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The Hidden Homeless

This is an ongoing project that I started about 12 years ago and continue to work on. I was in Los Angeles going to school for photography when I started to notice some strange details about the motels around town. Signs were spelled wrong, personal belongings were everywhere, and two things became obvious to me; they were mainly immigrant owned and a lot of people were calling them home. I began to delve deeper, photographing and researching the subject and came to find a whole sector of American life unknown to many.

Most of America’s Motor Hotels were built in the 30′s along the main roads of the U.S. when car culture first started. As superhighways were eventually built in new areas of town, most of the neighborhoods along the old routes were all of a sudden devoid of traffic and found themselves economically depressed. Many motel owners found they couldn’t keep their rooms occupied and had to drastically lower rates and offer monthly and weekly rates. Most American owners sold their businesses. At this point, over 85% of motels are Indian owned.

Much of America’s poor and marginalized population has no other option than to live in Motels. There is such a shortage of low income housing that welfare is actually striking deals with motel owners and subsidizing recipients to live in them. More often than not though, I meet people essentially forced into living in motels for lack of any other option. They are living day to day and can not afford to put one month’s rent and security down on an apartment, let alone pass a credit check. It is standard to find 6 person families living in one room and other motel residents taking care of each other as a community.

I have driven up and down the east and west coasts and across the southern route of the US from coast to coast trying to tell this story. I’ve had a few gallery shows and it’s been published in a few magazines but I still have some more shooting to do! I’m aiming to have a book published one day. These photos are all shot in medium format film with the exception of two 35mm images.

Los Angeles, California
This is the sight that sparked this whole project. When I saw this note on the door a whole world was opened to me and I knew I wanted to pursue this idea.

Angel, Riviera Beach, Florida
Angel lives here with her daughter who works to support her.

Pablo’s family. Rahway, New Jersey
Pablo and Kimberly lived with and took care of Kimberly’s parents until they passed away and Kimberly’s step brother ended up inheriting everything. He was a crack head and quickly lost the house and everything they had. Pablo was injured at work and they had to go live in a shelter for 6 months before they could gather enough resources to move into this motel. Kimberly was in tears as she told me their story. They lived in this room with their 3 children.

Don and his pets. Highway Host, Mobile, Alabama
Don acted as a surrrogate father to the many kids that lived at this motel. He called one of his neighbors a saint because he was a hard working man that adopted 3 children and lived in the motel with them. Don would dumpster dive for food and feed all of the children from unopened boxes of cookies and snacks. He’d been living here for years.

Will and Jamie. Riviera Beach, Florida
Will and Jamie are cousins and share a room with another friend.

The kids of Highway Host. Mobile, Alabama
The two children on the left (and a teenage girl) were adopted by a man who works full time, so the kids spend a lot of time with other families at the motel when they are not at school. The girl on the right lives here with her parents and her sister.

Pablo Junior. Rahway, New Jersey

Pablo and Kassandra. Rahway, New Jersey

Janessa and Talisa. Rahway, New Jersey
These two girls live with their mother, step-father (who has just been released on parole with an anklet), and their baby sister. They think that something bad happened to Talisa because all of a sudden she stopped talking about a year ago and will not say anything.


Paw Paw and his grand daughter. Rahway, New Jersey
Paw Paw’s son came to the motel to visit him so he could see his grand daughter who he adores.

Ernie. Rahway, New Jersey
Ernie ended up at this motel after he had an argument with his sister at a family barbecue and she kicked him out. He was taking computer classes and receiving some help from the state.

Bonnie and the baby. Bristol, Pennsylvania
Bonnie lives here with her husband of 65, their 4 year old daughter and their 19 month old baby. They were happily living in a trailer but had a small fire and the city condemned their trailer. Her husband George had his own mobile welding rig but it was stolen and he was left without work which is difficult to find at 65. They had trouble keeping up with payments on their storage unit and the company auctioned off everything they had.

Kassandra. Rahway, New Jersey

Motel owner. Mobile, Alabama

Gitbo’ (Midget Boy). Riviera Beach, Florida
After a 20 minute conversation to convince him that I was not police, Gitbo told me that he deals drugs for a living and let me photograph him.

Lancaster, California

Categories: Personal, Photojournalism


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12 Responses to “The Hidden Homeless”

  1. michele bowman Says:

    fascinating. what a wonderful thing you’re doing, telling the stories of the marginalized and outcast. what a wonderful project!

  2. Sherry Pickerell Says:

    Beth! What an awesome project! You made me cry but not in a bad way! This is something that is so important to share, it’s easy for people to go on with their own lives and never think of all the heartache that surrounds us! So happy to know that there is someone like you out there to help tell their stories! xxoo

  3. kirsten Says:

    Girl! I have told you this before, I absolutely LOVE this series. The images are incredibly moving and an important story to tell.

  4. Ryan Jones Says:

    Holy moly Beth. What an awesome peek into such an interesting world. You really portrayed them respectfully yet truthfully at the same time. I’d love to see this work as an exhibit one of these days. Nicely done my friend.

  5. Shauna Says:

    Fascinating, brave, souful, gritty and crazy inspiring… I can’t wait to buy your book someday :)

  6. nicole Says:

    wow beth. these are very moving images. you make each persons face tell a story . . .or better yet, you help them tell their story through the photos you take of them. the black and whites are stark and clear and a bit shocking. even the children in these images look like they work for a living. you just really captured it all, as it is. loving these.

  7. Kate Mefford Says:

    So proud of you, boo!!!!!

  8. Sophie Says:

    Is there a Don fan club or do I have to start one myself?

  9. blog Says:

    Sophie, I was in love with Don! So glad you like him too. I tried to look for him a few months after I met him but the Motel had closed down. He was truly a generous soul.

  10. Mom Says:

    Wow B! I haven’t seen Tommy before. Yikes! Amazing photo. They all are. And I love you just so so much and I am just just so so proud of you. Greatest photographer who ever lived.

  11. Sheila Bay Harvey Says:

    Hello Beth,
    I just found your site, and you have a great eye and make incredible portraits! I know your Mom and Dad from College daze! I wish you lots of success with your Art,you deserve it !
    And Happy Valentine’s day!

  12. Brad Says:

    Great work Elizabeth. Love the little girl and reflections of sky, powerful.