Homeless at Christmas for the Guardian

At the end of last year, I was commissioned to photograph and interview people about what it is like to be homeless during the holidays in collaboration with Candice Pires.  I am grateful to everyone who shared their story with us and to the organizations and volunteers that are doing incredible work for Seattle and Portland’s most vulnerable populations, including Mary’s Place, Aurora Commons, Tent City 5, Street Roots, and Sisters of the Road.

Read their stories here.

Brandie Osborne, 44, Seattle:

In seven years of being homeless, I’ve never had my own Christmas tree. Before I got this one I’d been saying to my boyfriend, “It sucks, I just don’t feel in the holiday spirit.” I grew up with my grandparents and everything was always decorated to the nines. Our tree looked like Martha Stewart’s, a real showpiece. My daughter was brought up the same way, with lots of presents and a big Christmas dinner.

I haven’t had any of that stuff for a long time. I became homeless because my fiancé at the time got injured at work and we didn’t have any savings. Slowly but surely we couldn’t pay our bills and everything concaved on us. I sent my daughter to live with a friend of the family, but my fiancé and I ended up living in our car before it got repossessed. I actually had a lot of sentimental Christmas ornaments handed down but could no longer afford storage and lost them along with most of my belongings.

This Christmas I just really wanted something to make me feel good and make other people smile. Then the other day I was walking back from the laundromat with a neighbor, pushing my grocery cart full of clothes, and I saw this tree leaning up against a building with a big sign that said, ‘Free live tree.’ I straightaway picked it up, put it over my shoulders and carried it home.

My boyfriend wants to just put it in a milk crate with a paper bag, but I’m going to make a proper stand for it. I have some fake Christmas presents that I’ll put under it. And if I can somehow manage to make about $10, I can get four strings of battery-operated lights to put around it. After Christmas I’ll plant it and hopefully in 40 years The Jungle will still be here and I won’t, but I’ll come back to visit and the tree will be big and tall.