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Structure Out Of Chaos

MaryLou Uttermohlen | Louisiana, United States

James and Jurga

This couple lives inside of an abandoned factory. They secured electricity, running water, and rooms with doors. Eventually, a movie came to film on the property and the residents that were caught were arrested for criminal trespassing. Criminal records can make the lives of vulnerable people even harder.

Since 1993, “Structure Out Of Chaos” has been documenting chronically homeless people in their homes to educate the public about this American humanitarian crisis. The goal is to move the conversation into mainstream discourse and shift awareness from criminalizing people towards addressing the issues. As long as our society is uninformed old cycles will repeat and the epidemic will continue to grow.

Numerous factors create homelessness and government housing programs help. Unfortunately, housing is not a cure for mental illness or substance use disorders, which are two of the three factors creating chronic homelessness.

National laws and policy’s on mental Illness require the patient to navigate their own care. When they fail at that responsibility due to their impairment they end up homeless and self-medicating.

When the mental healthcare system lost funding the criminal justice system received more. Now the psychiatric beds are mostly available behind bars making jail the new asylum. To receive care a patient must commit a crime.

It will take a massive shift in consciousness to prevent and end American Homeless. This project uses portraiture as a tool towards that goal.


Since 1993 “Structure Out Of Chaos: Shantytowns of America's Homeless” has been following the saga of chronically homeless people living in non-traditional dwellings. The documentary is a paradox. It is a survey of the homeless, in their homes. These are shelters created out of discarded objects, abandoned buildings, vehicles, tunnels, or even tents. This series chronicles people organizing their lives while navigating the obstacles of survival. To further complicate this matter, a pandemic in the United States has pushed more people into this crisis.

The goal of this project is to bring the conversation about homelessness away from the people entrenched in the issue and into mainstream discourse. To achieve this plan portraits are created where the models are aware of the camera and involved in the message. Models are not paid because money can be used to manipulate vulnerable people and can corrupt the integrity of the series. This work is done in coordination with outreach services and receiving their aid is totally separate from any involvement in this documentary.

These portraits are meant to empower the subject with a voice. This is a voyage into the world of the unhoused to understand their experience. Audio and video is also recorded to hear about the issues being faced by this marginalized and disenfranchised population. Industry professionals are being interviewed to teach the history creating this present-day American humanitarian crisis. The desire is to shift our awareness from criminalizing people towards addressing the issues creating this plight.

There are endless factors creating homelessness. Most of these issues can be resolved with the government’s Rapid Rehousing program. There are three major factors creating chronic homelessness: severe mental illness, substance use disorders, and scarcity of affordable housing. Two of these factors are not solved with housing and these people tend to return to the streets even after shelter is provided.

HUD statistics show that there are links between homelessness, mental illness, and substance use disorders. As people with mental illness have a tendency to self-medicate to try and ease their experience. Even though our government and the professionals are well aware of these links present laws and policies prevent getting proper care to people in need and the crisis continues unabated.

Until we understand our social challenges and accept responsibility for our vulnerable citizens we are doomed to witness old cycles repeat as this epidemic continues to grow.

It will take a massive shift in consciousness to prevent and end American Homeless yet this series strives towards that goal. We believe photographs can evoke compassion, empathy, and a desire to be of service to others. When the general public understands this issue the necessary actions for ending American homelessness will be possible.







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