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The disappeared

 Street Roots (USA) 21 May 2019

(Originally published: 12/2009) Melissa Walsh is 30 years old and a Street Roots vendor. Diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, Melissa moved from Spokane in July with her husband Sean after they lost their home to foreclosure. In this revealing and personal photo shoot Leah Nash shows you the daily realities faced by Melissa. Melissa writes her feelings to help communicate. "I feel like I disappeared off the face of the Earth", explains Melissa as she recalls the emotion of being fired. "I feel like I disappeared when my job did." Leah Nash is a Portland-based photographer with a passion for documenting the everyday and the extreme, which she often finds are one and the same. She holds a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri and in 2004 was awarded a Fulbright Grant to photograph the AIDS crisis in India. (811 words) - By Leah Nash

Street Roots

Courtesy of Street Roots

Melissa Walsh is 30 years old and a Street Roots vendor. Diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, Melissa moved from Spokane in July with her husband Sean after they lost their home to foreclosure. In this revealing and personal photo shoot Leah Nash shows you the daily realities faced by Melissa. Melissa writes her feelings to help communicate. "I feel like I disappeared off the face of the Earth", explains Melissa as she recalls the emotion of being fired. "I feel like I disappeared when my job did." Leah Nash is a Portland-based photographer with a passion for documenting the everyday and the extreme, which she often finds are one and the same. She holds a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri and in 2004 was awarded a Fulbright Grant to photograph the AIDS crisis in India.

 

<i>Below are some of the descriptions which accompany the photo story </i>

 

1. Melissa Walsh is 30 years old and a Street Roots vendor. Diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, Melissa moved from Spokane in July with her husband Sean after they lost their home to foreclosure.

 

3. Left: Without a car, Melissa and Sean rely on public transportation and their bicycles.  They estimate that their commute to sell papers in downtown Portland is almost three hours one way: one hour by bike, one hour on the Max and 30 minutes on the bus. Here they are transporting food from a local food bank.

 

4. Moving to Portland because of its bike-friendly reputation, the Walshes brought only what they could carry on their backs. For the first few months, they lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Beaverton, but the $535 rent proved too high and they were forced to leave.

 

5. Melissa and her husband married five weeks after meeting. She thinks their relationship has survived the hard times because, "Neither of us can bring ourselves to give up on anything. That is our greatest weakness and our greatest strength. We will not quit."

 

6,7.: Melissa takes advantage of Potluck in the Park, which serves free meals to about 300 to 400 people 52 Sundays per year at O'Bryant Square. With 11.5 percent of people out of work, Oregon currently has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation.

 

9. During a panic attack, Melissa is comforted by a worker at the food bank. People with Asperger's crave routine, so homelessness is especially devastating to her. "I'm like a 15-year-old inside, developmentally and emotionally speaking. I feel like a teen with no social skills stuck in an adult body."

 

10, 95, 45: Sean Walsh, 25, suffers from seizures caused by PTSD, the result of an abusive childhood. Prescribed at least 15 different drugs since he was 10, Sean has never been able to get his symptoms under control. In Spokane he was a medical assistant, but his condition forced him out of the field. He estimates that he has $110,000 in unpaid medical bills. Below: Melissa writes her feelings to help communicate. "I feel like I disappeared off the face of the Earth. I feel like I disappeared when my job did." - Melissa Walsh

 

181. On Sundays, their single day off from selling papers, Melissa and Sean often go to the Ananda Temple and Teaching Center for prayer and meditation. "We literally live on prayer," says Melissa, who considers herself a Taoist Christian. Walshknitting. Into yoga, tai chi and martial arts, Melissa is drawn to the beauty of their techniques. Also passionate about knitting, Sean and Melissa love the meditative quality of the craft and long to make sweaters now that the leaves are changing.

 

13. Waiting for her Social Security Disability benefits to be approved, Melissa spends her days dreaming of bike shopping, shoes that fit and a trip to the San Juan Islands. "When you are homeless, you have nothing but time."

 

11: After leaving their first apartment, the couple find themselves at a makeshift homeless shelter on 39 acres. in Cornelius. Tenants are asked to pay $300 per month or do chores to rent a room in a privately owned home.

 

About the photographer: Leah Nash is a Portland-based photographer with a passion for documenting the everyday and the extreme, which she often finds are one and the same.  She holds a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri and in 2004 was awarded a Fulbright Grant to photograph the AIDS crisis in India. Throughout the years, she has received the Marty Forscher Fellowship for Humanistic Photography, the NPPA Kit C. King Scholarship and has been honored by PDN, the Magenta Foundation, the Eddie Adams Workshop and by CPOYi.  Her clients include Newsweek, Mother Jones, GEO Magazine, The Fader, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Stern, The Washington Post and local publications including Street Roots, The Oregonian, Oregon Business Magazine and Portland Monthly. More of her work can be viewed at www.LeahNash.com.

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