"We start every interview by asking people to say their name, their age, and where they slept last night."
That's how Margaret Miles describes a project she directs at St. Stephen's Human Services in Minneapolis that is documenting the stories of homeless people across the state of Minnesota. Begun in 2008, the project has collected more than 600 oral histories.
Miles originally had the idea for the effort when she was thinking about her work as St. Stephen's director of communications and development. In that role, Miles says that she noticed that every day she was talking to people who were experiencing homelessness, and then turning around to tell their stories to funders and other members of the community. "It occurred to me, if I could just get out of the way somehow, and let their stories reach people how they want to tell them, and have portraits taken of them the way they want to look—not in their most vulnerable moments, waiting in line somewhere, or on the corner, or leaving the shelter in the morning with their children trying to figure out where to go, but a photo that they would like to have, and give to a family member or a relative—it would be a really interesting project to do that."