It’s easy to walk past the homeless, to disregard the guy lying on the street or ignore the woman standing at an intersection holding a handwritten sign with a plea for help.
It’s harder to look away when you’ve seen their eyes.
Look past lines drawn by hard living or the still-soft skin of someone young but struggling to break the cycle of dependency or abuse.
Their eyes hint at lost promise or offer a glimmer of hope. Some are haunting, some placid. Others troubled or masking troubles. Some are warm and tender; others tough and anxious.
You wonder: Why did they end up here? How do they get by on so little? What do they need to get back on their feet?
The questions don’t always have easy answers. Solutions are not always available. The extent of someone’s past troubles can be impossible to know.
As part of its project looking at the homeless crisis on the West Coast, AP photographer Jae Hong went to Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles to shoot intimate portraits of the people with no permanent homes. He used a special lens to focus on their eyes.
Here are the stories those people told.
NAME: Bennie Sayee Koffa, 66
HOME: A SEATTLE TENT ENCAMPMENT
Bennie Koffa stands out among the homeless because of the way he dresses _ in a suit. Friends jokingly call him Tony Soprano because they think he looks like a mobster.
He said it’s a custom he’s maintained since his years working for the government in Liberia.
Koffa said he came to the U.S. in 1990 and never returned as a civil war raged for years back home. He has lived in Canada and sought refugee status in the U.S.
He ended up homeless and living on the streets of Seattle after splitting up with his wife a year ago, he said. Recently, he got an opportunity to live in a tent encampment.
“I’ve lived some lives, you know, up and down,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have Camp Second Chance, which (the) name actually means something to me.”
Koffa said he has mental illness, which he attributes to the corruption and strife in his home country.
He tries to spruce up camp by weeding, though he resigned a job in the kitchen out of frustration because of a lack of cooperation.
His goal is to continue studying the Bible to become an ordained minister. He wants to help the poor.
“I would love to get out (of here),” he said. “I understand this is a journey.”
Text from the AP news story, Sorrow, heartache, hope: Eyes of homeless offer hint of life, by Brian Melley and Jae C. Hong