying bags. At first, I am a little startled when he turns to look at me. Daniel is built solid and square as a brick house. Scars trace his shaved head, and his eyes have a tendency to wander in an unsettling manner.

But when he speaks, his voice is gentle. I ask him if he will talk to me for a story, and allow a photographer to take pictures of him and his belongings. He agrees, though the actual process of our conversation is more laborious than is ordinary. Daniel will begin to dig into a story, and then his eyes will take on a look of confusion, and he'll say, "I forgot what we were talking about."

He tells me it's because of a head injury; because it left him with a traumatic brain injury. Asked to show me his most precious things, for instance, he recalls some things and seems to struggle to remember others.

"You can't carry nothing on you, everyone steals from you," he says eventually. "You don't need nothing more than the basics."

Still, when part of our staff — myself, Matthew Schniper, Alissa Smith, Nat Stein and Pam Zubeck — each talked to homeless locals on that frigid December day at the Marian House (where their staff graciously hosted us), we found that each person chose to carry items for different reasons. The belongings were sentimental, or sparked joy, or were useful.

We had come to gather the personal stories of a group of our neighbors who will struggle the most through this winter, but we wanted to do it in a unique way: by asking them what their most valued possessions are. The concept is loosely borrowed from Tim O'Brien's semi-autobiographical 1990 short stories, The Things They Carried, which explored the lives of Vietnam War soldiers, partially through what they chose to bring with them. It also took inspiration from Peter Menzel's photo books, especially Material World, which shows the belongings of families around the world. The point here is that our things say something about who we are — especially when we are able to keep very little.

After interviewing Daniel, I help him lay out his belongings to be photographed.

"Why are you guys doing this?" he asks me.

"Well, I kind of think that people sometimes think of homeless people like stereotypes and they don't think of them being real people," I tell him haltingly. "So, we kind of wanted to tell that story of how homeless people are each individuals, and sometimes when we think of what's precious to us, or what we carry with us ... it's a very human thing."

Daniel's eyes widen, and he looks completely clearheaded for a moment.

"Yeah," he replies. "We are human, just like you guys are."

— J. Adrian Stanley

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Daniel Vasquez, 28

Homeless since 2009

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Stacey Barnett, 40

Homeless since December 2015

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Donald Carrothers, 57

Homeless for three years

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Don Batey, 65

Homeless since 2013, off and on

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Glyness Williams, 45

Homeless on and off for 10 years

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Adam Hooper, 40

Homeless two weeks, this time around

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Wayne Turner, 49

Homeless three different times, most recently since April 2013

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Charles, aka "Rodney Dangerfield", 57

Homeless on-and-off for 15 years

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