Once homeless and hungry, youths serve up antidote to foodie culture

Few of the images by formerly homeless youth are traditionally beautiful, but each offers a rare window into life far away from linen napkins and wine lists

This is what it looks like to be young, homeless and hungry in a city preoccupied with food the locavore life, the scrupulously sourced, the beautifully butchered, the five-star restaurant.

For Justin Smith it is a spin of ramen noodles, pennies a mouthful and a carefully tended blue, plastic fork. For Josh Frazier, it is dumpster diving in a bright green compost bin. For Nick Lindley it is a jumble of canned food, some for himself, the best for his puppy, Ziggy.

I wish my food stamps didnt get cut off. I dont know why they got cut off. So I had to go to the food bank and get all of this crap. I expended all of my money on my dogs food. My fight is real, but no realer than anyone elses.

Thats how Lindley describes his photo, The Lost Land of Cans and Dog Food, part of an exhibit opening in San Francisco on Wednesday called I Got Nothing, the work of eight recently homeless teens and twentysomethings about a central fact of their young lives: hunger, or as they prefer to call it, food instability.

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A volunteer with Intersection for the Arts hangs a new gallery of photos made by homeless young people in San Francisco. Photograph: Andrew Burton for the Guardian

I Got Nothing is an antidote to the food porn that fills the internet. Few of the carefully curated images are traditionally beautiful. But each offers a rare window into life far removed from the linen napkins and wine listings of the wealthiest US cities.

Or as Frazier put it in describing his photo of a homeless man bending into a compost bin:

People throw off whole loaves of bread, half-loaves of bread. Its gonna go bad in a day. These people go out and find it. Theres a whole community of them, they live everywhere, in every major city in America. They take the trash that people arent feeing and they eat them Pretty much, it doesnt matter if youve been homeless or are just not able to pay the rent. Youve done this at least once.

Frazier and his fellow photographers have all done this more than once. They live in the first permanent supportive housing facility that San Francisco funded for homeless youth between 18 and 24. The renovated single room occupancy hotel opened two years ago a block away from Whole Food a pricey marketplace none of them can afford.

Amber:
Amber: Untitled( pic of mouth ). Photograph: Politenes of Intersection for the Arts

Frazier, 25, entered the foster care system in Texas County, Oklahoma, when he was nine years old. By the time he aged out at 18, he had lived in more than 60 foster homes. Since then, he has been homeless in seven cities. He ticks them off on Tuesday afternoon as members of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health hang the exhibit in advance of Wednesday nights opening.

Oklahoma City. Lawton, Oklahoma. Altus, Oklahoma. Denver. Groton, Connecticut. Los Angeles. San Francisco.

One of Fraziers photos at Intersection for the Arts gallery is simple and painful, a big white plate with a single bite of hamburger left on it.

I hadnt had food for a few days, and it was something I had to build last, he said. Id take a couple of bites, set it down. Theres food in my room, but you need other food in order to make it. Like Hamburger Helper, but no meat.

Most of the residents in Fraziers South of Market building are part of a study looking at how having permanent housing and the opportunity for case management affects the health of formerly homeless young people over day.

Dr Colette Coco Auerswald, an associate professor of public health at UC Berkeley, told 86% of the young people in the study meet all federal departments definition of severe or moderate food insecurity. More than half reported going for 24 hours without food.

I thought that once they were housed they wouldnt be food insecure, said Auerswald, co-director of a research center called I4Y and the studys principal investigator. But they are we were blown away and felt like we needed to do anything about it with the kids.

The young people involved in the exhibit were each given a digital camera and an assignment: photo what food instability entails in “peoples lives”. Not just going without food, Auerswald said, but also being unable to afford anything healthy in such a foodie society.

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Amber Sheldon, who goes by the name Amber Ale, poses for a portrait with her puppy Daydream in San Francisco. Photograph: Andrew Burton for the Guardian

25-year-old Amber Ale a last name adopted because Im an alcoholichas been homeless on and off since her senior year of high school. One of her photographs presents an open mouth with a blob of largely chewed food on a big, pink tongue.

Its a pepperoncini, she said, but she purposely attained it impossible to identify, because a lot of the food we get to eat, we dont “know what i m saying”. Some is delivered twice a week by Food Runners, an organization that collects uneaten food from caterers and eateries.

Some comes from trash cans in wealthy, wasteful San Francisco.

Theres really good food in trash cans here, she said. I was homeless for years, and I got to eat things that I never would have gotten to eat otherwise.

But you dont know how old it is, or why it was thrown away.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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