Photojournalist documents local homeless couple’s journey

Erik Castro, photojournalist and presenter, answers questions about his 14-month project, “Broken,” noon Feb. 12 in the Newman Auditorium, with his photo of Steve and Michelle going for a late night ride in the background.

Luke W. Morrow, Staff Writer

A Santa Rosa based photojournalist shared his photos and experiences documenting the lives of a Santa Rosa homeless couple noon Monday in the Newman Auditorium.

Fifty students attended the presentation, as part of the Santa Rosa Junior College arts and lectures series, which illustrated turning points and challenges in the lives of a man and a woman who struggled to hold onto their identities while their lives were constantly uprooted.

“There were a couple of times when I was crying. It’s a very emotionally charged topic for me,” said 49-year-old SRJC student Timothy Lane. Lane was homeless for a period of time in his life and continues to advocate for homeless individuals.

“I want to show what it feels like inside their heads, not so much what it looks like,” said the photographer and presenter Erik Castro.

“Broken: A Year in the Life of Steve and Michelle,” gave an intimate look into the life of Steve, a family-man turned “professional homeless man” after years of drug addiction, and Michelle, “an intense woman” who fled to the streets after a relationship went bad, according to Castro.

An award winning freelance journalist, Castro, is known for his work covering prison rehabilitation in Texas, low-income and substance abuse in Seattle and the 2016 wildfires in Lake County.

In September 2018, he earned a 1st place National Press Photographer Award for his photo story “Broken.”

“I want the public to not just write [Steve and Michelle] off,” Castro said.

He took pride in his project and focused on the fact that he could give a rare insight into the world of homelessness.

At the start of the project, Steve voiced his concerns right away that he felt homeless people had not been photographed in the best aspect before, and he wanted Castro to change that. Castro apologetically told Steve that he could not promise anything.

“Some people call it a set back, I call it hell,” Steve said in an audio recording Castro played with his slideshow. This was the only audio Castro included with his presentation or online publication.

“I thought this story was going to be about a couple but it’s really a story about two very distinct people, that had an extraordinary last year together,” Castro said. Although Steve and Michelle were not legally married they considered themselves to be husband and wife but split up a few months after Castro completed his project.

“I found it very poignant, very emotional [and] very sweet,” said SRJC art professor Donna Larsen.

As Castro spent more time with Steve and Michelle he realized that he had a chance to see into a world that seldom ever had as the couple welcomed him more into their lives. He decided that in order to make his project work he had to make the viewer feel they were welcomed in too.

“I wanted people to feel like in the photos they were getting to see something that you just couldn’t see unless you were invited,” he said.

Castro is currently working on an ongoing project called “Harvester,” in which he travels to wine country every season and where he photographs grape harvesters, most of whom are immigrants.