Home Is Where the Heart Is: Living in the Streets of LA

By Helen H Kim


Where you scared that first night on the street?
C: Not really.
T: It’s life.

Los Angeles has the largest single group of unsheltered people in the US. It is currently focused on providing permanent housing to the homeless, despite the fact that the city has a severe shortage of low-income housing. (Source: Los Angeles Times) “T”, a young woman suffering from epilepsy and diagnosed with homelessness-related PTSD, is racing against the clock to secure a future off of the streets for her, her wife “C”, and their three dogs before her housing voucher expires in three months’ time.

Though both only 28, T and C’s life as a couple on the streets spans over two decades and across the expanse of Los Angeles. In ‘Home Is Where the Heart Is,’ a new multimedia artwork by Helen H Kim, their experience of homelessness—as well as the resulting disenfranchisement, determination, and close-knit community—is told through their own words and Kim’s reflections across an online map of the city.

This project is made possible through the generosity of T and C and the Mental Health & Wellbeing Grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and California Mental Health Services Authority.


Home Is Where the Heart Is is a multimedia exhibition that includes a photo gallery, zine (a collaboration with T) and an interactive Google map that consists of text, photos and video. 

To explore the map, select points of interest (a) in the legend on the left side of the screen or (b) on the map for more info. Points of interest are listed geographically, not chronologically.

Whenever photos and/or videos are available, preview image and media description appear above info text. Click on preview image to view media.

Go to Map


When I approached T and C about this project, I had already spent a few years reflecting on the issue of homelessness through photography. I’ve often received encouragement from peers for shedding light on this critical social issue but I always had a nagging feeling about the imbalance between the power of my gaze and their state of disempowerment (whether real or perceived) whenever I took pictures of people experiencing life in the streets. The common response of other photographers to my uncertainty is, “If your intention is to tell authentic, empathetic stories, it’s ok.” I appreciated the pat on the back but I couldn’t put my trust solely in my intentions—which, among other things, are separate from the final output­ and its effect—to guide me through the murky waters of gaze and representation. Who has the power to see and to tell? Who has the authority to correct when narratives become altered, distorted, and appropriated, even with the best of intentions? As I dove into these questions, I began to see a proliferation of images by well-intentioned street photographers that were cinematic and arresting but that also sensationalized and even fetishized the homelessness experience. This was what my nagging sensation was warning me against.

T and C were understandably hesitant to participate in this project. To have an outsider capture your experiences is unnerving to say the least, especially regarding stigmatized issues such as mental health, homelessness, poverty, and substance use. Nevertheless, the three of us cautiously transitioned into a collaborative rhythm and we navigated the subtleties of power and power shifts: the power of possession (my car, my camera, my grant money), the power of experience and knowledge, the power to ask, to listen, to take, to receive, the power to say no. Our process also taught me how to better observe and contextualize a story not my own in an intimate yet respectful way. However, the dilemma of gaze, representation, and intention is one without a routine solution for me and will necessitate the ongoing discipline of scrutiny and examination.

T and C’s journey along the streets of Los Angeles covers the width and breadth of human experience: time, space, love, loss, joy, pain, and all the in-betweens. I made no attempt to capture it and I released T and C from a linear narrative structure as much as possible. This approach may make their story a challenge to absorb but it is a more genuine reflection of the lived experience and its scope.


Helen H Kim


LSH Collaboration Laboratory
778 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 9002
June 15 to July 6, 2018

Exhale Unlimited
953 Chung King Rd
Los Angeles, CA 90012
October 20 to 21, 2018

Instagram takeover
July 26 to August 1, 2020


Photo credit: John Florance