New York, USA

Six feet tall, yet invisible

“I’m so used to being invisible. People pass by me. I’m 6 foot tall! In American culture that’s pretty large! There were actually people that say: ‘oh I didn’t see you.” – Lotus, NY

Photography & storytelling: Tony Dočekal
18-03-2021
Est. 4 minutes

We were introduced to Lotus during outreach in New York by one of our distribution partners, Sidewalk Samaritan.

Lotus stood out not only because she is 6 feet tall (and didn’t fit in an XL Sheltersuit), but rather because of her infectious positivity. She had been looking forward to receiving a Sheltersuit.

We went into a café across the street to take her measurements, so that the factory in the Netherlands could make her a customized Sheltersuit.

We grabbed a coffee and didn’t stop talking for a few hours, while Lotus showed us around the city.

“I think it’s time to transition the language we use, to help people understand what it is doing to people who are living outdoors.”

– Lotus

Lotus doesn’t use the word homelessness, she prefers to refer to herself as an ‘outdoor neighbor’ who is in ‘H-club’.

Despite doing everything in her power to better her situation, including applying for affordable housing and job opportunities, Lotus has been unhoused since 2018.

Lotus sleeps in the alcove of a church, where she feels relatively safe. Every day she gets ready for work at 3 am and puts everything away. 

“When you’re outdoor living, you’re constantly challenged with making sure your stuff isn’t stolen.”

Lotus
On one of the coldest nights of the year, Lotus woke up to find all her winter clothes thrown in the trash.

The view from Lotus’ sleeping spot is what keeps her dreaming.

“When I lie down here and see those magnificent apartments across the street, it reminds me to stay positive. I want that someday.”

Jim, who sleeps on the other side of the church’s alcove, is Lotus’s good friend. He watches over her stuff when she is at work, and she in return takes care of him by getting him food and supplies.

A few nights ago, when it was really cold, Lotus put some money together for the two of them to share a hotel room.

“I’m fighting a mentality and a system. It is a full-time job to get out of poverty. 

It’s like a slow leak. When your bike has a flat tire and you don’t understand where the hole is, it’s almost impossible to find. And I’ve been experiencing slow leaks like this in our society, that prevent people from going forward.”

Lotus, warming up in the bus while sharing her insights.
Lotus behind a piece of plexiglass, which she uses to fence off her sleeping spot next to the church for some privacy.

“I’m so used to being invisible. People pass by me. I’m 6 feet tall! In American culture that’s pretty large! There were actually people that said: ‘Oh, I didn’t see you.”

– Lotus

“My dream is to one day have enough to eat for a whole week. Only gimbap*, and hot tea. Then I’ll know I’ve made it.” – Lotus

Lotus is on a first-name basis with the owners and chefs of this local store. Outside they have a small table with low-priced near-expired food, which can be easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.

* A Korean dish made from cooked rice and other ingredients that are rolled in dried sheets of seaweed

“I never thought this lifestyle would help me better understand the world.”

– Lotus

Last weekend, Lotus received her XXL Sheltersuit, custom-made for her in our social factory in The Netherlands. 

“When I saw your suits it was so meaningful to me. This crisis of not having a home indoors, and having to live outdoors, really, really, really is a national disaster. And it’s one that keeps increasing.”

*Lotus recently found housing and a job. We wish her all the best.

Photo: Sidewalk Samaritan

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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.