University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
$10,000 Scholarship and Hearst Medallion
Picture Story: The 99%: Housing, Healthcare, Community
STORY: Karyn Vratimos used to describe herself as "the happiest homeless person ever." This incredible optimism comes after escaping a marriage riddled with domestic abuse that left Karyn and her two children, Sienna (7) and Preston (5), homeless in August 2018. After moving around for a few months, the family began living in St. Joseph's Family Shelter in December where they stayed for four months. In mid-April another organization, Homeless Prenatal, setup Karyn and her kids in an apartment in the Excelsior neighborhood of San Francisco where they currently live. Their rent is currently covered in full but Karyn will slowly become more responsible for it until she is able to pay it independently. At the moment her only source of income is social security payments for Sienna and government issued Cash Aid, which combined totals around $1600/month.
CAPTION: Karyn Vratimos checks on Preston's progress building with LEGOs while Sienna watches Dora the Explorer in Karyn's bed on Monday morning. "We have our own kingdom, Preston is our prince and knight and I'm the queen and Sienna is the princess," she said.
Karyn feeds Sienna through a feeding tube that goes directly into her stomach. Sienna was born with hypotonia and chronic lung disease and autism. Hypotonia is significantly decreased muscle toning that prevents Sienna from speaking or eating very much solid food. "I'm just trying to help her grow into herself so she can live independently one day," said Karyn.
Preston offers his mom a dandelion in the backseat of a taxi. He picked her the flower after getting in trouble for being rude. "He's like a sour patch kid, he's sour and then he's sweet," Karyn said. The family doesn't have a car of their own so Karyn switches between taxis and buses to get her kids around the city. The trio has plans to visit friends at their old shelter on Monday and catch them up on how life has been in the new apartment.
Karyn shares a moment with Martha Sharp, the residential coordinator at St. Joseph's Family Shelter where Karyn and her kid's stayed for four months. During her time at the shelter, Karyn bonded with Martha more than anyone as they both are survivors of domestic violence and confided in one another. They had not seen each other since Karyn left the shelter on April 15.
Preston looks up and out a window in the family apartment. During the 8 months they were homeless, Karyn worked tirelessly to teach Preston to be selfless and "do God's work" by always giving to those who are less fortunate. Preston will often offer his bottles of water to people living on the streets that he sees while walking through the city with his mom.
Karyn pushes Sienna in a stroller down Guerrero St. with Preston beside her. In order to save the limited money they have, Karyn often walks miles with the kids from point to point.
Karyn and Sienna sit on concrete steps outside of a Safeway and talks with a group of homeless people. Karyn had just given them a platter of sandwiches and case of water and shared her story with them. She then intently listened to their stories. "People just step over the homeless like they are lesser and dirty people and they never take the time to actually listen to them or offer to help" Karyn said. She specifically bonded with Misha (top, near left) who is also a mother to two young children. The two exchanged phone numbers and Karyn believes "it was God's will for us to meet [...] I'm going to help her get off the street."
Karyn kneels and prays in Saints Peter and Paul Church in North Beach on Sunday. Karyn attends church each Sunday to pray for her family's continued wellbeing and forward progress. After enduring the most difficult time of her life, Karyn "found God again" and dedicates her life to living as a good Christian.
Sienna uses an Augmentative Alternative Communication device (AAC) to communicate with her teachers at Sanchez Elementary School. Each AAC is uniquely programmed by instructors for a specific student. Sienna's device includes shortcuts with pictures of her family and favorite things. She often knows what she wants to say but don't have the physical ability to say it so this device allows her to voice her thoughts. She also communicates through hand signals.
Karyn comforts a crying Preston after he fell and scraped his knee running to see people fishing on Torpedo Wharf during sunset on Monday. "No one knows about this spot, even people who have lived here their whole lives," Karyn said. She loves to take the kids to this spot during sunset because it is never crowded and has a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Preston fires his water gun at the ceiling while he and Sienna sit in the bathtub awaiting their mom to begin washing them. "I like to give them five or ten minutes to just play and soak. It helps them relax," she said. After a long day walking around, a warm bath is one of the few things that calm the children down enough to go to sleep.
Karyn reads Preston a bedtime story, "Frankie and The Phoenix", about two fireboats in the San Francisco bay. Preston loves firefighters and has made friends with a lot of the ones who work on the bay. His dream is to one day work at that fire station and ride one of the fire boats.
Preston cuddles with Sienna in their mom's bed as they argue what to watch on TV in the morning. Sienna displays her love for others by touching their face and rubbing their heads. The two share a strong sibling bond and Preston often gives Sienna kisses and tries to help calm her down during her episodes.
Karyn holds Sienna close to her during sunset. "I stayed up nights not knowing...I raised these kids and kept Sienna alive," Karyn said. Sienna's health issues have made difficult financial and emotional times that much more of a struggle. But Karyn would not want it any other way: "Sienna is an angel. An angel straight from God."
Single: “Pride and Passion”
Missy Gardner aka “Missy Stardust” performs her pole dancing routine at Polesexual’s annual party to kick off Pride Month. Polesexual began four years ago as San Francisco’s first space for queer pole dancers to perform and it evolved into a party for anyone regardless of gender identity, shape or size. The party features over a dozen performers including drag queens and pole dancers. Missy Stardust has been performing at this specific party for years and a large group of people came out on Sunday night specifically to see her routine.