- AP photographer Jae Hong traveled along the West Coast capturing the portraits of homeless people in hopes of sharing their humanity and stories of hardship and struggle
- He tells of tent communities, drug abuse, and bad luck that has plagued these people's lives
- For three months, starting in August, he would take photos of the people who lived life on the street and would only take a break during the World Series and the California wildfires
Published: 15:00 EST, 10 November 2017 | Updated: 09:16 EST, 11 November 2017
I was drawn to document life on Skid Row after being repulsed by it.
Initially, it wasn't to bring awareness to the plight of the people there or to give voice to the homeless. It was more of a visual curiosity.
Tents were dwarfed by skyscrapers. People were shooting heroin and smoking crack in broad daylight. A mentally ill woman was screaming and cursing as if seeing a ghost.
Bernadette Ortiz, 39, lives in San Jose, California. Ortiz recently gave a birth to her fifth child. She and her fiance were living in a tent when she found out she was pregnant. The couple lives in a temporary shelter at a local church until their move to a studio apartment. 'I don't want to live in a tent ever again,' said Ortiz
Moi Williams, 59, has been homeless for four years, said he is comfortable sleeping on the street. 'I'm not bothering nobody. I'm not being bothered.' The homeless are easy to pass by on the street. It's harder when you look into their eyes. Their gazes hint at lost promise or a glimmer of hope. Some are sad, some placid, others haunting. Behind each person is a story that however vague offers some glimpse into their lives
James Harris, 54, has had AIDS for 30 years, he said. When medication stopped working, he got depressed and was evicted. Now he feels like an outcast, vulnerable and struggling to survive. He's hoping that as a veteran he can get permanent housing, though he missed an earlier opportunity because a stint in a shelter disqualified him from being considered chronically homeless
My first encounter with this square mile of misery nearly a decade ago remains a vivid memory. I passed through in my car and double-checked to make sure my doors were locked and windows rolled up tight. It wasn't fear; it was shock.
When I returned a couple of years later, I was on foot with my camera. I had to experience the sights, sounds and smells up close.
My role in The Associated Press' project to document the homeless crisis on the West Coast began in late August. Except for a few days covering the Northern California wildfires and the World Series, this is all I did for nearly three months.
Bennie Sayee Koffa, 66, poses for a photo at Camp Second Chance, a city-sanctioned homeless camp, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Seattle. Koffa said he came to the U.S. in 1990 and never returned as a civil war raged for years in Liberia. He has lived in Canada and sought refugee status in the U.S. He ended up homeless and living on the streets of Seattle after splitting up with his wife a year ago, he said
Jorge Ortega, 40, said has been living on the street for more than 10 years after losing his job at the Los Angeles International Airport. Ortega said he has a 14-year-old son living in Washington. His son doesn't know Ortega is homeless, sleeping on a sidewalk of Skid Row
I walked a lot and talked to a lot of people. Many generously told me their stories. Some were clearly high or mentally ill. Others were scary.
People cursed me inches from my face, spittle flying from their mouths. A woman living on Skid Row told me no one would kill me there because they didn't want trouble with the police, but they might rough me up.
I saw so much of people in their rawest moments that I couldn't bring myself to photograph some of it.
I dialed 911 four times to get help for people. One was a drug addict passed out in the middle of a street intersection on Skid Row. Another was a naked woman in a tree in Santa Ana talking to herself in Spanish.
John Ruiz, 9, poses for a photo in front of the RV where he lives with his family on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Mountain View, Calif. His parents and four siblings moved into the camper after they could no longer afford the rent in an apartment. John dreams of his family having a successful life together and maybe ending up in mansion – a home that might have swimming pool and backyard. Or at least one big enough to have his own room
Alicia Adara, 33, said she ended up on the street after losing a custody fight for her two children with her ex-husband. 'I don't do shelters. I feel like I'm in jail,' said the woman living in Seattle. 'I've been like basically a prisoner all my life. I need to do this. I need to be out here. It's freedom'
There's always an internal struggle. As a photographer, I want to capture the moment because my job is to tell the story. As a human, the agony can be too hard to watch. Some don't know they need help – or even that help exists.
I have sympathy for the poor. I don't judge them now that I've seen so many people in dire situations and have heard about their lives. Many times I've tried to comfort them with encouraging words.
I wish I understood the problem of homelessness better than before. Truth is, I'm more confused than ever. I can't see a solution.
Tammy Stephen, 54, poses for a photo Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Seattle. Stephen lives in Camp Second Chance, a city-sanctioned homeless encampment in Seattle. 'Housing here is out of control. That's why we have so many people on the street,' she said. 'There's nowhere for them to go.' (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Harrison Perkins, 31, said he and his fiancee ended up on the street about two months ago after she accidentally burned down her mother's kitchen. Perkins, a recovering drug addict living in Seattle, wants to go back to Cleveland, Ohio, where his family lives
Skid Row is like a planet of its own. I'm just orbiting it as an observer.
One night this week, there were two long lines on the edge of downtown Los Angeles.
One was the usual line of homeless waiting for dinner at the Midnight Mission. The other, not far away, was to get into Gwen Stefani's meet-and-greet to celebrate her holiday album 'You Make It Feel Like Christmas.'
My home will soon start to feel like Christmas as my wife starts decorating. There will even be Christmas on Skid Row, too.
Well-meaning folks and some celebrities and politicians will dish out meals. Blankets will be given as gifts. I hope they do more than just cover up all the suffering.
Barry Warren, 52, says he has been homeless his entire adult life. After about 20 years without a home in California, he moved to Seattle, where he says the benefits are better and life on the street is safer
Dolores Epps, 41, poses for a photo Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, in Los Angeles. Epps, a mother of two children who has been homeless for five years, once had a job at a salon and still makes money cutting hair. 'I don't touch everybody, only the people that are clean,' Epps said. 'All these dope fiends are gonna keep looking like a dope fiend. You're not my problem. But if you're a clean person and you just want to get a little bit extra sassy or as a man look a little more handsome, then yeah.' Her mother has custody of her 15-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son
Robert Irwin, 72, poses for a photo at Camp Second Chance, a city-sanctioned homeless encampment, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Seattle. Irwin said he is planning a trip to Michigan to see his older sister. 'I have my own SUV, Chevy Trailblazer. I want to go in March. It will be my last trip'
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Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative
In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.
The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.
But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.
So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?
Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.
Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.
The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.
Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.
Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.
Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.
Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.
It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.
“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”
But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.
Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.
But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.
It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.
Critics push for investigation
Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.
But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.
And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.
Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.
Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.
“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.
“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”
The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.
And she says the same transparency is needed here.
The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them
The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.
“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.
“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”
PM defends governor-general
Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.
“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”
Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.
“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.
“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”
A role fit for purpose?
Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.
She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.
“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”
Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.
“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.
“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”
But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.
“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”
Australia election: PM Morrison’s security team in car crash in Tasmania
A car carrying the Australian prime minister’s security team has crashed in Tasmania during an election campaign visit.
Four police officers were taken to hospital with “non-life threatening injuries” after the car and another vehicle collided, authorities said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was not in the car, but the accident prompted him to cancel the rest of his campaign events on Thursday.
The other driver involved was not hurt.
Tasmania Police said initial investigations suggested the second car had “collided with the rear of the police vehicle, while attempting to merge”. It caused the unmarked security vehicle to roll off the road.
The two Tasmania Police officers and two Australian Federal Police officers were conscious when taken to hospital for medical assessment, the prime minister’s office said.
“Family members of the officers have been contacted and are being kept informed of their condition,” a statement said.
“The PM is always extremely grateful for the protection provided by his security team and extends his best wishes for their recovery and to their families.”
Australians go to the polls on 21 May. Mr Morrison – prime minister since 2018 – is hoping to win his conservative coalition’s fourth term in office.
Polls suggest the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, is favoured to win. However, Mr Morrison defied similar polling to claim victory at the last election in 2019.
Mr Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.
Political observers say the cost of living, climate change, trust in political leaders, and national security will be among key issues in the campaign.
In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bully and once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.
Mr Albanese stumbled into his own controversy this week when he failed to recall the nation’s unemployment or interest rates.
Sydney airport warns delays could last weeks on third day of travel chaos
Long queues at Sydney airport’s domestic terminals have continued for a third day, with some passengers missing international connections, as the airport warns delays resulting from a surge in travellers and a shortfall in security staff could continue for weeks.
Chaotic scenes were reported in the departure halls as early as 4.30am on Saturday, with some frustrated travellers, many of whom heeded the pleas of airport chiefs to arrive at least two hours before their domestic flight was due to take off, claiming only one security line was operating.
While the queues that formed early on Saturday are understood to have cleared later in the morning, the airport apologised to affected travellers.
“Traffic numbers are picking up and the close contact rules are making it hard to fill shifts and staff the airport. We appreciate your patience,” Sydney airport said on its Twitter account.
A wave of families travelling as the term two school holidays begin this weekend, combined with close contact rules that are understood to be taking out about 20% of security shifts in any given day, are driving the problem.
Certis, the company that Sydney airport contracts for its security operations, is desperately trying to recruit personnel, while the airport has reallocated back office, IT and retail workers to the departure hall to comb queues so they can prioritise passengers at risk of missing their flight.
“We are working around the clock to resolve these issues and have teams in the terminals bringing passengers forward in order of priority,” a Sydney airport spokesperson said.
He added that the airport is “anticipating it will [be] busy right through the school holiday period and peak over the Easter and Anzac Day weekends, in some cases at 90% of pre-Covid passenger levels”.
“We’re deeply grateful to passengers for their ongoing patience and we’re sorry to everyone who has been inconvenienced,” the spokesperson said. “We would also like to thank passengers for getting to the airport early and treating staff and each other with kindness and respect.”
The Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce was forced to clarify comments he made on Friday that passengers were “not match fit” and that those forgetting to remove laptops and aerosols from their bags at the security check contributing to the delays.
“Just to be clear, I’m not ‘blaming’ passengers,” Joyce said. “Of course it’s not their fault,” he said.
Qantas shed thousands of staff during the pandemic, and outsourced ground crews in a decision that was challenged in court.
On Saturday, Qantas also apologised to a Melbourne family left stranded in Sydney, after domestic flight delays caused them to miss an international trip.
Javiera Martinez, her partner Daniel Capurro and their three children were supposed to be flying to Chile on Friday to visit relatives they had not seen in three years.
But after their 8am Qantas flight from Melbourne was delayed by half an hour, baggage handling and airport transfer delays in Sydney meant they couldn’t make their 11.30am LATAM Airlines flight to Santiago.
Martinez said the airline’s procedures at the airport were chaotic.
“We think Qantas didn’t behave appropriately. I got berated by the person at the counter – they never apologised, they never assumed any responsibility at all,” she said. “It was a rude conversation. We have been mistreated badly I would say.”
The PCR tests they need to travel have now expired and they will have to take them again as they wait for seats on the next flight to Santiago from Sunday.
The airline has apologised and paid for a night’s accommodation in Sydney.
“We sincerely apologise that the family missed their connecting flight on another airline due to delays moving through Sydney airport on Friday,” a Qantas spokesperson said.
The family is among many affected by hold ups amid the busiest travel period in two years, with Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane airports warning passengers to arrive two hours before domestic flights.
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