Earth & Conservation

VR Video Gives Homelessness in Seattle a Close Look

This virtual reality video project takes viewers into the "Jungle," one of Seattle's largest homeless encampments.

Seattle is full of picturesque ocean views, beautiful architecture and a vibrant culture of art, music and food. It's where companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing thrive, spurring the local economy and increasing the quality of life for many.

Seattle is also where more than 4,500 people live without a roof over their head.

Photographer Tim Durkan, a Seattle native, teamed up with Matt Mrozinski, director of photojournalism for local news station KING 5, to document one of the largest homeless encampments in their city known as the Jungle that runs underneath the I-5 freeway.

Twenty-four years ago Durkan quit drinking, and as part of his recovery he began walking around the city, "meeting new people, especially the folks who call the streets home," he told Seeker. "Taking a few photos along the way, I began to share them... and get positive feedback."

Together, Durkan, Mrozinski and editor Toby Rigby, produced a virtual reality video called "Under the Bridge," chronicling a homeless woman named Tina Story. They wanted to show what life is really like in the underbelly of one of America's wealthiest cities.

"The purpose of talking with Tina and sharing her story was to give the viewer a chance to hear her, in her own words, what she feels about life," Durkan said. "People who watch the story are then better informed about what it is she - and others - are really facing, and how best we can help them."

In the Jungle, makeshift tents spread out in every direction, along with sprawling piles of trash and discarded syringes, which you can see in the video. And then there's the smell.

"The stench of living in human waste, discarded clothing and garbage is amazing," Durkan says in the video. "It's more than any person should really have to bear."

Story said that toilets and showers are among the things most immediately needed by the encampment. Food is also frequently scarce. At times there are as many as 300 people there, and the regularly donated food isn't enough.

Yet the residents know they can rely on each other for support. When basic needs are hard to meet, community becomes even more important. "It's just a place for people to belong, that have nowhere else to belong," Tina says in the video.

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Durkan's ultimate goal in working on "Under the Bridge" was to give this homeless community a voice and spread awareness about their situation.

"I think a lot of the messaging we get about homelessness, including addiction and mental health issues found within those communities, is very one sided," he said. "I strongly believe that visiting with the homeless communities and sharing their stories will help shape both perception and policy."

Durkan plans to continue his work, revealing the faces and voices of the homeless.

"I'm very excited to share a couple new photo/video projects that will involve my homeless friends and the streets they call home," Durkan said. "I love my hometown of Seattle, both the 'pretty and the gritty' sides."

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