Welcome to our exploration of the condition of homelessness. In a series of stories and observations going back to 2014, I photographed and others wrote and video recorded stories of homeless men in Monterey County, California. Each night, about 25 homeless men are bussed to one of 25 religious or civic organizations that provides dinner and a place to sleep. The Interim Homeless Emergency Shelter Program (IHELP), has provided housing every night for 25 years. There is a program for men and a separate program for women. Many other cities and counties operate a similar program under similar names. We estimate that the Monterey County’s IHELP program provides about $2 million worth of meals and lodging a year and costs under $100,000 to operate.
Show me some love…
When I had dinner with the homeless men at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Monterey Peninsula, that first night in 2004, I had no idea of the journey ahead. Allove caught my attention fist. He agree, reluctantly, to make this portrait. I was struck by his facial features, hands, and shocking white hair. After about 15 minutes of chatting and clicking, I showed him an image on the back of my camera. He didn’t like it. “Why?” I asked. He answered, surely and quickly, “because it doesn’t show the love I feel!” “Okay”, I said, “show me some love!”
He quickly got back in front of the camera and reached for his heart…then, his face changed…then, everything changed…including me. Click…click…click…and I saw the universal transformative power of the camera, the warmth of good light, and the focused interaction.
This is a man the world should see.
This is a man the man should see.
When the first few friends saw these portraits, they immediately wanted to know more about each of these men. Cassidy Hausmann Mason, a fourteen year old at the time, volunteered to interview each of them and write an essay. This is Cassidy’s essay about Allove:
“Allove Wiser is a man of exceptional presence and eloquence. True, he may be soft spoken, but the moment he walked in the room I found myself drawn to him, talking to him and enjoying his unique wisdom and outlook on life. No matter what I said, he found a way to connect us, as he said and knew all lives are intertwined. This is a man of strength, religion and compassion.
When Allove (pronounced like olive) and I sat down for an interview, he had just completed a forty-day fast. Thin, but triumphant, he proudly shared with me his spiritual awakenings. Forty-day fasts, he said, are something deeply spiritual. Jesus completed one, Moses completed one and the prophet Elijah completed one. Some people who attempt this sacred cleansing do not make it out alive. It takes strength, and it also takes great faith.
“Something made this. It has a cause, just like love,” he said. Whatever this something is, Allove claims to have contacted it through fasting, prayer and complete surrender. During his fast, Allove claims that a higher power kept him strong, also limiting what he could and could not do. According to him, if you pray long enough, you will contact something beyond our general consciousness. He said, if you pray enough you will get answers. After first contact, he went into a state of complete surrender. He allowed this higher being to control every aspect of his life. He began to give away everything he had. When he came to IHELP, he was, as the higher power wanted, penniless. His goal is to begin a spiritual movement based upon his understanding and interpretations of what he experienced. He sees a world than can be, and he wants to reach for it.
When I sat down with Allove, one of the first things he pointed out if his name. Al(l)-love Wiser. He reminded me that love is wiser, wiser than fear, wiser than hate and wiser than greed. His compassion, faith and strength shone through for the whole of our conversation, marking it with a unique sense of wonder. Allove, for that, is a modern-day mystic, and a very interesting conversant.”
Life goes on…the search for truth continues…
Allove continues his religious study in the Monterey Library nearly every day. He can be found at the library computers. He lives independently.