A little over a year ago, as Peter Beach was riding his bike across the Venetian Causeway, something caught his eye. He turned around to get a closer look. There, lying in the grass in front of Biscayne Bay, was a person huddled under a blanket, the bridge and luxury skyscrapers of downtown Miami in the background.
Struck by the sight, Beach pulled out his phone and snapped a photo.
The resulting black-and-white image, he says now, could be the cover of the series it helped spawn: an Instagram collection meant to force people to face homelessness and the huge income gap in Miami. Beach calls it Just Another Day in the "Magic City."
“You’ve got a nameless, faceless entity, alone, and across the water is the city,” he says. “I mean, I couldn’t stage anything more perfect to underscore the isolation and the position of this person in society, which is nothing. They’re not even looked at or thought of or valued in any way.”
The 61-year-old freelance designer and illustrator, a Miami resident since 2002, is always on the lookout for subjects. He's especially interested in shots that illustrate the gulf between the haves and have-nots. In September, the Brookings Institute found that Miami's gap between the wealthy and poor is the fourth worst in the nation.
One of his all-time favorites shows a man reaching into a garbage bin near a docked cruise ship.
When he can, Beach gathers little details to share beneath his shots. He wrote that Cedric, a bearded man who flashed a thumbs-up for his portrait, is an 18-year veteran of the streets and a bright-eyed goofball. Jose, a cowboy-hat-wearing neighborhood fixture, begins every conversation with a smile and
“A lot of them are beautiful souls,” Beach says. “And they have nothing; they have very, very little.”
It wasn’t until the Massachusetts native moved to Miami that he saw homelessness up close. Miami-Dade County’s poverty rate, 20 percent, outpaces the statewide average of 16 percent, and its $23,433 per capita income is lower than the state’s $26,499, according to the U.S. Census. A census this year by the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust counted 4,235 homeless people.
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“Whether you pretend you see it or not,” Beach says, “it’s in all of our lives.”
Through morning walks with his dog Roxie, he learned the names of his homeless neighbors. He said he’s gotten to know them after seeing them almost every day.
As a longtime freelancer, Beach has had good years and bad years and empathizes with anyone who’s had to worry about their next meal. He hopes his photos evoke empathy in others: "Maybe they'll smile at the next homeless person they see, wish them a good day, give them water or a piece of fruit, or simply stop — because a lot of the time that's all they want."
At the very least, Beach wants people to see them.
“At the end of the day, it’s about awareness,” Beach says. “It’s about forcing a focus — you can’t turn away.”