When Social Security Administration software engineer Ben Marcin gets off work, he heads back out into the streets to photograph people who have fallen through America’s safety net.
In the spring of 2011, Marcin stumbled on a phenomenon that was spreading across the city of Baltimore. Homeless people were leaving the streets and the shelters and setting up camp in the woods in and around the city.
Over the course of the year, Marcin stalked through the metropolitan area to photograph the makeshift homes of Baltimore’s homeless. When he returned a year later, he found all of the homes gone.
“This was their last stand,” Marcin told Business Insider in a recent interview. “Many of them were on their way out. If they had anywhere else to go, they’d be there.”
While Marcin’s project ended in 2011, homelessness and the makeshift camps have remained a chronic issue in the Baltimore area, leading to the establishment of The Journey Home, a 10-year program seeking to end the problem in Baltimore.
Marcin shared some photos of the homes with us here, but you can see the rest at his website. Marcin is running a new project on America’s new urban high-rises at the Detroit Center of Contemporary Photography.
Marcin came across the first homeless settlement he encountered while hiking in the wilderness surrounding and in Baltimore.
The more he explored, the more camps he found. Because Baltimore's numerous green spaces are rarely used, area homeless people found them an ideal place to set up camp.
Some of the homeless even have jobs at chain-stores like Walmart but simply cannot afford or be approved for an apartment.
Others move into the wilderness to avoid Baltimore's homeless shelters, saying that it is 'safer' for them to be in the woods.
'Most of these guys were not muscular guys. They were smaller, a little bit off the wall, and afraid of getting assaulted at the shelter,' says Marcin.
This man used milk-crates to make his structure. Marcin says that those with more permanent homes tended to be more meticulous about creating their space.
Marcin says that, while a few are not mentally stable, the majority were very friendly. Even so, you have to be careful.
Many of the camps are set up near the railroad tracks, so they can easily hop on a train to leave. Others are along the water, under bridges, or around Interstate-495.
The majority of the camps are so deep in the woods that, if things went bad, it wouldn't be easy to call for help.
This man was the only one who claimed to stay year-round, having been in the same shack for four years. He had a propane tank and a grill inside for cooking and warmth. When Marcin returned a year later, he found the shack burned down.
According to Marcin, the majority of the homeless camp far away from other homeless. When others do come upon their area, they tend to be very territorial.
All of the original settlements that Marcin photographed have since been either abandoned or destroyed.
The city, according to Marcin, will routinely bulldoze the homeless camps when they find out where they are.
Camps continue to sprout up in different areas. Kate Briddell, the director of homeless services at the Baltimore Mayor's office, told the Baltimore Sun that new camps and tents have formed near Interstate 83. They are currently discussing a plan for how to deal with the new camps.
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