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My interest and closeness to the women continued to grow. Over and over I saw women enter and leave the shelter only to return in weeks, months, or years later - each time a little worse for wear. I wondered what happened to them on the outside and why they didn’t succeed. Many were deeply disturbed or alcoholic, but others, although they had acute personal problems, appeared to be "normal." What about their lives was different from mine? Was it possible that I too could find myself homeless? I began to see the workings of a social welfare system that ostensibly aims to lift people out of downtrodden paths, but all too often only succeeds in perpetuating and sometimes fostering their inability to help themselves.

Over a period of years I began taping interviews and photographing those women with whom I had a developed rapport. As my interest in the subject of homelessness grew, I began talking to the women I met on the streets of New York, then Boston and San Francisco.

There are many styles of homelessness. A few women are only temporarily without shelter. Others will experience crisis after crisis and will always end up on the streets. Some women receive welfare for varying lengths of time and live in "Single Room Occupancy" hotels. These S.R.O. hotels are for many just a short stop on the cycle back to the streets again.

Large cities are a mecca for people liking for excitement and adventure in otherwise desperate lives. For some, the city means hope and a blind stab at improving their circumstances.

Some get together just enough money to get on the bus and trust that things will work out once they arrive. It was with an adventurous spirit that one of the women I interviewed ran away from a nursing home in Illinois and came to New York. She brought hope for something better and a desire to see Macy’s. She came to New York the same way that someone else might go on vacation. Only, she had no funds, no place to stay, and no idea of what she was going to do when she got there. She preferred the freedom of testing her chances on the streets.

Shopping bag ladies are at the extreme end of the spectrum of homelessness. They are often older and suffer from the effects of the poverty and the social isolation of the middle-aged and elderly single woman. May are mentally disabled. They have come to a point of total adaptation to living outside. Whether or not this is a "choice" is debatable, but it is true that once a woman has moved into the streets it is very difficult to help her return to normalcy. Many women prefer independence to charity and social services.

Interviewing women on the streets was the most difficult part of my work. I looked for places where they stayed and found ways to approach them, but I found that some could not carry on coherent conversations, and were frightened and suspicious of me. If I could win their confidence, they were often delighted at the chance for company. It was often the first time anyone had listened to them in years. They seemed pleased to have the chance to express what they felt about their circumstances. Frequently, though, after establishing contact with a woman, explaining my project, and building a relationship with her over several days, she would refuse permission for me to take her photograph or tape our conversations. This reluctance was understandable. Often the women said they were ashamed and embarrassed by their situation, felt responsible for what they considered the failure in their lives, and did not feel they had any insights on the matter worth sharing.

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