On the Edge of Shelter: Homeless in Chicago

In 1991 photographer Angela Kelly visited Rainbow House, a Chicago shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Like most shelters, the temporary residence affords women, many who are mothers, a moment to collect themselves and figure out how to start over — which is not exactly a simple task with easy answers. Kelly became aware of the delicate nature of these women’s circumstances the moment she arrived at the shelter. “I couldn’t point my camera at a crowd because some women couldn’t be photographed — someone was after them.”

Abigail Foerstner, writing for the Chicago Tribune in January 1992, neatly encapsulated Kelly’s sobering Rainbow House photographs: “Kelly worked in color, allowing her to fill the sanitized dormitory environment of a shelter with the bright accents of children’s clothes and toys. This natural clutter of family life and the everyday activities of dining, grooming, dressing children and searching want ads gives a tense normalcy to the photographs. But the normalcy of the pictures, so at odds with other signals in them, tips the tension level to an awareness of the brutal realities just beyond.”

The “brutal realities,” of course, hints at the potential futures of the women and children depicted in these photographs. Were they each able to successfully break free from their abusive partners and start over? Or did some eventually return to the men who mistreated them? It’s unknown, of course, which is what makes a project like Kelly’s so hard to look at.

On the Edge of Shelter: Homelessness in Chicago

Family Feud, Rainbow House, 1991.

On the Edge of Shelter: Homelessness in Chicago

At Rainbow House, women sleep in bunk beds and share their bedrooms with other families, 1991.

On the Edge of Shelter: Homelessness in Chicago

After School Homework Session in the Kitchen at Rainbow House, 1991.

(Photograph: Angela Kelly. Caption: Halloween Party, Rainbow House, 1991.)

  • ANthony

    Hello, my name is Anthony. I am putting together a project entitled “Spare Change” That will show the lives of people experiencing homelessness. The book that I hope to get published will be a picture/poetry book. The poems will be constructed from the words of the person experiencing homelessness. My overall goal is to show people that the homeless are people as well and show their life story in hopes to inspire others to help. The funds that are donated to the project will be used to find an agent to present the book to a major publishing company and also a prototype of the books structure. Some of the money will also go to copywriting as well. The proceeds after publishing will go to help shelter and feed people who are experiencing homelessness and hopefully through this it will help people understand the life stories and what led up to certain people facing their situation.


    I was wondering if you could help me get this project exposure and help.

    Please contact me via email

    Email: photacular@gmail.com