Meet Los Angeles’ Homeless People

3 minute read

Admired for his close-up head shots of celebrities and influential leaders that sparked a different take on portrait photography since the late 1990s, Martin Schoeller also photographs lesser-known people: He documented identical twins in a book he published in 2012, and also set up a working studio on a sidewalk on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, stopping passersby for impromptu portraits.

This time, equipped with his trademark Kino fluorescent tube lighting, he positioned himself on the corner of Sycamore and Romaine streets in Downtown Los Angeles, where the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition (GWHFC) serves fresh hot dinners to the homeless and needy all year around.

“I started this whole project with the idea of bringing awareness, [and] with the idea of giving homeless people a face and a voice,” Schoeller says. “We see homeless people or perceive them every day, but we don’t really meet any of them ever in our daily interactions. My goal was to basically have them step forward and talk about their life and explain why they are homeless.”

Beyond the portraits themselves is a greater project inspired by the commitment of Schoeller’s friends and volunteers who have worked at GWHFC since its inception: to raise $200,000 as a down payment on a permanent commercial lot for the coalition to serve their clients in a welcoming structure, rather than on a street corner, which often causes complaints from neighbors and public officials.

And to reach more people, Schoeller chose Instagram, a platform he had ignored until then. “That’s a good way to use Instagram,” he says. “To give people a voice who don’t have a voice on Instagram.

According to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report published in November 2015, the number of homeless in the United States tallies to more than 500,000, the largest percentage of whom (63.7 percent) live in California.

In addition to the images, which populate Schoeller’s Instagram feed and can be also viewed on GWHFC’s one, and under the hashtag #SycamoreandRomaine, the photographer has captioned the pictures with excerpts from the brief interviews he conducted while photographing his subjects, painful testimonies of the hardships they suffered, and poignant reminders of what is often behind the despair we witness.

The holiday fundraiser, promoted in partnership between Schoeller and GWHFC, will run until December 31, 2015. Find the link here to contribute.

Martin Schoeller is an award-winning portrait photographer based in New York City.

Lucia De Stefani is a writer and contributor at TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Follow TIME LightBox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“I kind of get support from my family sometimes but I’m homeless until I get my own place. I just found out too that... I am also another one that has it [HIV]. I am strong about it and I realize it’s not the end of my life, it's just the beginning maybe. And it's a new start for me.” —Abrion Heard, Oct. 29, 2015.Martin Schoeller
Martin: “How are you doing now with meth? Have you kicked it yet or are you still struggling with it?” Alexandra: “I’m still struggling with that. I stopped for almost three years but then after I lost my baby when I was clean and sober, I ended up being homeless, and just after a while I was like I might as well do it. I know it’s not good.” [...] Martin: “Isn’t it a big step to go meth? Everybody knows meth is really bad.” Alexandra: “Well, I was just using. I was partying and stuff and I was trying to get acceptance ‘cause I didn’t have friends as a kid.” —Alexandra O’Neal, Oct. 29, 2015.Martin Schoeller
Martin: “Tell me your name again?” Tristan: “I go by Tristan.” Martin: “I photographed you half a year ago, right?” Tristan: “It was less than a year, you were here in the Spring.” Martin: “It seems like you like this area.” Tristan: “I’m just here for the food most of the time.” Martin: “There’s a lot of crystal meth around here.” Tristan: “Yeah, unfortunately. I don’t do it. I’m homeless, I’m not...It doesn’t mean I’m on drugs.” —Tristan C.Martin Schoeller
Antonio: “I was slapped, I had marks on my body as a kid. She would beat me in the bathroom, all the time in the bathroom. I can see this whole picture, like I am in the corner and I’m looking down and I have a perfect... It’s like a movie. Seriously. And I will never forget about it.” Antonio Diano, Oct. 11, 2015
“I was slapped, I had marks on my body as a kid. She would beat me in the bathroom, all the time in the bathroom. I can see this whole picture, like I am in the corner and I’m looking down and I have a perfect... It’s like a movie. Seriously. And I will never forget about it.” —Antonio Diano, Oct. 11, 2015.Martin Schoeller
Martin: "So you’re living on the streets these days?" Pranda: “Yes." Martin: "What happened?" Pranda: “Life." Martin: "How old are you?" Pranda: "Twenty-two." Martin: "Do you hang out with a group of people?" Pranda: "I’m more by myself, a loner, alone..." Martin: "You’re not scared alone at night?" Pranda: "I am scared of the dark. I really am afraid of the dark." Martin: "Where do you sleep?" Pranda: "I have humbled myself to start sleeping on the sidewalk." Martin: "Always in this area [West Hollywood]?" Pranda: "Yeah, this is all I know. I’ve been traveling since I was fifteen. I haven’t had a place to call home since then." —Pranda Brown. Oct. 29, 2015.Martin Schoeller
“Having a baby on the way is what made me get clean. I’m actually seven months clean off crystal. And then I was just recently informed about a program called Step Up. So I got in the program and I got my apartment in five and a half months. It is so so great having somewhere to just lay down and shower everyday and be safe. It’s a different feeling, not having to worry about getting my stuff stolen while I’m sleeping or getting beaten up, ran out by the police, anything, dude. It just feels great." —Dmitri Harris, Oct. 11, 2015.Martin Schoeller
Trixie: “Technically, I wasn’t homeless. I had a place I could have stayed, but the place was infested with bed bugs so I decided to sleep on the street rather than get eaten alive by bed bugs. Luckily, I was only on the streets for three days.” Martin: “Now you’re in a shelter?” Trixie: “No, I’m in an apartment, yeah. Those people who are at the coalition helped me get an apartment and they’ve been helping me with my rent when I can’t make ends meet and they just helped me, I finally got approved for my social security disability, finally.” —Trixie, Oct. 27, 2015.Martin Schoeller
Martin: “How long have you been living on the streets?” Keya: “Off and on since my mom died in 2012.” Martin: “She must have been young, your mom?” Keya: “Forty-two. She had a heart attack.” Martin: “Just out of the blue?” Keya: “Yeah.” Martin: “I’m sorry to hear that. You don’t have a job?” , Keya: “No, when she passed away I lost my job and that’s how I lost my apartment and that’s how I ended up out here.” Martin: “You lost your job because you couldn’t get it together?” Keya: “They put me in a... I was like real, real depressed so they put me in a mental hospital. And once I got out I had nothing left. I was out here.” —Keya Washington, Oct. 27, 2015.Martin Schoeller
Martin: "How long have you been out here on the streets?” Markeith: “I’ve been out here since 2004. I was in tenth grade. My mother passed away and left me kinda...My dad’s a crack head so I didn't really have too much family. I’m from the Highlands. I been out here for quite awhile. But I try to be upbeat about it.” Martin: “You quit school at grade ten then?”
 Markeith: “Yeah.” Martin: “Your mom must have been really young when she passed away, man.” Markeith: “Yeah, she was late thirties.” Martin: “Drug related?” Markeith: “She was shot in the spinal cord. Her boyfriend was selling drugs. They came lookin’ for him and killed my mom. That’s why I’m trying to keep myself away from all of that.” —Markeith Watson, Oct. 27, 2015.Martin Schoeller
Martin: “You’re living out on the streets now?” Micah: “Yeah, pretty much. It originally started with me wanting to like see the country, see around me, all that stuff. But overall it really was probably just a means for me to try and run from my problems ‘cause when it all happened...there was a lot of stuff in my life changing. —Micah Malfore, Oct. 29, 2015.Martin Schoeller

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at