I have always had a knack for remembering names and faces. I have my theories as to why that is. Photographic memory? I wish. The truth is, all people remember the things that they care about. Ask a true baseball fan for stats and he could tell you who pitched what kind of game in what year. Ask an American historian about the lives of the presidents and she’d be able to tell you which president had the most children living with him during his term in the White House. I can do neither of those things. Even if I heard those details at some point in my life, I have no reason to remember them, because I don’t really care. My specialty is the people I meet. That is what I care about. That is what I remember.
One of my most recent projects that my lack of full-time employment has directed me to is a program called the Homeless Service Registry. In homeless services in the past, the trend has been to provide services, substance abuse counseling, mental health diagnosis and treatment, etc. and then when an individual is stable, move them into housing. There is now a movement toward housing first and after an individual is housed will the supportive services begin. The Service Registry is the first step in providing housing first.
A group of volunteers and representatives from various agencies that serve the homeless population went out for three nights in a row, from 1 until 6 in the morning, waking up people sleeping on the streets, in their cars, on the beach to interview them. Questions about their health history, both physical and mental health, and about their history of substance abuse helped to assess their vulnerability, and identify those who would benefit most from being housed first. The interviewers also requested permission to take their photos after the interview was complete.
I was the administrative support on this project. It was my responsibility to input all the data gathered by the volunteers. I was also responsible for editing the pictures to make them a more reasonable size for the database. Over two-hundred surveys and photos later, I found myself almost completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of people homeless in this small area that we covered. And the sometimes angered, mostly tired and occasional smiling faces were etched in my memory.
A few days later, I rode my bike along the beach and as I rode, my eyes glanced over to a couple of guys playing guitar and banging on a drum. I recognized both of them. I continued to ride and happened upon another individual who I recognized by the sweater he was wearing. I will continue to see these familiar faces hanging out, blending in. And though I do not remember all of them with certainty, their faces will always be familiar.