A noticed a homeless man while on a photowalk in downtown San Jose. It was odd because no one else did. He moved around the crowd like a ghost. He shambled from among the trashcans with his eyes downcast but alert. His hands snaked out to pick a half-eaten morsel. He did it again and again. The move was practiced and fluid. He his hand moved down, grabbed the food, and then slid it into his pocket. While I watched he snagged enough food for a meal. Nobody noticed.
He did not eat any of this take. Instead, he walked away towards Cesar Chavez Park. I watched him for ten minutes. As I was about to leave I noticed another shambling trash-can-picker. He was every bit good as the first ghost. He even snagged a coffee that was left unattended on a table. I watched him closely. He did not make eye contact. No one noticed him. When he finished, he walked across to Cesar Chavez Park and sat on the same bench as the first ghost. I wondered if this were a coincidence.
I took a position in the park to shoot the cosplayers who were in San Jose for a convention. I keep my eye on the second ghost while shooting candid shots. Nobody paid any attention to him except that people kept their distance. It was as if he did not exist and was unclean.
Fifteen minutes passed. I saw the second ghost get up and start shambling away. I looked towards the food court and was not surprised to see another homeless man finishing his run through the food court. The second ghost had watched the new guys back. The new guy sat on the same bench and waited. He watched the food court as if his life depended on it. Nobody paid him any attention. He did not exist.
I have a theory. I think these homeless guys were a crew building up enough food for a group meal. They watch for security or for the cops. They watch the crowds. They watch as leftover food goes into the trash. I think it is watching and the picking that keeps them alive. I'm not sure how to help.