The shantytowns of America: Inside the shacks, cars, tents and boxes that America’s homeless call home

The shantytowns of America: Inside the shacks, cars, tents and boxes that America's homeless call home
  • Mary Lou Uttermohlen captured these captivating images of homeless people across the United States
  • Her ongoing documentary series, Structure Out of Chaos, shows how the homeless built shantytowns
  • The series began in 1993 in Miami, Florida, and ended up in New Orleans when Uttermohlen moved there
    From Florida to Louisiana, one photographer has captured these captivating images of homeless people across the United States.

    Mary Lou Uttermohlen’s ongoing documentary project, Structure Out of Chaos, shows how the homeless have organized their lives by building shantytowns.

    Uttermohlen told Feature Shoot that the series began in 1993 when she moved to Miami.

Eddy and the New Guy, Miami, Florida, Julia Tuttle Causeway Bookville Paroled Sex Offender Camp: In Miami, laws were passed making it impossible for paroled sex offenders to move home with their families. Residents like Eddy (right) would sometimes help out the new arrivals (left). Eddy has a three room wooden shanty that includes a bathroom with a toilet

Eddy and the New Guy, Miami, Florida, Julia Tuttle Causeway Bookville Paroled Sex Offender Camp: In Miami, laws were passed making it impossible for paroled sex offenders to move home with their families. Residents like Eddy (right) would sometimes help out the new arrivals (left). Eddy has a three room wooden shanty that includes a bathroom with a toilet

Centano’s Tent, Miami Florida, Julia Tuttle Causeway Bookville Paroled Sex Offender Camp: Centano gets ready for bed under the Causeway Bridge. In the past homeless people built shanties with wood and electricity was acquired by rewiring streetlights. Now more homeless people are living in tents because it is cheap and easy to move quickly

Centano’s Tent, Miami Florida, Julia Tuttle Causeway Bookville Paroled Sex Offender Camp: Centano gets ready for bed under the Causeway Bridge. In the past homeless people built shanties with wood and electricity was acquired by rewiring streetlights. Now more homeless people are living in tents because it is cheap and easy to move quickly

Roberto's Home, Miami, Julia Tuttle Causeway Bookville, Sex Offender Camp: Roberto Garcia built his shanty along the Julia Tuttle Causeway complete with a dock on the bay. He and the other paroled sex offenders in South Florida work jobs during the day and are electronically monitored to ensure they return to the camp every night

Roberto’s Home, Miami, Julia Tuttle Causeway Bookville, Sex Offender Camp: Roberto Garcia built his shanty along the Julia Tuttle Causeway complete with a dock on the bay. He and the other paroled sex offenders in South Florida work jobs during the day and are electronically monitored to ensure they return to the camp every night

 

‘At the time the city was being sued for arresting homeless people prior to public events.

‘During the federal court case a judge ruled that “safe zones” must be established where people could eat, sleep and bath in public without fear of arrest until services could be offered to them,’ she said.

Uttermohlen said that as a result of the ruling ‘shantytowns sprung up all over Miami and across the country’.

There are an estimated 1,200 people living in shantytowns in Miami.

She said that in order to take the portraits she had to ‘build relationships and abide by the requests of the community’, because a lot of people didn’t want to be photographed.

Relocating under the I-10, New Orleans, I-10 West Camp: People camped under the interstate bridge so the city fenced it off and blocked access to vehicles. Displaced campers (pictured) simple relocated outside the zone of the recent sweeps
Relocating under the I-10, New Orleans, I-10 West Camp: People camped under the interstate bridge so the city fenced it off and blocked access to vehicles. Displaced campers (pictured) simple relocated outside the zone of the recent sweeps

Uttermohlen told the website that there were some shantytowns that she completely avoided because they were too dangerous.

In Miami, laws were passed making it impossible for paroled sex offenders to move home with their families, Uttermohlen wrote.

She said they were required to wear leg monitors and sleep under a bridge each night or they would violate their parole.

The project has been waves of watching people organize until a task force comes along to sweep them away, according to Uttermohlen.

Shelter and services might be offered during a sweep, but the residents usually don’t want to lose their freedom.

The cycle of building villages and having them swept away repeats over and over again.

Go Canes, Miami, Julia Tuttle Causeway Bookville Sex Offender Camp: Bernard Duggins shows off his sports memorabilia on the walls of hut under the Julia Tuttle bridge
Go Canes, Miami, Julia Tuttle Causeway Bookville Sex Offender Camp: Bernard Duggins shows off his sports memorabilia on the walls of hut under the Julia Tuttle bridge
Rejected by two countries, New Orleans, Calliope Camp: Lee is an Amerasian who was brought to the US by our government after the Vietnam War. He blames his homeless status on being rejected by two countries. He felt that he never fit in anywhere
Rejected by two countries, New Orleans, Calliope Camp: Lee is an Amerasian who was brought to the US by our government after the Vietnam War. He blames his homeless status on being rejected by two countries. He felt that he never fit in anywhere

Homeless people get dis-empowered and disorganized every time the get disbanded.

And the lives of homeless families is a paradox as they need to ask for help but also feel vulnerable of losing custody of their children to social services.

In the past, homeless people built shanties with wood, and electricity was acquired by rewiring streetlights, Uttermohlen wrote.

She said, today’s shantytowns people are living in tents because it’s cheap and easy to move quickly.

Many homeless people work full time jobs, have bank accounts and keep up their personal hygiene.

Carol and Molly's Van, New Orleans, Rescue Mission Camp: Carol lived in a van with her dog Molly. She drove to New Orleans from Iowa with the hope of a milder winter. The vehicle was full of her belongings and there was no space to sleep unless she removed her valuables. Her days were spent in a small cramped area at the steering wheel
Carol and Molly’s Van, New Orleans, Rescue Mission Camp: Carol lived in a van with her dog Molly. She drove to New Orleans from Iowa with the hope of a milder winter. The vehicle was full of her belongings and there was no space to sleep unless she removed her valuables. Her days were spent in a small cramped area at the steering wheel
The Lone Railroad Camp, New Orleans, Tchoupitoulas Area Camp: Sometimes a homeless person's survival depends on how invisible they can become. Many times they seek out places that are hard to see and off the beaten path
The Lone Railroad Camp, New Orleans, Tchoupitoulas Area Camp: Sometimes a homeless person’s survival depends on how invisible they can become. Many times they seek out places that are hard to see and off the beaten path

 

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