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The Julie Project
February 1, 2011 8:33 PM   Subscribe

"For the last 18 years I have photographed Julie Baird’s complex story of multiple homes, AIDS, drug abuse, abusive relationships, poverty, births, deaths, loss and reunion. Following Julie from the backstreets of San Francisco to the backwoods of Alaska."
posted by dobbs (86 comments total) 99 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jesus. The fucking human condition.
posted by ZaneJ. at 8:42 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


sorry.... too dark for me to check out right now...
posted by growabrain at 8:50 PM on February 1, 2011


Article in the Guardian.
posted by dobbs at 8:53 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, that's just... my God.
posted by fatbird at 8:58 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jesus. The fucking human condition.

Ermm. That ain't my human condition.
posted by xmutex at 9:00 PM on February 1, 2011


Fuck.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:08 PM on February 1, 2011


.
posted by dabitch at 9:09 PM on February 1, 2011


That was so sad, in so many ways.

.
posted by shmurley at 9:10 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having a kid makes it hard to read stories like this. I couldn't, actually. Just saw a picture of her with her kid, had to bail.
posted by jcruelty at 9:10 PM on February 1, 2011


How many other lives of equal squalor and sorrow go undocumented...

Millions.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:15 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was a tough read.
posted by unliteral at 9:16 PM on February 1, 2011


There is also some audio on this video slideshow.
posted by dobbs at 9:21 PM on February 1, 2011


.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:22 PM on February 1, 2011


Seems kind of exploitative.
posted by delmoi at 9:28 PM on February 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


.
posted by Catblack at 9:32 PM on February 1, 2011


Did you see the fucking consent form she signed at the beginning? Did you read the pained words of the photographer in the final pages?

This was exploitative and cold. The Julie Project is not. Not in my book, it isn't.
posted by maudlin at 9:33 PM on February 1, 2011 [25 favorites]


Ermm. That ain't my human condition.

Part of the human condition is being fucking lucky enough to be able to say this. So, congratulations.
posted by rtha at 9:38 PM on February 1, 2011 [26 favorites]


That's so intensely sad. And anyone wants to wax poetic about the kindness of God, go read that, and tell me again about a good and gracious creator. Fuck.

.
posted by dbiedny at 9:39 PM on February 1, 2011


The photographer became a friend. He helped reunite her with some of her children and felt guilty he couldn't reunite her with all of them. She was real to him, and he made her real to a lot opf strangers on the Internet. One more lost person gets remembered by a few more people than would ever have thought of her, and we may look at lost people in our cities a little differently now. Maybe we'll even do something practical to dive in to help individuals or the system, or maybe we'll be a little less quick to judge the next time.

That's not fucking exploitation, it's learning. Whether or not we do something useful with what we've learned is up to us.
posted by maudlin at 9:39 PM on February 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


That's not fucking exploitation, it's learning.

Can't it be both? I find these kinds of projects to be both.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:43 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The photog is female.
posted by dobbs at 9:43 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ermm. That ain't my human condition.

xmutex, "Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind."
posted by IAmBroom at 9:44 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Jesus...

I found if somewhat exploitative, too. I could feel for Julie's pain. Be enraged by her victimization. Have utmost disgust for her irresponsibility. But in the end, it seems all we could do is gawk at these tragically broken people. Darcy Padilla got to watch and document this train wreck for 18 years. She might have been the closest thing to a friend Julie ever had. It's not clear to me how truly beneficial this relationship was to Julie or her children.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:47 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


"The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."

There are so many sad stories, and so many much, much, much sadder, the world over. But we don't confront them. Somebody has taken the time to document this one. It is a tragedy. This and all the others, the undocumented ones. But now that we've seen it, what's next? Reflection? Determination? Plan of action? Everyone is famous for 15 minutes. And as life accelerates, it's down to 5, 4, 3 and then none. Just a blur of statistics. And to pick out just one, feels terribly random. Even if it wasn't random to the people involved. But such is the divide between actors and spectators. Yet ultimately, we are both.
posted by VikingSword at 9:47 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


But in the end, it seems all we could do is gawk at these tragically broken people.

And then be inspired to help the tragically broken people in our own vicinity. They're not always artistically captured in black and white but they're there.
posted by katillathehun at 9:57 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


"It's not clear to me how truly beneficial this relationship was to Julie or her children."

Did you miss the part where the photographer's relationship with Julie directly helped the son that had been adopted by another family find Julie? And then later meet her and then finally call her days before her death?

The adopted mother and son's letters to Julie really are incredibly beautiful.
posted by schwa at 10:03 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


dobbs: "The photog is female." Sorry for the sexist assumption on my part. The only Darcy I've known personally was a guy, but still, I should have checked.
posted by maudlin at 10:09 PM on February 1, 2011


man, this is heavy. really moved. nuff said.
posted by spark_001 at 10:11 PM on February 1, 2011


Well, that's my heart broken into pieces.
posted by jokeefe at 10:13 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


After I read this, my little boy pulled into the bedroom to look at the drawing he did, mostly all over the walls. Any other time I'd be annoyed. At this moment, all I can do is hug him. I am so fucking fortunate. I get to live in a (relatively) tidy apartment. I get to raise my son with a wonderful and kind partner. Whatever traumas and injustices I suffered in my early years were not so big and terrible that they effectively ended my life before I had a chance to live it.

I am so fucking fortunate.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:16 PM on February 1, 2011 [18 favorites]


This is heartbreaking.

"[Jason] is thin… he has not had anti-virals in 3 months. The stress
of caring for Julie is taking its toll on him."

This should not be happening, anywhere, but especially not in America in 2010.

One of the hardest things is knowing that resources exist that could have helped Julie (and could still help Jason). The Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (4As) offers housing and other resources. There's a statewide drug assistance program and AIDS hotline.

.
posted by charmcityblues at 10:21 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


You gotta wonder how it might effect you to have a photographer following you around for years, making dark pictures of your dark life. If that's the only mirror you have for your life, it might start to feedback on you.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:23 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the Huffington Post story:
She told me that at one point, back when she was studying journalism at San Francisco State University, she thought she might become a photographer for Sports Illustrated, until she photographed a homeless family panhandling for tourists at a cable-car turnaround. "Something just clicked," Padilla said. Later, she interned at the New York Times, which offered a job and a relatively secure future. Instead she became a documentary photographer, like Gene Smith, which meant waitressing jobs and grant applications and freelance work, when available.

She did it, she said, because she was interested in the social issues surrounding poverty and the people she calls "the permanent poor." Explaining their lives became her life's work, in part, I expect, because she understood that no one but documentary photographers and filmmakers seem to do that kind of thing. ...

When Padilla speaks, she chooses words carefully, as if she doesn't trust them to explain what she has already said explicitly in her photographs. "I guess what motivated me," she told me after some moments of thought, "was this question that I kept thinking about all those years: How does a child born into this world like every other child, get to be Julie Baird?"

That's a novelist's question. Dickens asked it, perhaps compulsively. Steinbeck. Norris. Sinclair. They all had stories they needed to tell. ...

After 18 years of work, Padilla says she really only captured "a small sliver" of Baird's life. And she now wants to track down all of Baird's children and set up scholarships for them with the $30,000 she received from the Smith Grant. She can't bring an end to the story she began in 1993. Not yet.
posted by maudlin at 10:23 PM on February 1, 2011 [33 favorites]


And there but for fortune go you and go I. Always good to remember.
posted by jokeefe at 10:40 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been on mefi for a while and I've noticed that a lot of post discussions center on "do we approve or do we not approve".
This moral weighing after the fact and sitting in judgement behind your computer strikes me as rather pointless.
I guess it's just a basic tendency we humans have and I should accept its prominence on mefi.
posted by joost de vries at 10:41 PM on February 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


A life lived hard, and died hard, too. She was so tough, so strong, took her so long to die.

I wanted to judge her, regardless I'm so broken in so many ways myself, and have absolutely no right to judge her. If I'd have allowed myself to judge her maybe I wouldn't be crying now, my stupid anger would have protected me, kept me at a remove.

One hell of a life.

Exploitative? I don't think so. Maybe at the first, but in short order -- a couple years at longest -- Julie had to know how intimate these images are, Julie had to know how much room she was allowing to be opened in her life. I see it as a collaboration, Darcy having the courage to continue showing up and not judging, Julie having the courage to open her life to the lens for 18 years.

There is NO WAY I would open my life as courageously as Julie did. Especially if my life contained as many obvious holes that the camera sees unflinchingly, holes that just totally open her to my snotty, snooty contempt, and to yours. Though I surely do have holes, I am in fact broken, in more ways than I'm going to say here. Which is my point.

I just don't have her courage.

And because of that collaboration and because of that courage, my life is richer, another door opened to me, another view of my brothers and sisters, another piece of humanity. Yeah, her humanity was gritty. But she lived, she died, she did what we're all doing, did it how it came to her, it wasn't her fault and wasn't her choice to have been dealt the hand she got; she played it as she was able. This view into her life, it's sortof like she was showing her cards as she played them, and she kept on showing them even as she kept on losing.

.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:49 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Holy shit.
posted by pmv at 10:53 PM on February 1, 2011


I think it is interesting that I, and other people as well, assumed the photog was male - after I read the whole Julie project site, I went the home page, saw darcy is female, and then said to myself "ah, that's why julie trusted her enough to let her document her life!" It took a lot of trust for julie to keep in touch with darcy.

As for the exploitative nature of the work, read through the whole story and you can see that there was an emotional connection between darcy, jason, and julie- darcy is also honest about what her personal emotional reactions. It must have been devastating to see the drama play out, and to visit julie multiple times when she was on her deathbed. It would have been easier to say at some point "I've gotten what I'm going to get out of this" and walk away -- but darcy didn't.

I don't know that I would have been strong enough to do the same.
posted by ianhattwick at 10:56 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Julie this is it.
This is what life has given you.
What you have taken, and what you have left.
May death be kind, not letting you linger with pain, suffering.


What a deeply sad, real, unblinking story of a person's life. This will stay with me for a very long time.

.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:56 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


This was terrible to look at, this poor woman used up by all the things she experienced, and really more dead than alive for so long. Seriously very hard to look at and read.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:08 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting, this was terrible to see but it moved me greatly. I didn't think I would shed tears, and I didn't at the obvious stuff, but seeing the little offhanded moments of light and happiness in her life (laying her chin on Jack's head in the wheelchair, reading to a baby), these things brought home her humanity, and that there were if not good days at least good moments, and somehow that's what got me the most. Won't forget this soon.
posted by chaff at 11:11 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Did you miss the part where the photographer's relationship with Julie directly helped the son that had been adopted by another family find Julie? And then later meet her and then finally call her days before her death?

You forgot, Padilla also gave her $11 for a birth certificate.

After 18 years of documenting horribly self destructive behavior and six miraculously lucky children, none of which Julie could really care for, it seems a pretty wispy favor. Padilla's actual involvement (rather than just documentation) in Julie's life seemed to have this way of making for heart wrenching twists on top of the tragedy.

Padilla saw this awful window into the human condition and made an art project out of it. Most people who cared might have tried something in the way of an intervention. If for no other reason than watching this disaster unfold before your eyes as innocent lives are brought into the world is simply too painful to watch. Here's to hoping Julie's offspring will never need that scholarship. And if they do, I hope it was worth the risks they endured at the hands of the people around them when they were most vulnerable, including those who were trying to tell a story.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:12 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


For a journalism student who had job offers at the NYT, her grammar sure sucks.

But I found the work moving.
posted by fartknocker at 11:33 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Most people who cared might have tried something in the way of an intervention.

Sometimes the bear eats you. It's not any more complicated than that.
posted by humannaire at 11:37 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Most people who cared might have tried something in the way of an intervention.

How do you know the Padilla didn't try various interventions, or periodically say "Julie, how can I help you take a step up?"

I don't know that she did, but I suspect that if she had, she purposefully kept those parts out of it because the story was about Julie, not Darcy helping Julie.
posted by fatbird at 12:28 AM on February 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry to see so much of this discussion focus on whether or not this work was "exploitative," rather than on the subject matter itself. The alternative would be for this project not to have happened, for the arc of Julie's life not to have been traced, and for us not to be having this conversation. And I don't see how that would be an improvement.

A commenter above suggested that maybe the photographer should have staged "an intervention," which is about as glib as it gets. ("Julie, we need to have a serious talk about your life of abuse, addiction, depression and poverty. It's time things changed!") As the project itself makes clear to those who actually read it, many of its subjects have spent their lives bouncing in and out of institutional "interventions."

Did Padilla have a duty to do something other than photograph her subject? Of course - but I sense a certain discomfort here at the idea that a relationship between an educated, successful professional, and a woman perpetually at life's heel, could take the form of anything other than a one-person welfare state.

Instead, it seemed they were closer to friends (which can be scarcer than social workers), and I can't find any indication that Padilla behaved in a way unbecoming of a friend. Friends take each others' calls. Friends offer support. It's the rare friend that locates your children and stays vigil by your deathbed. Friends, however, don't steer your course in life. They can't rescue you from your own decisions and your own demons. In fact, their most important job might be to stick with you as the person you are.

There is no way to document anyone's life over time without forging a relationship with them. It's always tricky when the personal and professional overlap, but they do so by necessity. So perhaps the question is: Is this work necessary? Is it poverty-pornography, or does it bring something vital to the table?

I'd argue that it does. I recently moved to one of the few pockets of genuine poverty left in my gentrifying city's core. The people around me have lived hard lives, and those lives are worn into faces whose age you can never quite tell. I wonder every day: How did you come to be here, shaking with palsy outside this bar? Who are you trying to reach, calling the hospital from that payphone, and what do they mean to you? What have those eyes seen that mine never will?

A documented 18-year arc is one way to start divining an answer. The work is not exploitative; it is irreplaceable. I'm the better for seeing it.
posted by bicyclefish at 12:42 AM on February 2, 2011 [91 favorites]


"A documented 18-year arc is one way to start divining an answer. The work is not exploitative; it is irreplaceable. I'm the better for seeing it."

So well said.
posted by schwa at 12:50 AM on February 2, 2011


Darcy was also the one that spotted the ad Julie's father placed looking for her.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:53 AM on February 2, 2011


Oh man.

You know, if I had read that news article about her abducting her own newborn from the hospital by itself in the newspaper, I would've happily tut-tutted at that awful mother who was reckless and stupid. But contextualised in between the other photos, I was conflicted -- I still wanted to have that reaction, but wanted desperately for Julie to get it right, just once.

And yet... how does one person manage to mis-use or to completely not use contraception so persistently?

Darcy's work is clearly a work of love. Agreed that she was the closest thing Julie had to a friend.

On a different, but no more upbeat note, the last series of photos reminded me of the deathwatch over my father a couple of years ago, dying of stomach cancer. It's tough, it's exhausting, yet nothing happens but the constant wheezing and turning for bedsores. These photos took me to a place I don't ordinarily go, but I'm glad they did.
posted by chronic sublime at 12:56 AM on February 2, 2011


How do you know the Padilla didn't try various interventions, or periodically say "Julie, how can I help you take a step up?"

We don't know. We can only go with what has been revealed.

A commenter above suggested that maybe the photographer should have staged "an intervention," which is about as glib as it gets.

Is working to get her children out of harm's way really glib? There is no way I could have tolerated seeing her have custody of not only her, but other children, without working to get them placed in a safer environment. And if the state dragged its legs, that would have been my story. The intervention would not be for Julie's sake, but rather for her children. It probably would have made me an enemy. And would have made me a key part of the story, if I chose to pursue a story after such involvement. If I couldn't make a difference in the lives of the innocents, who really were in danger here, I couldn't continue on this documentation over the course of 18 years. Observing this kind of catastrophe unfold at such a close distance, recurring over and over, is just too corrosive to the soul.

Had Julie's story not involved giving birth to six children over that span of time, I don't think I'd find much in the documentation to object about. I could deal with self destructive adults doing what they need to get by, and accept if any offer of help was not taken. But the case was more complicated than that.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:27 AM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


This was hard to look at. Seeing it really brings home to me the fact that the USA* contains within it a section of society suffering from the same grinding poverty and despair that would not be so out of place in any "third world" country (I dislike this term but I think it serves the point here).

* the same could be said of other countries I'm sure
posted by jonesor at 2:59 AM on February 2, 2011


That was utterly harrowing. I honestly don't know what the answer is.
posted by milkwood at 3:16 AM on February 2, 2011


>> And she now wants to track down all of Baird's children and set up scholarships for them with the $30,000 she received from the Smith Grant.

Can we end the exploitation thread now? An amazing piece, masterful.
posted by Duug at 3:20 AM on February 2, 2011


It was beautiful and intimate.

As for feeling like Darcy should have done more to help Julie: Darcy is not a social worker. Darcy's work is about permanent, desperate poverty. Imagine how many people she must have come into contact with who were in similar situations as Julie. Was she obligated also to help them? Or only the ones with children? Or should she have kept her nose out of it completely unless she was willing to donate all her time to dragging these tragic people out of the gutter?

I think we need art like this to remind us that these people exist. In cities and rural areas, we interact with this kind of desperation very often, but most people don't see it because it is incredibly sad and difficult to process day in and day out.

I liked the comment earlier about how judgmental the poster would be over the baby abduction, but was conflicted because of this work. That makes me think this series is beautifully successful. It gives us pause and helps us to have compassion.
posted by Blisterlips at 3:59 AM on February 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


thank you for this post. very moving.
.
posted by phogirl at 5:11 AM on February 2, 2011


Interventions rarely work in real life, even with people with some sort of support system still intact. FYI.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:46 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


This should not be happening, anywhere, but especially not in America in 2010.

One of the hardest things is knowing that resources exist that could have helped Julie (and could still help Jason). The Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association (4As) offers housing and other resources. There's a statewide drug assistance program and AIDS hotline.


To me, the implication is that Jason is not taking his meds, not that he doesn't have access to them. It's clear that Julie had exhausted her medication options, probably as a result of viral resistance due to inconsistent medication use. My guess is that this couple was very aware of the resources that might have helped them. They had been in the HIV community for a long time. The truth is, though, that resources are not always available (the HIV/AIDS housing waiting lists in most places are overflowing), and the medications can only do so much.
posted by OmieWise at 5:49 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus. The fucking human condition.

That was utterly harrowing. I honestly don't know what the answer is.

wanted desperately for Julie to get it right, just once.


I believe the expression is, "Oh the humanity!"

And it was used contextually to express horrified helplessness in the face of awesome catastrophe.

In a sense it applies here because of the complete seeming trainwreck of a human life, documented out for us to acknowledge.

Life doesn't apparently make sense. The unfairness. Or the imbalance.

But it comes down to this, really. Being able to make sense of the seemingly senseless.

Here is a person, surrounded by people—including the photojournalist—who are doing the best they can at life and living. It seems senseless to us, perhaps, but it is also art.

Life is art. Sometimes it is profound. Other times it is profoundly ugly. And still others it is this, so personal and raw that it is senseless out of the context of a bigger picture.

So here's the bigger picture: We all make a difference.

God bless these two, Darcy and Julie. What a relationship!

And if not god bless, than I stand up and applaud and cheer.

Crying tears of admiration, in the face of the human condition, someone was there along the entire way who cared. And I think it was us.
posted by humannaire at 6:39 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


.
It's a sad sad situation and its growing more and more absurd.

The question that comes up for me and it's probably a MeTa question is, is MetaFilter itself exploitative? It tugs at our heartstrings, exposes our deepest longings and pains. Reveals a raw festering wound on a daily basis and the blue keeps chuggin along, hour after hour, day after day, right in our face.
posted by Xurando at 7:16 AM on February 2, 2011


So here's the bigger picture: We all make a difference. God bless these two ... What a relationship!

No - some of us are neglected and abused and spend a lifetime in pain, passing on neglect and abuse to our kids.

No happy, churchy platitudes apply here.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:29 AM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm stunned. Part of me wishes I hadn't seen any of that. Just devastating.
posted by seventyfour at 7:48 AM on February 2, 2011


.

My dogs were dealt a better hand in life than poor Julie. I would presume that Darcy Padilla over the years met other people in her travels who were also the victims of bad parenting, substance abuse, sexual abuse, and abuse in general. I guess that some of them made better choices and coped better than Julie did. It's good that the state took her children away from her. What a heartbreaking tragedy that was. I think I'll call some of the important people in my life and tell them I love them now.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:04 AM on February 2, 2011


The truth is, though, that resources are not always available (the HIV/AIDS housing waiting lists in most places are overflowing), and the medications can only do so much.

Alaska has fewer than 800 PLWHA according to 2009 CDC data. It's ranked 44th / 50 for prevalence at the moment. So the resources are pretty accessible.

If Jason chose not to take his medication then at least it was his choice and the system wasn't failing in that instance. But the family was still living in a house that Padilla noted affected Julie's health, and that certainly wasn't fit for a young child-- safety hazards all over, could not possibly be warm enough in winter, etc. The housing in Palmer proper is generally cheap, and mostly pretty nice, solid new construction. A quick Craigslist search turns up a nice, new 2-bedroom duplex for $775 a month-- a bargain by Alaska standards. And 4As, etc. provides housing and housing assistance, including help with security deposits and utilities, applications for state assistance, and subsidies.

There are systemic failures here, from the beginning of course, but also in the end game. And that's not right.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:10 AM on February 2, 2011


I guess that some of them made better choices and coped better than Julie did.

It's easier to make better choices when you've got the resources and support to make those choices. I live and work in an area with the highest levels of injecting drug use in the UK. Here HIV/AIDS is virtually non-existant in our IV drug using population. It's been at less than 1% of that population since the mid-80's.

This woman died from a totally preventable disease, and the history of US government opposition to needle exchange is a fucking scandal.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:11 AM on February 2, 2011 [11 favorites]


And did you see the caption that described her as working for a babysitter for California after multiple children had (sadly) been removed from the household? Gah.
posted by seventyfour at 9:15 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


The conversation about bad choices neglects to mention that we ALL make bad choices, all the time. But when you have so many disadvantages and so few opportunities the bad choices are compounded and the good choices often have minimal, long-range positive impact on a chaotic life. So, so sad.
posted by saucysault at 9:21 AM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


There was a time in my life, not long enough ago , where I went from being a six figure Silicon Valley programmer - to being homeless for a coupe of years. And although I had seen and talked to homeless people before in San Francisco, I had never lived among them myself. I will tell you a few things about being homeless. Firstly you need to know that almost anything you think you know or think you assume about the homeless situation is wrong. It's just wrong. In reality you have no idea at all . No idea.

You think that there are services to help people like Julie and you are mostly wrong. There are services out there but most of them exist to make money for the providers themselves and/or to give jobs to the executives running the programs. This is not to say that there aren't wonderful and caring people in programs designed to help the homeless. There are. But they are a small minority overall. Most people employed by such programs stopped giving a fuck long ago and are more interested in carefully just keeping their jobs. I have been in a San Francisco shelter to try and get a shower. It took me two hours waiting in a chair just to get a shower. It looked like a third world war zone in there . I watched literally insane people talking to themselves . I saw people wrapped in bloody bandages just wandering around as if everything was all right. Worst of all I watched as City employees made open fun of the mentally unstable to their faces and laughed among themselves about it. You think there are programs , places to go - but you are mostly wrong. The programs exist only to the degree that they satisfy the overall public's need to not see, to not know about the conditions in which these people live.

You think that the homeless are only homeless due to bad luck. You think that it is not their fault and you are mostly wrong. Over 80% of the homeless that I encountered had drug problems. Over 60% were mildly to moderately mentally ill who would not get or accept medical treatment, perhaps more. Less than 10% were homeless due to bad luck or things beyond their control. I watched as groups of homeless people in shelters would share information about what shelters were currently accepting people around the country. I listened as they planned out their year according to which shelters they would be staying at and when. Being homeless for the majority of people that I encountered was not an awful predicament. It was a carefully planned lifestyle. When you give money to someone pan handling on the street you are not helping them out. You are supporting their intended lifestyle while at the same time assuaging your own conscious for a time. You are also making sure that the same person will be there tomorrow and the day after.

You think there are resources. You think there are places to go. You think there is help available. You think people care . And you are wrong. I have a 130 IQ and college at a good school. I became homeless when the need for 40 year old female programmers went to nil in 2002. I had been working for over 20 years mostly in corporate environments. I never had a drug problem to deal with. Even with all my advantages, it took me 2 and a half years to get back to a normal life. I used the internet to seek out safe programs and shelters. I used my VA benefits to get enrolled in a community for homeless women Vets. And I worked my way back up again starting from the very bottom. I was one of the 10% . Most of the homeless do not have the mental stability, confidence or experience to do that. And if you are not persistent , very very persistent , you will be lost in the system. It's far easier to do drugs.

Everything you know about homelessness is wrong. It is far worse than you think - on both sides. The truth is that you really don't want to know . The truth is that you really don't need to know. You have your hands too full with keeping your mortgage afloat or getting your own kids into college to really be worried about the tens of thousands slowly dying on your city streets .

Give an extra buck to someone after you read this. You'll feel better.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:59 AM on February 2, 2011 [29 favorites]


That was amazing. Thanks for the post.
posted by brand-gnu at 10:02 AM on February 2, 2011


This is a profound and courageous piece of photojournalism and a tragic story. I would be interested in knowing more about the photographer's motivation in this particular topic.

Once I'd seen the story from beginning to end I couldn't help thinking about the concept of squalor as an element.

For some time now I've given thought to the idea of naivete and chaos as being defense mechanisms for underlying abandonment depression. Squalor is also typical in the life of meth and crank addicts and I wonder about the neurological aspect of that.

Thoughts that came up about Julie's having one child after the other: Chaos addiction | Addicted to chaos.

Thinking about what her children had to survive I came across this interesting website, Squalor Survivors | Measuring squalor: bedroom, living room, kitchen, bedroom

May she rest in peace and may her children find healthier ways to live.
posted by nickyskye at 10:18 AM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]



The question that comes up for me and it's probably a MeTa question is, is MetaFilter itself exploitative? It tugs at our heartstrings, exposes our deepest longings and pains. Reveals a raw festering wound on a daily basis and the blue keeps chuggin along, hour after hour, day after day, right in our face.


Now, I can't speak for the rest of us, but personally, Metafilter has been a place of intelligent conversation and discourse about numerous topics I've never been able to bring up or discover elsewhere. Many times on many topics, I rarely actually go directly to the link first, but read the comments on the 'ole blue, as I find that the meta-discussion about said link is often deeper and more insightful.

As a result of what I've come across on Metafilter, I've had many of my assumptions, biases and preconceptions challenged, and believe that I'm better for it. I've rethought many of my stances on numerous issues, not simply because I was exposed to them here, but because members shared their personal, first-hand experiences about what they had gone through, and summarily, helped me ascertain certain truths about subjects I had never before thought were possible.

Thus, I do not think Metafilter is in anyway exploitative, but conversely, helps stimulate thoughtful, intelligent discourse from a complexity of views that don't often agree – but with the imagination to understand where others come from. Add to that the great moderation by our site staff, and the wealth of knowledge held by Metafilter members, and I think that as a whole, Metafilter has helped enrich my life far more than any other media outlet I've come across.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 10:23 AM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Poet_Lariat :Over 80% of the homeless that I encountered had drug problems. Over 60% were mildly to moderately mentally ill who would not get or accept medical treatment, perhaps more. Less than 10% were homeless due to bad luck or things beyond their control.

Disclosure: I used to work with the chronic mentally ill. Our people were hooked up with services and housing (I worked in a half-way house), but for many of them there had been long stretches of homelessness. A large number of our people were dually diagnosed with substance abuse problems and a major mental illness. Many of them lacked insight into their illness and despite all evidence to the contrary, didn't think that they were sick. It was hard to keep these folks housed.

One reason was that the laws changed in the late '90s and substance abuse problems were no longer treated as a disability. The result for us is that in order to maintain funding we had to change from a harm reduction model (no drugs & alcohol in the house, must be sober when on the premises, counselors would work with clients to find ways to support better decision making, etc.,) to a sober living model (mandated AA meetings, drug testing, 3 strikes you're out, etc.,). It made it much harder to help people, but I'm sure it made someone in Washington happy that " the american taxpayer would no longer be funding someone elses lifestyle choices..."

The second reason is that many psych meds suck - they make you twitchy, tired, fat, pimply, fuck with your thyroid, make you prone to diabetes, to name a few. Sure you have a clear head and your delusions are abating, but you feel like shit. Street drugs & alcohol, on the other hand, make you feel good.

Supportive housing and shelters suck. They treat you like an idiot child. They have rules about when you can leave, when you can come in, when you have to go to sleep, when you have to wake up. You might be crazy or a fuck-up, but you aren't stupid and you don't want people treating you like you are. Sometimes you're confronted by people who make you feel unsafe: sexually predatory people, people who are dirtier than you, crazier than you, more angry and threatening than you. Why would you want to accept housing in that situation?

Lastly, the less mentioned problem is what most people would see as a positive: clarity of mind. You start taking your meds, your symptoms abate and what are you left with? The realization that you lost years, possibly decades to your illness. The people you went to high school with have jobs, houses, kids, friends. What do you have? Nothing but problems that seem insurmountable. Why take meds when the end result is having to come to terms with that? Sometimes it's easier to stay crazy.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:42 AM on February 2, 2011 [16 favorites]


I was unable to sleep--head cold--and so checked on MeFi at 4am and ended up viewing this. Shortly thereafter I climbed back into my warm bed, eyes red from weeping, and thought, I need to be more grateful for the good things in my life, because there are no guarantees, and for some folks the good things come hard, if ever.

We could, any one of us, be these people.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:04 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure I'll ever get over this story.
posted by gusandrews at 12:39 PM on February 2, 2011


There was a time in my life, not long enough ago , where I went from being a six figure Silicon Valley programmer - to being homeless for a coupe of years...You think there are resources. You think there are places to go. You think there is help available. You think people care . And you are wrong

Amen. Both of us got real lucky. I remember when I was trying to get help. It's such a joke. These places don't even treat people like human beings. I remember one where they said they provided mental health services. First appointment I find out it takes two more appointments to actually get to see someone. The first appointment they sit you in a windowless room and make you fill out forms. Next appointment they take you to a social worker where you fill out more forms. If you are late to this appointment you have to start from the beginning of the process again. Each time you have to wait in a waiting room for at least an hour with menacing people. Thank God I was able to pull myself together on my own.

I can't imagine how I would have dealt with it if I had bipolar or schizophrenia. I'm also high IQ and pretty educated and I struggled with the process because my depression was so bad. I went to this place 5 times before I actually saw a psychologist. I guess this is why people end up in E.Rs.

The amount of calling around and paperwork I did...I can't imagine someone with really severe mental illness would be able to handle it.

Each day I wish I could do more to truly help people. I never feel like I'm doing enough.

Now that I'm a functioning human being again, when I donate to charity I really really want to know how hard it is for people to actually get their services.
posted by melissam at 12:50 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm only a few days older than Julie was. She died between my 37th birthday and hers. For some reason I didn't do the math with the years and realize this until the ad from her uncle showed up with the prominent birthdate, at which point I began to cry. I thought she was an other, someone far from me in every possible way, distanced, much older. Different. But she wasn't. Not really.
posted by kostia at 2:26 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


And I dearly hope the fact that her daughter turned 18 last week means she's looking for her adoption records right now.

.
posted by kostia at 2:27 PM on February 2, 2011


For those wondering about all the many Julies in the world whose lives go undocumented, this paragraph in the prologue says much:
Val and I then went to a new patient, Pam’s room. Pam has AIDS and was recently released from the hospital. She talked of her life with tears disappearing from her eyes - her father killed her mother and got 5 years for it , and when he was released the children (Pam and her two younger brothers) lived with him. She was beat sexually abused - her father later blew his brains out. She looks thin - tired. She is 38 looks 50.
And so Pam disappears from the narrative, just another story among many. Look at the pictures of the hotel where Julie is living with her young children: there are many other children there, too, and their parents have similar stories, as well.

The note from Zach was nearly more than I could take: Dear Mom, I love you no matter what. I hope you like the note I wrote. I hope to meet you someday. This little spark of love and redemption.
posted by jokeefe at 3:24 PM on February 2, 2011


It totally wasn't cool seeing that guy yell/finger point at that little toddler. I hope those kids find a better life on all levels.
posted by stormpooper at 4:05 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


melissam: I can't imagine how I would have dealt with it if I had bipolar or schizophrenia. I'm also high IQ and pretty educated and I struggled with the process because my depression was so bad. I went to this place 5 times before I actually saw a psychologist. I guess this is why people end up in E.Rs.

I've been able to get relatively quick access to psych treatment for myself (my COBRA ran out and my insurance company gave me the boot) and for friends of mine who had no money and were having severe mental health problems. It takes the following to successfully get adequate mental health care in a timely fashion:

* Knowledge of how the local system works - what clinics to go to, what to say when you talk to the intake counselor, etc.,
* Reliable transportation - the ability to get across town and back to your place. This boils down to a) money for a car, money for gas, money for the bus, and b) the mental fortitude to leave the house, to tolerate the often terrifying prospect of being out in public, to be able to plan and follow through on a travel route without getting exhausted, confused or overwhelmed with anxiety or paranoia, etc.,.
* You have to be able to advocate for yourself - damn near impossible if you're symptomatic and too depressed, scattered or paranoid to be able to be articulate your needs.
* A trustworthy, reliable friend or family member who has the ability to do all of the above for you when if you're too overwhelmed to do it for yourself.

A lot of high functioning, middle-class people would have a problem doing this if they found themselves in need of psychiatric care. Imagine trying to do it if you're someone like Julie. That is why projects like the one described in this post are so damn important.
posted by echolalia67 at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


It totally wasn't cool seeing that guy yell/finger point at that little toddler. I hope those kids find a better life on all levels.

That, for me, is the final moral of this post. I have nothing but sorrow for Julie's personal sufferings-- it's hard to see how any amount of social intervention could do very much to save someone in whom early abuse has ingrained such strong tendencies to harm herself and to seek out harmful people, but I agree that whatever we're doing to help vulnerable populations like hers, we obviously need to do far more.

I do, however, think it's too easy to let the obvious, tragic victimhood of Julie blind us to the no-less-significant victimhood of her children, at least three of whom appear to have spent significant time being raised by abusive and/or addicted parents, just as Julie was. Even if they later found happy adoptive homes, all of those kids will now have early traumas to deal with, and emotional scars that (in combination with probable addictive biology) will predispose them to make their own self-destructive decisions in turn when they reach young adulthood.

After the childhood she's had, I don't blame Julie in the least for any part of her own experiences, for falling in with abusive partners, for doing drugs, for not taking her meds, whatever. But I do, deeply, blame her for letting her kids grow up in that environment, for forcing the government to step in to remove them, for trying to kidnap one of her children rather than see him given a better life. I say this as a mother myself-- maybe your pain is too deep, your life has been too radically broken, your resources are too depleted for you to make the right choices for yourself. And certainly there's nothing wrong with children growing up in a poor, but loving, home. But those children's homes were not poor-but-loving; they were dangerous and harmful, and if I knew that staying with me would mean putting my innocent infant in harm's way like that, then I would absolutely walk to the nearest adoption agency the week after delivery and beg them to find her a safer place to grow up. No matter what else Julie had suffered, putting her own emotional needs above the obvious well-being of her children was a selfish and reprehensible act. I hope those two older ones never do find her, because what would it mean to learn that your mother chose herself over you in that way?
posted by gallusgallus at 5:28 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


.
posted by finite at 6:10 PM on February 2, 2011


Funny thing...this is ALL OF US given very slightly different circumstances. OMG she had so many kids, no birth control etc. That's our nature. When impoverished, poor and barely surviving, we, all of us, procreate. It's what we do.

The real conundrum I'm left with is trying to figure out what comes first...poverty or child abuse. Certainly from what I've read here, severe child abuse does lead to poverty, insanity, self abuse and failure. And so I wonder if Julie kept having children so that some, one or if all could be raised without an abusive environment. It doesn't sound logical. But, human nature isn't.
posted by snsranch at 8:24 PM on February 2, 2011


I think what is the saddest part are not her choices of drugs but who she chose to be partners with--those are the people who kept her down, kept her a drug addict, and gave her a death sentence that went far beyond AIDS. Be careful of who you hook up with, it can make you or break you. So sad.

I also wonder though for those that have an upbringing of abuse, witnessing drugs, or even addiction and they come out stronger. I think it would be interesting to find out why some can overcome and some can not. I don't even think sometimes it's a matter of resources. For poverty being the issue, I don't think so. Many people are dirt poor and somehow make something of themselves. I hate to say it but I blame the drugs and who you choose to be friends/mate with. Influence and wanting to be 'loved' can be very powerful.

She deserved better.

When I found out I was adopted and met my birth mom it wasn't the "oh she was this college student who had an affair with a married cop" story that my adopted parents were told. She was a stripper, had a 5 year old son, and she was a heroin user. Yes she hooked up with a cop but according to her, he was abusive and raped her. He also put a gun to my brother's head. He told me that he remembers pulling needles out of her arm. She gave him up for foster care. She found out she was pregnant and too late to abort me and had me only to give me up to my parents because of a mutual relationship between one of my cousins. My parents had a hard time adopting, my cousin knew this person, she said yea for $500 (supposedly the cost of a tv) she would give me to them.

And while my adopted parents did want a child, they were also very, very abusive. I now have PTSD, depression, anxiety. Yes there were good times and yes they did a lot for me as far as roof over my head, paid for my education (all the way up to a Masters' degree), and still help me out here and there til this day. I'm angry for their abuse but I don't hate them. I'm more angry at my birth mom for her selfish choices that affected my brother (who was abused and messed up in foster care) and me. She was married before so I don't know why my brother's father didn't take him in (another shit head if you ask me).

So it all comes down to choices and who you hook up with. I was abused but I never resorted to drugs (to the suprise of my therapist). I could have hidden my pain that way but all I saw was that would be a death sentence for me. And I'm "grateful" that I have PTSD instead of something far worse.

I get it but one can't feel a bit of anger towards Julie for her choices.

Sorry for the free-form babble.
posted by stormpooper at 6:45 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


if I knew that staying with me would mean putting my innocent infant in harm's way like that, then I would absolutely walk to the nearest adoption agency the week after delivery and beg them to find her a safer place to grow up.

That would require a level of self-awareness that it is clear Julie didn't have.
posted by pinky at 7:52 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


These pictures have really haunted me. I read through this site last night, and my husband caught me sobbing at the end. The picture of her youngest daughter in bed with her while she was dying was so tragic. I was so thankful someone else wanted to step in for at least partial custody of that child, which I'm sure will result in full custody. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about all her children.

As I went through the pictures, my responses ranged from anger/amazement at how fertile this woman was while I have so many friends trying desperately to have just one child, sadness at the choices this woman made, guilt for not understanding her plight, gratitude for being raised in a semi-normal household with a loving family, and frustration with the photographer. While I wouldn't necessarily call this exploitative, I feel like a certain slant was definitely placed on these photos. There's no happiness. None. All these children, and not one of them smiles or plays a game? I can't look through them all again, but there seemed to be a complete lack of play.

I don't know. Just so sad. I hope all of those children are living in happy, healthy homes. I'm not sure that this retrospective on their mom's life is really going to make them rest easier.
posted by fyrebelley at 11:05 AM on February 3, 2011


I really wanted to know what happened to the first child, Rachel.
posted by geoff. at 4:13 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


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