LIZ OBERT, SHORTLISTED 3RD BIENNIAL’S GRANT 

What possession would you take with you if your house was on fire? It may sound cliché, but

for those who live on the streets the question, “what possession matters?” is of immediate and

ongoing urgency. We all have favored items. Mostly though, many of us have so many

possessions we take them for granted. Our neighbors who live on the streets don’t enjoy that

luxury. They have few things belonging to them and what they do have is frequently stolen or

confiscated by city workers charged with keeping public lands free of homeless campers. For

the houseless, which things to prioritize, protect, and take along when leaving home is a

constant question

Across the nation, more and more families can no longer afford to live indoors. In such a

context people’s possessions and property take on new meanings. Wondering about these

shifts compelled me to seek out and document with my camera unhoused residents of South

East Portland, OR and to ask my houseless neighbors what matters to them now and why. In so

doing, I began bearing witness to their ceaseless displacement and serial dispossession.

Portland Police and private and public agencies arrive daily to demand that homeless campers

vacate the public places where they are attempting to eek out an existence.

This project accomplishes two tasks. One is to explore campers’ complex relationships to their

possessions. The other is to show how and why homeless residents tend, organize, and

manage their modest universe of things. Both tasks serve to make housed neighbors aware of

the challenges that unhoused residents face from continual displacement, from serial

dispossession, and from stark public display of their private things and lives. In so doing, this

project aims to transform housed neighbors’ perceptions of unhoused communities in public

spaces.

Grant funds would be used in several ways. I always bring coffee, food and other items to the

campers when I photograph them. The funds would go to support this. Any additional money

would go towards framing, printing and promoting future exhibitions.