Portland, USA

Always remember you are braver than you believe

At the corner of the gas station, a silver Ford Focus is parked next to the mini market. Marion has been sleeping in her car for “not too long, about twenty months.” That particular morning, her sleeping bag was damaged and she decided to make the trip to Rose Haven, our distribution partner.

Photography and story: Tony Dočekal
Est. 8 minutes

At the corner of the gas station, a silver Ford Focus is parked next to the mini market. Marion has been sleeping in her car for “not too long, about twenty months.” That particular morning, her sleeping bag was damaged and she decided to make the trip to Rose Haven, our distribution partner.

Rose Haven is a day shelter for women, children, and marginalized genders who are experiencing homelessness and poverty in Portland, Oregon.

Oregon has the 2nd highest rate of unsheltered homeless people in the US, and Rose Haven is the only day shelter and community center in Multnomah County supporting these specific audiences.

The greatest contributors to homelessness for women in Oregon include domestic and sexual violence, unaffordable housing, wage inequity, and mental and physical disabilities. Rose Haven offers help navigating the complexities of their worlds and aims to help them improve their lives long-term.*


“Since 2019, overall homelessness has increased
by 30% and those living completely unsheltered
(outside in tents, cars, or on the margins) has doubled.”

– 2022 Multnomah County Point in Time Count

Marion, becoming resilient at a young age

The car Marion currently sleeps in was an inheritance gift from her mother. “I took it from here to New Mexico and back, then Spokane, around East, you know. I have been blessed to have a vehicle, but I choose to walk. I park it here because I can walk everywhere. Walking is the one thing I enjoy daily. It takes me about an hour to get to Rose Haven because I just stroll. I just cruise, so I can enjoy it. The fresh air is good for you, it’s my physical therapy, you know.”

Marion grew up with her mom and has known the streets from a young age. She tells us this helps her stay safe and respected out here. “I’ve known the streets since the 1st, 2nd grade, not being homeless but just when mom said ‘baby go to the store and get me a bag of chips.’ And then when I got to the 3rd grade, they put me in this area with high prostitution, which threw me into this grown folk dangerous world early. So people always respected me. Being out here young helps a lot. Because they see me and they think I’m new. But I’m not new. I’m old. YOU guys are new, to seeing me.”

Except for two people that live on the streets close to her, Marion keeps her distance from others out here. “I don’t mingle with a lot of street people, because people come from different places.” She knows all too well what their intentions might be, and is determined to get off the streets, and into housing. A woman she keeps an eye on, Joan, sleeps just around the corner in a small structure made from tarps. We went over there to bring her a Shelterbag, but Marion says she’s probably out ‘canning’, collecting waste for recycling.

“If I don’t see her for two days I worry about her. Her story is so sad. I’m glad I met her. If I wasn’t out here, I wouldn’t have known that somebody else is going through what I’m going through. Her story is like a hundred times more tragic than mine. And all this lady wants is to be home with her family. I mean, I want help too but I wish more for her to get help. You have no idea.”

“I’m in the street but not from the streets. I’m not participating. I don’t care what’s going on. I only talk to two street people. I stay out of it.”

– Marion

Emotional and psychological trauma

Marion tells us about the trauma that happened in her family. When she became a mom at 21, she felt the right thing to do was to move out and live by herself. She regrets that decision and wished she’d stayed with her mother longer. They fell victim to sexual abuse. “If I’d stayed at home with my mother, we wouldn’t have been exposed.”

“I didn’t know what was happening. Since then, my son and I have been 21 years apart, and I’m 58. He’s now 37 and will be 38 next week. This is the 3rd birthday I’ve missed. I want to get him a snake. He’s always loved reptiles, lizards, snakes, and stuff. But I’m grateful we can even communicate. Had it not been for prison, I’d probably not be able to communicate right now.”

“My social skills were really low because I had developed bad anxiety. I found out it was anxiety just a couple of years ago, I thought I was scared of people… in a sense, yes, but not like scared that somebody is gonna jump on you, but just fear because people can hurt you.”

Marion went to jail in 1994 because of her emotional trauma. “I went to solitary confinement for six months as soon as I got in. And when I got out of the hole, I met this girl, and I mean she was beautiful. My spirit took to her and I said ‘ok, that’s my little sister.’ They had me and her be roommates. And she was really outgoing, so I had 5 years of “communications training” with her. Like I said, I had always been withdrawn and isolated. She was murdered a week after she got out of prison, so I never got a chance to tell her that she was the main piece of my social and communication skills. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to speak with you guys like this.”

“I’m really grateful that there are people with such compassion for those of us in less fortunate situations.”

– Marion

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extremely stressful events (i.e. violence, abuse, neglect, loss, disaster, war) that impact your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world.

Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. Trusting other people can be hard, and that’s why traumatic experiences complicate our capacity to make sense of our lives and create consistent relationships.

With appropriate support and intervention, people can overcome traumatic experiences. However, most people who live unsheltered have to go without these services and experience additional trauma by living outdoors and being more exposed.

“When you have a tragedy like this in your family, we don’t know how long that is going to stay with us. Because we love our children, like we love our parents.”

– Marion

“I don’t know how long this will stay with me, because I’m still not at peace. I have mental health issues, but I can function because I don’t want to take it out on other people, as some people do.
I just get quiet and I stay to myself. That way, I harm nobody. But my mouth, when I see an enemy, I voice it.”

Marion and her Shelterbag

Marion inherited some money from her mom, but when that got stolen, it put her in a situation where she didn’t want to steal. “So I learned to keep my needs simple. I learned along the way to make the most, or the best, out of my situation.”

“They can put me in a raggedy hotel, but I’ll clean it, turn the lights off, turn on slow jams every night, and I’m releasing my endorphins, I’m not depressed or angry, I’m singing I’m dancing, so I’m feeling good in my spirit. I’ve learned to make the best of the situation I’m in, but right now I’d rather be in a place where I can take a long hot bath and cook my own food. I have patience, I’m hoping I can get a place over here, in these apartments in north Portland.”

“I’ve learned to make the best of the situation I’m in, but I’d rather be in a place where I can take a long hot bath and cook my own food.”

– Marion


/*SAMHSA’s Trauma-Informed Approach https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma14-4884.pdf

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About this project

For this ongoing project, we engage with unhoused communities in various cities. The intimate documentary reflects the unraveling of society and exposes the equal measures of strength and vulnerability of each of its characters.

By capturing these raw moments in a new light, we challenge the mainstream representation of a growing, forgotten group. It reminds us that people who experience homelessness should neither be labeled nor disregarded. Everyone has a story to tell.