Most of us are aware that homelessness is a major problem in the United States. But what about those who purposefully forgo a traditional home life and instead opt for a nomadic life on the road?
Every January, many of these travellers seek refuge from colder climates on the warm beaches and bays of southern California. Here, they regroup, reconnect, and plan ahead for their next move.
Photographer John Francis Peters began documenting these travellers for his series, California Winter, after spending time in San Diego and observing people living off the grid, hitching rides, camping, and communing with each other.
“I found these scenes in the context of San Diego’s landscape to be strangely beautiful, intimate and surreal,” Peters says.
Peters began frequenting the places where these travellers hung out and began meeting, speaking with, and photographing these modern nomads, learning about their travels and lives, and gaining insight into the motivations and choices.
We asked Peters to share some their stories.
Mike, who is originally from New Jersey, wakes up along the boardwalk early one cool December morning. During the winter months, San Diego becomes a temporary home for nomadic travellers from across America. Some will stay anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, while others call San Diego home for an extended period after connecting with the traveller community.
Mike from Tallahassee sits on a sand dune while he takes in his first view of the Pacific Ocean. This was Mike and his girlfriend's first time in San Diego, having just arrived after slowly making their way across the country. For many travellers, San Diego is a 'turn-around town' -- it's as far south and west as they can go -- so the setting becomes a place to rest, reflect, and contemplate their next move.
Karina and Tex, from Canada and Las Vegas, met on the road. Here, they cuddle during the early morning in a park where they camped out for the night. Karina had been travelling for an extended period across Canada and into the US and was continuing on toward Mexico and South America.
Moglie and Lo had been anxious to leave the Detroit area for many years and wanted to see more of the country. 'We were in Las Vegas and we ran into this kid who told us, when we get to San Diego, we have to go to Ocean Beach. You'll find family there, great kids, and you'll get taken care of,' they said.
Madua from Philadelphia has been travelling for over two years. After watching his friends fall into drug and alcohol addiction, he left Philly to find a more spiritual life path. 'You realise that minimising what we need really makes us a lot happier and more content. There is no happiness in needing so much,' says Madua.
Tree from San Francisco decided to start travelling to experience the world while he's still young. Here, he is selling items and asking for donations that will go toward food. Many of the younger travellers are experiencing the struggles of surviving on the street for the first time and must find ways to get by and continue travelling.
Jordan from Northern California made his way to San Diego on a hippie bus with a group he met at Slab City in the California desert. The bus stopped in San Diego for a few days to refuel before heading on to Baja, California.
Ray from Ohio sleeps in a park next to a highway junction after panhandling during the morning rush hour.
Cliff from Michigan shaves his head near the bay. Cliff was in the military and now lives in San Diego out of his RV.
Many travellers who end up living on the street have to find makeshift shelter within the environment. Here, in a park near the bay, a shelter is made in a bush. The more hidden the shelter is, the better -- to avoid police, criminals, and to hide personal belongings.
John, hailing New Orleans, hangs out near the beach parking lot. After a hard life of meth addiction, he came to California to find a new path. 'I'm searching for myself man, just slowly connect the dots. I feel more open and more in touch with myself here, with the ocean.'
Todd from Tennessee has been a traveller for most of his life, living in various places around America and making his way by hitchhiking, hopping freight trains, or walking. He spent four days walking down the coast from Long Beach to San Diego, where he was once based in the Navy. 'The ocean means freedom to me; it means peace and serenity,' he says.
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