Magazine

A refuge for recovering addicts — and one photographer’s story

In 2012, I was just starting to become more serious about photography. Because I worked a 9-to-5 job, I would take photos at night around Baltimore with no real plan. One night, I photographed the outside of Earl’s Place. I noticed the name when I developed the film. I later found out that Earl’s Place is a 20-year-old transitional housing program for homeless men in recovery from alcohol or substance abuse.

At any given time, 17 men are working on continuing their education and securing job training or employment opportunities, as well as facing the causes of their homelessness. They can stay up to two years.

Bruce Lily

Bruce arrived in 2009. He says rescuing a cat named Sophie and being around others in the same situation have been important to him. Living on the streets was “a nightmare.”

Douglas

Douglas was one of the first residents of Earl’s Place in 1998. “Sometimes you have to get out of your own way,” he says.

I was drawn to Earl’s Place because my mother has suffered from addiction most of my life. She is now sober, but we’ve never really talked about our trauma. I eventually took my photo of the outside of Earl’s Place to Sheila Helgerson, the executive director, who introduced me to current and past residents. (Those pictured here are all past residents who were photographed in 2017.)

Earl D.

Earl came to the facility in 2006 after 30 years of drug use. He now has his own place and a job, and he sponsors two men.

Patrick R.

Patrick came to Earl’s Place in 2015, which he says was his saving grace. He now has an apartment and works at a bookstore.

Through photography and conversation with these men, I was able to address topics that had been too difficult to discuss with my mother and that were potentially damaging to the fragile relationship we have built since her recovery. I was able to ask them: What made you start using? What made you stop and seek help? How did your behavior affect those close to you? Have you reconciled with those folks?

Colin

Colin came to Earl’s Place in 2012. Now he nurtures his relationship with his daughter.

Craig Quinn

Craig came to Earl’s Place in 2002. Despite a relapse, he’s now four years sober and owns a business.

Frank Waddell

Frank had been in several recovery programs before coming to Earl’s Place in 2004. This year, he graduated from the University of Maryland Baltimore County with a degree in animation/interactive media.

I had instant empathy for these men. As I took their pictures, I thought of them as my family. The youngest is 18 years old; the oldest is in his 60s. But I recognized something in their faces. When you are looking at addiction you’re really seeing two people: the person behind the addiction and the addiction itself. It was important for me to see the person behind the addiction because that is who is suffering, and a lot of times they’re unable to stop it.