Powered by a passion for narrative medicine and the stories of those around her, Mackenzie Hedge ’18 explores the lives of the Fargo-Moorhead homeless population in a photojournalism project.
Mackenzie Hedge ’18, Big Lake, Minn.
Majors: Nursing and Spanish
Tell us about your photojournalism project.
The title of my project is “Our Forgotten Neighbors.” I’m putting together a book with photos and quotes from the Fargo-Moorhead homeless population. One of my inspirations was Humans of New York, where the photographer takes pictures and interviews people on the streets of New York City. I just made this specific to the homeless population in Fargo-Moorhead.
How did this project get started?
I’ve wanted to do something with the homeless population for a while. I’ve always had an interest in taking photos of the homeless, to see them as something other than just people without a house. I remember when I was in high school I’d see people who are homeless on the side of the road. I’d bring them food. I always keep an extra blanket and a water bottle in my car in case they need it.
I worked at a clinic that provided medications for people who are homeless, which got me interested in doing a project. During my time at Concordia, I started going into the Family HealthCare Homeless Clinic in Fargo twice a week. I’d just go in and hang out with the workers and patients. I decided to do this project on my own as an independent study.
What was going through your mind when you started interviewing people?
I was a little nervous right away because I didn’t know a lot about the population. It’s the same if I were to walk into a room where everyone spoke a different language. I know nothing about their culture. Now that I know them, when I see them walking down the sidewalk, we say hi to each other.
What is your interview process like?
Originally, I had three big questions I asked. “What’s your name? What’s your happiest memory? Tell me a story.” Now I’m just chatting with them and I don’t follow a structure. I’ve noticed they open up more. I get more in-depth quotes just going on my instincts instead of reading off questions.
What surprised you most during your project?
There’s so much about the homeless population we don’t know. These individuals may have been doctors before becoming homeless. Some are super talented artists. One man taught me some Arabic. Another made me a dream catcher as a thank you. There is a huge stereotype of what homeless people look like and what they act like, but there are so many students in our area who are homeless that people don’t know about.
What was one of your favorite photos and quotes from your project?
I have so many favorites, but here are a couple.
What can others do to start getting to know more people in the F-M community?
Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Get out of your comfort zone. Make small talk with other people. There’s another side to everyone that we can’t know just by looking at them. Get to know them on a deeper level than what you see on the outside.
What are your plans following graduation?
I have a job lined up in St. Paul as a nurse on the telemetry stepdown unit. St. Paul and Minneapolis have a big homeless population, so I want to carry on this project there. I’m also looking into master’s programs after I work for a couple of years.
How do you see this project fitting in with your future career as a nurse?
I’m a nursing and Spanish major, which has nothing to do with photography and journalism at first glance. But the nursing program at Concordia emphasizes narrative medicine, which is all about getting to know the personal stories of the people you’re treating. You could see patients in the hospital, but we don’t always know if we are sending them home to a house that isn't fit for their condition. Maybe their bedroom is up on the top floor and they can’t get there. Narrative medicine is about treating the person, not just the patient. The faculty at Concordia remind us that it’s OK to care. If you don’t care, your patients aren’t going to care what you think. Narrative medicine is about being somebody who they can trust in their most vulnerable state.
What was your biggest takeaway from this project?
I’ve learned so much about the homeless culture here. They’re a lot more close-knit than other communities in this area. The majority of the people know each other. They look out for each other. They really do. Within that, there’s so many other cultures. Native American culture, other people are from Africa. They’re all so different, but they’re still close with each other.
Where would you like this project to go?
In my dream world, I would continue doing this. Finding more stories. Making it bigger. If I had more time, I would want to take surveys or speak with people in the F-M community to find out what they know and think about the homeless population in our area.
Kayley Erlandson is a content specialist at Concordia College.