Philadelphia Man Wants To Change How You Look At The Homeless

Photo: Image by Charlie O’Hay

Every day at noon, Charlie O’Hay orders a cheeseburger and writes poetry at Little Pete’s Restaurant in Philadelphia. After eating, he walks downtown to interview and take pictures of homeless people.

See O’Hay’s portraits here >
“I’ll ask them, ‘How’s life? Are the cops hassling you?'” O’Hay says. “Some are travellers, just passing through. Then there are others who’ve been in the system a long, long time. And everything in-between.” 

The poet carries “a glorified point-and-shoot,” a Cannon SSX 10 with a fixed lens and “enough bells and whistles to adjust the shutter speed.”

O’Hay publishes his pictures and interviews on Flickr in a project called Everyone Has A Name.

The collection includes urban gypsies trying to hitch to California, like Sabrina, and white-collar guys who lost everything in the crash, like Sam, and troublemakers who spent most of their lives institutionalized, like Lawrence.

“It’s not just some guy, that addict, that alcoholic. It’s Ellen. It’s Bob. It’s Steve. It’s Joanne. That’s the core of the project,” O’Hay says.

“A street corner vino” who lived on 40 ounces of “Midnight Dragon in a bag,” O’Hay played harmonica so well he often convinced passersby to stop and purchase him booze. But when he wasn’t sober, O’Hay says he teetered on the edge, always one bust-up shy of being homeless for good. 

“I was very fortunate in that I didn’t have to be in the shelter system,” he says, “but I really had no resources whatsoever. I lived with my girlfriend, had no lease. I did night work and drank up before I left the job.” 

When he quit drinking cold-turkey in 1995, O’Hay saw how cruelly society shunned guys like him—the people “who are dead now or in prison forever.”

Armed with his poems and arresting snapshots, in 2010 he donating a portion of sales from his book “Far From Luck” to Philadelphia’s Project H.O.M.E. 20 per cent of the profits go toward the cause.  

“The reaction I get most often is, ‘Thank you. Thanks for not ignoring me,'” O’Hay says. “Thanks for not passing me by. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard those sentences.”

See O’Hay’s portraits here >

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