As an organization we receive over 10,000 entries a year. As the judging coordinator, each one goes through me. They all get a glimpse as I prepare them for the judges. Sometimes a piece catches my eye and I stop to fully examine it. It may be because of a huge budget or a clever or creative touch. But some like the one I received the other day, obviously have no budget and are simplistic to a fault. They stand out because of a compelling image that makes you think. Below is a video that not only tells this man’s story, but the sad story of so many other people. It was shot on his point and shoot camera. It is the personification of the power of visual communication.

We received this email after the recent AVA competition had closed.

Dear Sirs,
I am a disabled person living on a fixed income in a destitute area of Riverside County, CA. Are there any applications available for a “no cost” submission? (I can’t afford the $75.00) I am desperately trying to save myself from homelessness by bringing awareness to the blight of my neighborhood, in Riverside County, California, in one of the richest nations, in the world. Please feel free to preview my submission.

Gerald Weathers

The title of the piece is “Abandoned.” I was hooked by the title and the first image. As I travel down the road, my curiosity is always drawn to dilapidated, abandoned old houses. My mind tries to picture the family that once lived there. I wonder what happened to them and why the home fell into disrepair. There are millions of these homes in our cities and countryside. Each one has its own story. Here is Gerald’s story.

After viewing the piece, I emailed Gerald thinking this was his house.

Here is Gerald’s response.

To answer your questions: I must tell the truth, I know little to nothing of the people that lived there. I assume it is a similar situation as my own. Allow me to describe. It is currently used as a “drop spot” and pick-up for drugs, and illegal immigrants. (there used to be a semi-trailer on the property that was a drop box they reloaded and stored stuff, that was finally removed) I live only two doors away from the houses and trailer I photographed, in this neighborhood called Sky Valley, an unincorporated area of Riverside county, CA.

Due to the cheap/affordable homes/cabins in this area, they are inhabited by elderly and retired, disabled like myself. The rest fall into two other categories, families with children and newer homes on larger 5-10 acre parcels, and ones that are owned by “druggies” associated with a cartel that moves product and people in from Mexico, thru here regularly. There used to be several “kitchens” in the area.

The county has constantly harassed me in every way they can. ie: Code Enforcement threats at gunpoint, Medi-CAL benefits denied regularly, and property taxes, now demanding $9,800 in back taxes on my cabin assessed at $33,000. The math does not work. It is on the auction block for March 20th. 2012 a few weeks away with no hope of resolution.

The logic follows the same will happen to my property. It will no doubt be thrashed and become another site just like the “abandoned” one. Then, usable for the drug and human trafficking business established and thriving, thru Riverside County. The home immediately next to me is regularly used by “squatters”, that use my water, and anything they can get, and at one time ran a 100 foot extension cord from the back of my house to the one next door – for electricity. At wits end trying to get help from within the County and State of California, I armed myself with a pistol for protection. With your help, I am very much hoping to bring about an awareness, outside CA that might give the Riverside County Board of Supervisors reason to end this sick succession of injustices, that leave good people, and their lives, homeless and abandoned to the elements.

Warmest regards,
Gerald Weathers
Sky Valley CA

Gerald’s submission reminds us that homelessness and decay is not only in our past, it is still going on around us.