Photographer Reconnects With Homeless Father by Documenting His Life on the Streets

While doing a photography project about the homeless, Diana Kim came across her father and began to document his life on the streets. 
While doing a photography project about the homeless, Diana Kim came across her father and began to document his life on the streets. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Diana Kim has a connection with the homeless that runs deep. The 30-year-old from O’ahu Hawaii spent her earlier years moving around to different relatives’ homes, and even living in parks and cars.

“I always thought of it as ‘roughing it,’ so it didn’t really bother me,” she recalled. “My survival instincts were always strong,” writes NBC. 

Her father was absent for most of her life, and she later learned from her grandmother that his mental illness had driven him to become homeless.

“My parents separated when I was very little, and my father was absent throughout my entire life. I learned that my father was suffering from a severe mental illness when my late-grandmother had reached out to me. At that time, I had not spoken to my father in years,” she wrote on her blog, The Homeless Paradise.

She had begun a photo essay about the homeless communities around her in 2003.

While shooting her project in 2012, she came across her father.

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‘He is homeless in paradise because he was evicted from his apartment by his landlord and the building manager. He was evicted because he had not been bathing for months, and was a ‘nuisance’ to his neighbors. He was not bathing because he suffers from a severe mental illness, and continues to hear voices in his head telling him to not bathe.  (Screenshot/YouTube)

She writes on her blog: “I found him standing at the corner of a busy intersection staring into the asphalt. His hair was matted and his head rolled in small circles. My throat felt like it was on fire, as I stood paralyzed behind him. I inched closer towards him feeling a sense of uncertainty, and finally found the courage to call out to him. He didn’t hear me. He couldn’t hear me. I slowly stepped closer and mustered up the courage to tap him on the shoulder. Still nothing. He didn’t look up. He didn’t turn around. By now there were a couple of pedestrians who had noticed my efforts, and I could feel their eyes burning into my back and face. I could feel their curiosity pierce through the space between my father and I. The vast emptiness between us was broken by a woman who approached me and said: ‘Don’t bother, he has been standing there for days.'”

Video of her father walking past her on the street:

“At that point, I felt as if I had swallowed a golf ball. I couldn’t breathe. A part of me wanted to scream at this woman, and the world, for being so callous. I wanted to yell that he was my father, that she was a heartless person to not care. But I realized that none of that would change the circumstances. So instead of screaming at her, I faced her and said: ‘I have to try.'”

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‘Photographing my own father actually began as a mechanism of protecting myself at first. I would raise my camera phone in front of me, almost as if that barrier would help keep me together. It hurt to see him like this.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

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‘I can’t count the number of times I sat next to my father on the street, wondering how his future would look like. I would sit there and pray quietly, just asking for a miracle and wishing that he would accept assistance. He would refuse to get treatment, take any medications, eat, bathe, or wear new clothes. I wasn’t sure if he would get better. There were times when I thought he would die there on that street.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

Huffington Post writes: “For two years, Kim struggled without success to get her father to accept help. The first six months, she has said, ‘were incredibly difficult. He has a severe mental illness,’ she told Hawaii Public Radio, ‘and so to expect that he’s gonna be capable to voluntarily, to willingly and to consent the whole way through—that’s not reasonable.”

It wasn’t until her father had a heart attack and was admitted to hospital that he started to make his way back to good health mentally.

“Just a few days after my HPR interview with Beth-Ann, my father had a heart attack and was found on the sidewalk. Someone cared enough to call. I cannot even begin to describe the feelings of gratitude for the person who took the time to help him. My biggest fear has always been that he would die on the streets, and nobody would know who he was. My desperation and feelings of hopelessness are over for now,” she writes on her blog.

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‘I could hear the cautious tempo in my cousin’s voice as he began to describe what had happened to my father. He had a heart attack. Someone found him face-down on a sidewalk. Someone called the police. He was at a hospital in critical care.” (Screenshot/YouTube)

“Today he is a completely different man, he still has his struggles but he is living a normal life. ‘My father is doing really well today. He is really proud of the fact that he has overcome such incredible adversity… He has goals, he has hope, and he has the will to succeed… Our relationship today is still very new. I would like to take him out to watch a movie soon. I have never watched a movie with him! We are taking things day-by-day. Believe it or not, his schedule seems busier than mine sometimes. He likes to help his friends by giving them rides to dentists’ appointments, and is planning to visit his family in South Korea.'”

"So long as we are alive in this world, every day is an opportunity to take hold of that 'second chance.' There is no failure unless you give up, and he never gave up. And I haven't given up on him." (Screenshot/YouTube.)

‘So long as we are alive in this world, every day is an opportunity to take hold of that ‘second chance.’ There is no failure unless you give up, and he never gave up. And I haven’t given up on him.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

Showing her father an article on her about her project on him:


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‘Every day is a gift. Some days are more challenging than others, but seeing my father in the flesh is a constant reminder of the strength of the human spirit and how precious life is. I never had a relationship with my father growing up, and there was a lot he did and didn’t do that hurt me, but I have chosen to forgive him so we can move forward.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

News report on Diana documenting her father’s life on the streets:


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