Homelessness does not always immediately present as such. I see many faces on Sixth Street, old, young, and a diverse spectrum of ethnicities and backgrounds.
On Friday, June 7, 2019, I met 20-year-old Zakila Marina, who had just gotten off work from her job at a Wendy’s restaurant in Central Austin. At first, before I talked with her and noticed her Wendy’s hat, I assumed that she was employed somewhere on Sixth Street, judging by the friendly receptions she was getting from several members of the homeless community at Sixth and San Jacinto streets in downtown Austin.
We struck up a conversation, and Zakila said she likes coming to Sixth Street after work. Eager to hear more of her story, I learned that she was born in India and spent her childhood in Nashville, Tennessee.
And then, she said she was in early pregnancy. She said she was already the mother of two daughters and that she had been sexually assaulted by a family member at the age of 13.
She spoke unfavorably of her current relationship, and without thinking, I blurted out my fears that she would wind up homeless. She looked at me, with an odd expression, and said she was homeless and living in a motel.
A thousand thoughts flooded my mind. Namely, that I should never assume anything about someone’s living conditions. I looked her in the eye and told her as much — that I fall into the trap of falsely thinking that homelessness means living outdoors, without a roof.
Zakila then told me a little more about her life. Her mom is in jail, and her sister is helping her care for her two children. She desperately wants to do all the right things for her unborn child. She wants to make all of her doctor’s appointments and follow through with all of the required prenatal care.
After our conversation, her friends Ruby Red and Elizabeth, two homeless women I had met and photographed in months past on Sixth Street, lent Zakila their emotional support. The trio posed for photos, smiling broadly and putting their arms around each other.
I got Zakila’s phone number and told her I’d like to stay in touch. I begged her to seek help from as many avenues as possible and to take care of herself and her baby. And then we went our separate ways, me headed to my car and Zakila into the heart of the night on Sixth Street.