You see them as faceless shapes on the median or in city parks. You recognize them by their cardboard signs, their bags of aluminum cans, or their weathered skin. But you do not know them. In Nomads of a Desert City Barbara Seyda meets the gazes of our homeless neighbors and, with an open heart and the eye of an accomplished photographer, uncovers their compelling stories of life on the edge. Byrdy is a teenager from Alaska who left a violent husband and misses the young daughter her mother now cares for. Her eyes show a wisdom that belies her youth. Samuel is 95 and collects cans for cash. His face shows a lifetime of living outside while his eyes hint at the countless stories he could tell. Lamanda worked as an accountant before an act of desperation landed her in prison. Now she struggles to raise the seven children of a woman she met there. Dorothy whose earliest memories are of physical and sexual abuse lives in a shelter, paycheck to paycheck, reciting affirmations so she may continue "to grace the world with my presence." They live on the streets or in shelters. They are women and men, young and old, Native or Anglo or Black or Hispanic.
Their faces reflect the forces that have shaped their lives: alcoholism, poverty, racism, mental illness, and abuse. But like desert survivors, they draw strength from some hidden reservoir. Few recent studies on homelessness offer such a revealing collection of oral history narratives and compelling portraits. Thirteen homeless women and men open a rare window to enrich our understanding of the complex personal struggles and triumphs of their lives. Nomads of a Desert City sheds a glaring light on the shadow side of the American Dream, nd takes us to the crossroads of despair and hope where the human spirit survives.
Barbara Seyda is the author of Women in Love: Portraits of Lesbian Mothers & Their Families. A freelance photographer and writer, she has worked as an assistant photo editor for Elle magazine and for Stewart, Tabori, and Chang. She lives in Tucson.