An Invitation To See The Faces Of People Who Are Unhoused: Jessica

Jessica is wearing a jacket with a hood with a fur ruff. She is facing the camera square on. The portrait is in colour.
Jessica photo by Steve McKenzie is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed

Meet Jessica. can make this introduction thanks to the fine work of Steve McKenzie, a portrait photographer. Steve’s portraits come with notes:

“Jessica was walking near the northeast corner of Ohio and Michigan. She’s been out here for almost a year. She sleeps on the street with three other women, “there’s also about seven guys”, who serve as “protection” for Jessica and her friends. “I always have Mace”, she said. She doesn’t sleep on the train, because it’s so violent. “It’s like someone flipped a switch or something…you’ll either get beat up or they’ll steal from you.”

In her earlier days she was a PA, helping a blind senior citizen. Then, she got in a fight with another woman and ended up going to jail. The problem with that was now she couldn’t work in her field due to her record.

“Then I found out someone stole my Social Security number!” She was really concerned about that and kept mentioning it. “I don’t even know where to begin”, she said. Fortunately, she has an organization she’s working with. I kept urging her to get help to resolve this. Once she does, she can get a job.

She was outside a Dunkin Donuts recently and they had a help wanted sign. “The person at Dunkin Donuts offered me a job and said that if I could get a uniform, she could have the job. So I did everything I could to get money to pay for that.” She eventually made the money and bought the uniform, but when she went back to Dunkin Donuts, the manager of the store looked at her and said ‘we’re not hiring’. Then she shrugged her shoulders and said, “it (discrimination) goes with the territory. People think we (homeless people) are all the same.” Not so, especially Jessica. “ was inspired to share Steve’s portraits after reading a commentary by Jennifer Gerlach in Psychology Today1. Ms Gerlach encourages us to experience the humanity that is so obvious in the faces of people who are unhoused. Steve’s portraits give us all an opportunity to follow Jennifer Gerlach’s invitation.


  1. You can read Jennifer Gerlach’s commentary here: A Person With a Face, Unhoused on a Cold Winter Night