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The Invisibles

Leah Nash | Oregon, United States

Organization: www.LeahNash.com

Melissa Walsh takes advantage of Potluck in the Park, which serves free meals to approximately 300 to 400 people 52 Sundays a year at O’Bryant Square. With 11.5% of people out of work, Oregon currently has the third highest unemployment rate in the nation.The family of two gets $367 a month in food stamps and supplements it, when possible, with trips to food banks. But the lack of their own kitchen makes it difficult to eat healthy and regular meals.

"l'm used to thinking like a person who has money... I forget I don't have any anymore," says Melissa Walsh, a 30-year-old homeless woman with Asperger's Syndrome.

Melissa and her husband Sean moved to Portland when they lost their home to foreclosure.  Bringing with them only what they could carry on their backs they rented an empty apartment. But the $535 rent proved beyond them and they moved into a group home outside the city.

Jobless because of the economy and her autism, Melissa peddles the local homeless paper, daily making about $10. Sean, with a myriad of medical and mental issues, has almost $110,000 in medical bills and is unable to work.

Their lives consist of trips to the ER, food banks, and social services. Now they wait to qualify for Social Security Disability, their only lifeline. It will bring them enough for survival, but barely. With an 11.5% unemployment rate, Oregon is the third highest in the nation.  And those who once lived on the edge of subsistence now find themselves falling from it.
 

 “All these people pass me by and avoid my eyes.  I want to tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘Look at me, I am not invisible.’”

 

This was my introduction to Melissa Walsh, a woman I met while working for Street Roots, a nonprofit newspaper that assists people experiencing homelessness and poverty. 

 

And so to make her more visible, to make her heard, it is decided that I will help tell her story.

 

So I began by listening.  I listen to her cry, I listen to her argue with her caseworkers about her Social Security Disability, and I listen to her talk excitedly about her next knitting project.

 

I then begin to follow her: to the food bank, to urgent care, to the mental health unit to visit her husband Sean.  Her days are not easy, and sometimes just following along is a burden that I find difficult to bear.

 

Now three months later I look at Melissa and the images I have created and think, “There but by the grace of God go I.”  For in this modern day Great Depression she really could be any of us. 

 

By photographing her everyday moments, these little slices of her life, my goal was to tell her story with dignity and to help put a face and give a voice to those who are sometimes not seen.  The Invisibles. 

 

Enjoy.

 Leah Nash

Portland, OR

503-753-8884

Leah@LeahNash.com

www.LeahNash.com

Memoirs of a Street Roots Vendor: My Story

I would like to start out by thanking you guys, my readers, and patrons of the paper.  Without you, my continued survival would be compromised.  I’ve written this because people have asked me when and if I would be in the paper.  At this time I have chosen to self-publish in order to add “extra value” and make the papers uniquely mine.

This time, I am publishing my story so you can get to know me.

My name is Melissa Walsh.  I have a husband and an apartment.  The rent is only $535 a month, but it’s really hard to come up with.  I used to have a house, but my husband’s uncontrolled seizures led to job loss, which in turn led to foreclosure.  We are currently seeking help for him at Outside In Clinic.  The doctors over there are working hard to try and help.  I am disabled with Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.

There are a lot of misconceptions about being a paper vendor.  The stereotype is a middle age drunken guy who is too lazy to do anything else.  I am none of the above.  I am 30, female, married, a renter, and my husband used to be a nursing aid.  The doctors don’t allow him to work now.  I have an associate’s degree, and have tried to find and keep work to no avail.

I have many interests and passions.  I am a yoga and tai chi practitioner.  I study philosophy, and I’m a semi-professional knitter and spindler.  The leaves are darkening on the trees, and there’s a change in the air.  The transition to fall has begun already.  I look outside my window as I read this, and the cloud cover is blanketing us with hues of grey.  I wonder when the seasonal rains will return again, their solemn drops nourishing the earth for the preparation of the harvest. 

And all I can think of is wool.  Wonderful, luscious and warm, wool has helped many families through the cold months.  Wool is sturdy and strong and naturally water repellant.  It is also expensive and the price is out of my reach.  And yet I still dream of crafting warm sweaters for my husband and I.  My life is mostly about subsistence, but somehow, I still believe in the power of the ancient tradition of knitting to make it feel a little better.  When I knit, I feel more real, more human somehow.  I feel like I am doing something that makes a difference.  Knitting is about hope, bringing comfort and warmth in every stitch. 

Even though I’m a Street Roots Vendor, I still believe in hard work and doing your best.  Knitting engenders that.  I am about quality, equity and freedom of expression.  Knitting allows for that.  Cheers to a job well done.

Melissa M. Walsh

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