This is the story of Valerie and Henry Zeller — two of the 65,000 people living homeless in Los Angeles. When the photographer met the couple they were living in a tent in Echo Park Lake – home to the city’s largest encampment and where she walks her dogs.
Valerie was marrying Henry, a 63-year-old veteran, and she invited Barbara to the wedding. She had proposed to him: “I just went into the tent … and said, ‘I want to marry you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’ I could see tears in his eyes, and he said yes.”
But not long before their wedding, rumors had begun to swirl that the community of 300 people was going to be evicted from the park. And just days after the wedding that was exactly what happened. Valerie was ready for battle: “My honeymoon is over and it’s time to fight,” and she defiantly remained one of the last holdouts to leave the park. Most living in the park accepted temporary housing from the city, but some, like Henry and Valerie, did not. They don’t want to live under curfews. They don’t want to be told what they can and cannot do in program housing. They feel it’s dehumanizing.
After living on the streets, then in a motel, Valerie and Henry were given a van with 200,000 miles on it to sleep in. They parked it along a road outside Echo Park Lake. “It feels so good”, a beaming Valerie said at the time. But more recently, she and Henry have endured a difficult stretch. She moved the van from the park area to a restaurant lot and it was towed. The van is now in the pound. In addition, her beloved dog has disappeared.
She and Henry have been sleeping in the streets again; they are still together, but now they have to face a major test.
Photo copyright: © Barbara Davidson.