I began with a question: if you were allowed to keep only those items that would fit in one suitcase, what would you choose? We may think of our cherished possessions when we imagine our houses going up in flames, but for those with no homes, this is a critical question. Just what keepsakes, if any, are tucked away in that shopping cart or under that garbage bag canopy? With my camera, I sought out the homeless and asked what possessions they valued most.
Their answers suggested past identities and entanglements that would have been hard to guess: a cross, family photos, a bell, a toy car, underwear, lipstick, a figurine of the Virgin Mary, a college diploma, a dog, a doll. But if our identities are shaped by what we possess, what happens to those who have nothing? The homeless who kept no links to a former life had done away with sentiment; the need to survive had worn it down. For others, sentiment was their saving grace and with it they held out against life’s grimness. For these homeless, material possessions are a humanizing force.