One of my ongoing projects is documenting poverty and homelessness across the U.S. I aim to make a record over the next decade of how the economy has changed the demographic and the number of people who are impoverished and are homeless. Recently, I was fortunate to locate and spend a day with these homeless families in Madison, WI. I met them in a campground near the outskirts of the city. While I was researching, a recent article named a man, Koua Vang, who allowed a homeless village to set up camp on his property after it had been revoked permission to stay on city property. However, the city of Madison’s zoning commission ruled against him and the village was forced to disband. I corresponded with Mr. Vang and he suggested some of the homeless had been living at the campgrounds. So I planned a trip in conjunction with a friend, Jacqulyn Jahnke, who wanted to visit the Solidarity Singers at the state capitol. We arranged for me to spend a night in the campground with my old surplus tent, and upon arriving we were both immediately welcomed with hospitality from the people camping next to me. The matron of this family is Kim (not pictured), she and her two sons, and one son’s pregnant fiance were camped with a woman they took in and called grandma, an adopted Vietnam Vet, and the most recent addition was Shea with her two young children who are originally from Chicago. Nearby were additional families: two brothers and their friends and a couple from Illinois who sold everything they had and biked with their two dogs to Madison.

Jacqulyn and I will be returning to these families tomorrow to spend a week with them.

Jacqulyn Jahnke © 2013 Jason Houge All Rights Reserved
Jacqulyn Jahnke, 2013 © 2013 Jason Houge All Rights Reserved

—-Update 28/06/13 12:36 AM—-

Jacqulyn and I arrived Thursday afternoon and returned to the camp only to find not one soul left. We speculated recent heavy rains drove them out, however as we later discovered, a combination of events unfolded leaving to the entire camp being cleared by the game wardens in charge at the campground. We were able to track down Kim’s family to a nearby hotel and we have been spending time with them off and on all evening.

A few days ago, Kim was admitted into the emergency room because she was shaking, feeling sick and has lost 20 lbs in the past two months. She had not slept in days, stressing over the troubles the family has had with other families and the heavy rain destroying their tent. While in the emergency room, doctors began to run blood tests (she is still waiting to hear the results), as they suspect she has a bacterial infection in her aortic valve and possibly lung cancer as well. Next Monday, Kim and Grandma Betty will be going to Milwaukee to move some belongings, including the ashes of Kim’s father, that have been stored in a storage locker of another family member to a better site. They hope to give Kim’s father’s a proper burial as soon as it becomes possible to do so.

As of this moment, Jacqulyn and I are spending the night across the hall in the same hotel. Tomorrow we plan to attempt tracking down others that relocated as well.

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