Local Photojournalist Takes on Homeless Photo Project-News Director Encourages it

WTVF (Nashville) photojournalist Nathan Sharkey didn’t think there was much of a chance his local TV station would air an eight-minute essay about a local psychiatrist who works with the homeless population. When his news director saw the story she said “run it.”

It is a moving work:
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I asked Nathan a series of questions:

-What did you want this story to do/say/convey?
What did I want to convey: When I became aware of Dr. Fleicsh’s outreach program, I thought it was a unique way of helping the homeless. As journalists, we do thousands of stories on good people, and organizations, doing great things to help. Feeding them, cold patrols, clothing them, things like that, right? I had never heard of psychiatry offered as a good deed to the homeless community. When we see the homeless on the street, it is one of the first things that come to our minds, this person seems to be a bit off. But I feel our society does not feel comfortable talking about mental illness, it’s taboo. We don’t have a handle on how to approach it. I believe it is the reason many of them are locked up in our jails, or become homeless. They have exhausted their support network (family), and mental care is too difficult to consistently receive. I wanted the audience seeing this piece to get a better understanding of the dark places these people live with in their minds. Maybe we can look at the homeless with a different perception than the one we currently have. I also think we need to start treating addiction as a mental illness.
 -What did you learn while working on this story?
I began to realize that there are different categorizations of homelessness as a symptom of mental illness. Addiction, schizophrenia, PTSD, Child abuse, Bi-polar, all types of different issues that need to be treated in various ways. A daunting task to tackle for our society. Where do we begin? Surprisingly, according to a local sheriff, 30 to 40% of the jail population is suffering from some type of mental illness.

-Tell us about your thoughts on music, and about the music you selected
 This will be debated in our industry forever. When, or if we should use music. I chose to use music because I felt it helped with the pace and feel of the story. The “breathing”, and to take a moment to reflect.

-The subjects in the story seemed so comfortable around you. How did you ease them into being around you, you around them?
I kept my distance at first. I let them relax before I slowly got closer to them. Not everyone wanted to be a part of it, as you can imagine. But– listening to them, and their feelings was an experience they have never had before in some cases. It was something they were very willing to do. Remember, they go through life feeling mostly ignored, especially their thoughts.

-Since she is a psychiatrist, I wondered if the people she came into contact with would be considered patients and covered by HIPAA?
 Vanderbilt University Medical Center required signed releases with anyone who spoke with Dr. Fleisch on camera. Tedarius, the gentleman at the fountain, was someone I approached on my own. I wanted to get a perspective from him on the idea of a visit from someone like Dr. Fleisch.

-If you were producing this as a daily turn piece, what would it look like?
Obviously, the quality would suffer. You would not get the depth of the subject. A shortened version of her meetings with the homeless and possibly an interview with the sheriff about his experience, maybe?
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